I always say, “Nothing on the Internet surprises me anymore,” and then someone comes and takes the bet.
This cartoon graphic appeared on the Internet this past weekend, and I missed it because I was covered in baby food and spin class sweat (don’t ask.)
When people look at this photo, they see a woman with a curvaceous, slender figure with large breasts in a long gown, white gloves, straight flowy hair, and a smile, all while holding a Trump sign.
They also see a woman with broad shoulders, giant arm and calf muscles, doorknocker earrings, matronly shoes, raised eyebrows and a scowl on her face, and a dick print. Take another look—the bulge in the crotch is supposed to make you ask yourself, in a time where people are all too focused on the genitalia of another human being, “Was Michelle Obama really born male?”
All of these specific signals in the comic are bound together under the caption, “Make the First Lady Great Again!”
Presumably, the current First Lady is not great because she is not Melania Trump’s style of gorgeousness, beauty, and caviar-glazed glamour. The current First Lady, with her big ol’ diesel arms and her scowl isn’t even a lady at all. She’s… something else, entirely. Something with, presumably, a dick.
These people are unserious. They are unserious and serious as hell, all at the same time.
Think back to last year, when The New York Times published an article, where a top 10 tennis player said the following:
[Agnieszka] Radwanska, who struggled this year before a run to the Wimbledon semifinals, said that any gain in muscle could hurt her trademark speed and finesse, but she also acknowledged that how she looked mattered to her.
“Of course I care about that as well, because I’m a girl,” Radwanska said. [source]
Remember how her trainer said, essentially, the same thing:
“It’s our decision to keep her as the smallest player in the top 10 […] Because, first of all she’s a woman, and she wants to be a woman.” [source]
Remember when tennis player Andrea Petkovic, while talking about seeing her strong arms in motion in photographs, said, “I just feel unfeminine.”
I’m not picking on tennis players, here—I’m pointing out that the comparisons between Michelle and Melania are, quite frankly, the same as the comparisons tennis bawse Serena Williams endures between herself and her competitive peers.
There is a fascination within American society of pitting women against one another unhealthily in ways that don’t ultimately benefit them. To my knowledge, Melania hasn’t uttered Michelle’s name once. And, to my knowledge, Michelle hasn’t said her name, either. Her husband is President, already. She’s fulfilling her role as current First Lady, helping support families and inspire children to be better.
What’s the point of comparing their appearances? Is that all they bring to the table? How does the comparison benefit either of them? Any of them? Any of us?
Serena is compared to her competitors in such a way that she and the public’s response to her is instructive to her competitors. Her peers learn that looking like her brings about penalty. It’s why Maria Sharapova, couldn’t beat Serena to save her life, spent so much time out-earning Williams in endorsement deals. This is a lesson for the tennis players who “want to look like women” and not, we’re led to assume, like Serena: “Maria’s figure”—and Melania’s, for that matter—”is the winning recipe.”
With messaging like this, is it hard to see why so many women starve themselves or kill themselves in cardio—often against their best interests—to avoid “looking muscular?” Any wonder why women want to “look toned, but not too toned?”
Femininity, ladylikeness, and any other number of cutesy ways we identify women is rarely left to the woman to determine on her own. It, much like beauty, is something society likes to bestow upon you when they want or need a favor from you. And, when society wants nothing from you, you’re rarely given the title of “feminine” or “beautiful.” Commercials that show long, straight-haired white women with false lashes and weave tracks promoting goodness knows what allude to how you should want to be beautiful like them.
Black women, they’ll get to us someday. We’re not beautiful yet because they don’t need our coins to help save their businesses. In Serena’s case, we’re “just not marketable enough in comparison to Sharapova.” Ouch. In Michelle’s case, we’re not glamorous enough.
Let’s call it what it is: black women in positions of power and presence are shamed for their bodies, for their emotions, and the fact that their special brand of femininity has a darker hue to it. The fear of this kind of scrutiny and shame results in many black women opting out of the spotlight altogether; many others go for it with gusto, only to be shunned because she’s not sexy. Let’s expand it to all of womanhood: If she happens to be sexy, she’s told she got her job because the men like looking at her, or she’s objectified and expected to provide favor in order to receive perks. And even then, her employment is tenuous.
I’m frustrated by the fact that a woman like Melania is going to be seen as some shining beacon of what a woman should be. I’m even more frustrated by what depictions of strong women ultimately become. They’re men, with angry faces and bulging crotches. They’re everything but feminine. They’re not ladylike. And I’m downright disgusted by what the implications are for black women, once again: we, women with dark skin, coily hair, brown eyes and [in some cases] strong bodies, will never be worthy, regardless of how many accolades we’ve earned or how hard we fought our way to the top.
Except, we should not trust them to define our beauty. We define our own. We set our own individual standards, we play by our own rules, and, like Michelle and Serena, we slay on our own terms. And, when wider society draws cartoons of you with an oversized rear end or male genitalia, you laugh. Because you still won… and they’re just… drawing cartoons.