Up in arms about latest First Lady news
March 04, 2009
Well ladies, it's time to vent a little. And for those gentlemen who stop by this space from time to time, please bear with me and consider yourself warned: It's a 'Women's Issue' that's on my mind right now.
Michelle Obama's arms. Yes, that's what I'm going a little crazy about this morning. Like Michelle, I have arms too. I consider myself very fortunate for this fact. I'm quite certain that others who have arms feel the same way. Luckily, most people I know have arms, too, and those who don't seem to do quite well—but that's another column.
Back to Michelle Obama's arms. They're being discussed in the national media. Not in the same way Madonna's arms had been discussed a few years ago. I use the word "discussed" liberally and because it's genteel. Initially Madonna's nicely-toned arms are a source of envy and even education. "She does yoga," the talking heads report in a "news story" advising all of us gals how we, too, can have those to-die-for arms. A little later, things change. The-hyper-cut-cross-between-rope-and-gristle arms are now speculated upon, questioned, and, well, old. No more exercise tips here, girls.
Now there's Michelle Obama's Arms. Today Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts actually spend time discussing the First Lady's appendages. A "news reporter," (I don't remember her name but she's on all the time) actually does a "story" about the situation—Michelle Obama's arms, that is.
Michelle Obama is a beautiful, strong woman. She has beautiful, strong arms. I do not find this shocking, nor do I wonder what it "really means" that she prefers sleeveless dresses when making selections for INDOOR functions like presidential addresses or galas and balls and all that dressy stuff she has to do. There are scads of gorgeous, simple A-line dresses that are sleeveless. Usually you can pick out an equally fetching little jacket to wear with them if you get a chill, which I'm sure Michelle is smart enough to do should she get cold at one of these functions.
It does not bother me that Michelle Obama is showing her arms. They are, after all, a part of her. A very nice part, too. I am losing my mind over the fuss about her wardrobe choice and what it means or doesn't mean. Here's what it means to me: She Is Not A Bad Woman For Showing Her Arms.
This from a culture that picks apart Madonna—a woman who's partial claim to fame was her penchant for performing in partial clothing—when the 'toned thing' becomes "too strong." This from a culture who hacks away at women from Britney to Oprah for gaining a few pounds. Has a cow over Janet Jackson's Wardrobe Malfunction yet elevates Anna Nicole Smith to the status of venerated icon, but thinks Michelle Obama is being risque for choosing sleeveless dresses that show her—what—ARMS.
I truly do not understand what is going on here.
Women have enough to worry about without wondering whether the sleeveless dress they chose for work this morning now means "s-word-that's-inappropriate-for-this-column-but-means-loose-woman" and we're not being serious enough to be taken seriously. This is insane. I wish it would stop. But alas I doubt it will.
In a discussion with my aunt a few weeks ago she points out that from the very beginning in cultured society, men's clothing always, ALWAYS had them buttoned up from collar to shoe. Then bound with a tie or scarves, cufflinks, vests, jackets. Women's high-fashion ball gowns and whatnot were always sleeveless or strapless or low cut in the back or front, etc....in other words very unlike men's in that it was and is "REVEALING." Designed to be that way.
Okay, so what do we want here?
I remember my visit to the Vatican in Rome. It's the springtime. I'm wearing a sleeveless shirt and long pants. I have a sweater handy just in case. I walk toward the majestic St. Peter's Cathedral. I am abruptly stopped in my tracks by a model-handsome Italian cop-type Vatican guard. He motions that I cannot enter the church. I look at him quizzically. He motions to my arms, noting the sweater tied around my waist. Oh, I get it. I have to cover my arms. My Arms Are Taboo. The men in the group are wearing short sleeve t-shirts. They are not stopped. Oh boy. I mean...girl.
Email Catherine at