The First Lady

Carlos, Marjon. “Michelle Obama Breathes New Life Into a Dries Van Noten Dress.” Vogue, 23 Nov 2016, accessed 2 Dec 2016. http://www.vogue.com/13506363/dries-van-noten-michelle-obama-presidential-medal-of-freedom/

Falzone, Diana. “Politics in fashion: To dress or not to dress First Lady Melania Trump?” Fox News, 21 Nov 2016, accessed 2 Dec 2016. http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2016/11/21/politics-in-fashion-to-dress-or-not-to-dress-first-lady-melania-trump.html

Givhan, Robin. “Michelle Obama’s Legacy of Style,” The Chicago Tribune, 23 Nov 2016, accessed 2 Dec 2016. http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/style/ct-michelle-obama-s-legacy-of-style-20161123-story.html

 

The First Lady is a relatively uncontroversial position, as they don’t weigh in on political matters, and mostly start initiatives that will benefit the American people as a whole, regardless of partisanship. The widespread popularity of the First Lady started with Grover Cleveland’s wife Frances, whom he married after being elected, in large part to garner support for himself and mitigate his reputation through her levelling influence. Their wedding was highly publicized, and Frances started the tradition of the public adoring the class and tact of the First Lady, a tradition that continued with Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Kennedy, and now with Michelle Obama. Obama, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, has championed various initiatives throughout her husband’s tenure in office, especially focusing on the Let’s Move campaign to cut down childhood obesity in the United States. However, when one googles her name to find news stories, the first results are all about her fashion choices. These stories come from liberal and conservative sources, and all of them emphasize her designer, her clothes, and her legacy of fashion as First Lady. Due to the variety of backgrounds of the sources (The Chicago Tribune, Fox News, and Vogue magazine), the discussion of Michelle Obama’s fashion choices is likely to reach a large and varied audience. All of the articles respond to Obama’s impending departure from the White House, and apparently they all agree that the best way to do so is by analyzing her wardrobe. Even stories that bring in political themes do so only in context of what she wore to important events. However, upon googling relevant men in politics, such as Barack Obama or Donald Trump, the results are flooded with stories relating to politics.

Despite Michelle Obama’s contributions to the country, the media remembers and honors her as a fashion icon, reflecting the inherent bias in the media to portray women who are feminine and fit a certain mold. This is the same issue faced by Ellen DeGeneres when she won the Medal of Freedom and the media emphasized not what she did to qualify for such an honor, but her teary eyes upon receiving it. Various books have mentioned the disproportionate emphasis on women’s sartorial choices, such as Press Portrayals of Women Politicians 1870s-2000s, and Gendered Media. In Gendered Media, Ross points out that perhaps one reason the media is so obsessed with what famous women wear is that women’s clothing is reflective of who she is, while men’s clothing is simply something he wears. Although by this point in time we have accepted that powerful women hold down important jobs all around the country and work in a variety of fields, at times the media seems almost reluctant to show that, instead focusing on the familiar and comforting idea of a wife who supports her husband and raises her children all while maintaining her own sense of style.

This feminizing, smoothing effect the media has on the public’s perception of women can often blow over the significant contributions women make to movements, portraying them almost as accidental participants rather than driving forces. Such is the case with Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, who despite their prolonged and concerted effort in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s are now remembered as docile, sweet women who somehow got tangled up in it. Rather than portraying the truth, the media often shows what is simply generally accepted at the time, and unfortunately, the norm for women is still to be subservient and feminine.

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3 thoughts on “The First Lady

  1. I also did a post on Michelle Obama, and was so impressed on her education, her style, and the way she treats people. I think she has accomplished so much for the U.S. and is someone I look up too.

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  2. This subject makes me question what more could be done to educate people entering the field of media in order to produce better content. I do not know that BYU offers any education on social issues and sensitive ways to approach them within its communications department aside from what a student happens to come across during their GE’s? What other solutions could there be for effecting a real change in media portrayals? Also, I read a tradebook covering all first ladies written for middle school students. I was very disappointed to read how trivial their lives seemed in the brief bios portrayed within the book. Surely there is more to these women and all women than fashion and pets and sickness!

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