First Lady Obama stole my heart back in 2009 when I got my first glimpse of the guns.


The official portrait from the first Obama administration.

In fact, according to David Axelrod, they were [lovingly] referred to as”thunder” and “lightning:”

Let’s face it: The only bracing symbol of American strength right now is the image of Michelle Obama’s sculpted biceps. Her husband urges bold action, but it is Michelle who looks as though she could easily wind up and punch out Rush Limbaugh, Bernie Madoff and all the corporate creeps who ripped off America.

In the taxi, when I asked David Brooks about her amazing arms, he indicated it was time for her to cover up. “She’s made her point,” he said. “Now she should put away Thunder and Lightning.”

I’d seen the plaint echoed elsewhere. “Someone should tell Michelle to mix up her wardrobe and cover up from time to time,” Sandra McElwaine wrote last week on The Daily Beast.

Washington is a place where people have always been suspect of style and overt sexuality. Too much preening signals that you’re not up late studying cap-and-trade agreements.

David was not smitten by the V-neck, sleeveless eggplant dress Michelle wore at her husband’s address to Congress — the one that caused one Republican congressman to whisper to another, “Babe.”

He said the policy crowd here would consider the dress ostentatious. “Washington is sensually avoidant. The wonks here like brains. She should not be known for her physical presence, for one body part.” David brought up the Obamas’ obsession with their workouts. “Sometimes I think half the reason Obama ran for president is so Michelle would have a platform to show off her biceps.” [source]

And actually, now that I think about it, there was much ink spilled about our First Lady’s biceps over the course of President Obama’s first term:

Her curvy biceps have become something of a lightning rod for remarks from both sexes in a larger discussion of how much female muscle constitutes too much. While some praise Obama as a role model in a world gone obese, others say she’s gone too far in displaying the fruit of her workouts. Read one online forum comment: “There is nothing uglier than manly, muscular arms on a woman. Mrs. Obama should be hiding them instead of showing them off.”

Even more vitriolic comments have been aimed at Madonna, whose über-ripped physique is a perennial favorite subject for photographers (the British press reported that her copious hours in the gym factored into the performer’s divorce). “Madonna’s arms defy logic, actually get grosser,” reads one Web headline accompanying a picture of the singer, sleeveless, revealing her sculpted physique.

Why do we care so much? The issue speaks volumes about how men and women view the parameters of femininity and strength.

“In some ways it’s kind of an old, tired way of thinking about women and power and boundary policing — when you can display that power and when you can’t, or when it’s appropriate,” says Sarah Banet-Weiser, an associate professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

The idea of how much muscle is too much is entirely subjective, and people often have a visceral reaction to what they do or don’t like. In the Obama-Madonna equation, it’s not surprising that few are in the Madonna camp, considering her well-defined build and low body fat, coupled with her age — few 50-year-old women look like that.

Says personal trainer Ramona Braganza, a member of Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute, “She’s burning so many calories constantly and her metabolism’s sky-high. I’m not being hard on how she looks, but sometimes it’s nice to have a little body fat as you get older. It’s just healthier looking, and people almost look younger when they do that.”

And though strong legs and a flat belly are often interpreted as sexy features on a woman, bulging biceps . . . not so much. “It crosses the boundary from having sexy, toned arms to having arms that display, ‘Hey, I’m working on being strong.’ ” Banet-Weiser says. “The evidence of that work . . . is quite threatening.” [source]

I imagine that all of this criticism of her fabulously-toned arms is what I have to blame for THIS:


The official portrait from the second Obama administration.


I am taking this personally! Who told my First Lady she had to cover up Thunder and Lightning? Who told my First Lady that she couldn’t invite you to the gun show? WHO DO I GO OFF ON about this?

Do I believe that there is someone or something to blame for First Lady Obama’s drastically different portrait?*

Aside from the fact that I hate idiotic, body-shaming, gender-limitation-imposing “trainers” and they will never stop catching me off guard, I’m not surprised by the criticism. Women’s bodies are not their own to decide what is best for them. Of course she needed to cover up. We don’t need our women looking like men.

I just… I give up.

*I also acknowledge that the difference could, very easily, be more reflective of the fact that our First Lady is gracefully aging, and might’ve simply grown more to like dressing this way and thought it more reflective of who she is today than anything else. And, because I acknowledge that, there’s no real petition other than more disappointed people whining in my comments section with me….I just wanted to publicly register my case of the sads. Pardon me while I go pout some more.