That representation is important is only so visibly illustrated in a love letter penned to Michelle Obama in the New York Times.
Michelle Obama was speaking. I felt protective of her because she was speaking to an America often too quick to read a black woman’s confidence as arrogance, her straightforwardness as entitlement.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes. We’ve all been there. The feeling of trepidation that accompanies watching a loved one perform a task highly subject to public criticism, and the subsequent relief when the job is all done. Adichie is speaking for a lot of us.
She managed. . .to take on health issues and a national food industry addicted to unhealthy profits. She did this despite an undertow of bias in this country that subtly questioned everything she did. Was she too strong, physically and intellectually, to be a proper first lady?
Gloria Steinem writes. Marveling at Michelle Obama’s ability to gracefully, determinedly pursue that which she believed in even confronted with undue scrutiny.
. . . her reputation as the perfect hostess invited criticism from progressives. Enter Michelle Obama, outspoken activist . . . Suddenly, the progressives were pleased and the traditionalists were confused.
All women struggle to reconcile the different people that we are at all times, to merge our conflicting desires, to represent ourselves honestly and feel good about the inherent contradictions. But Michelle manages to do this with poise, regardless of the scrutiny. That, to me, is the best thing for feminism. Her individual choices force us to accept that being a woman isn’t just one thing. Or two things. Or three things
Rashida Jones writes. She had options and she didn’t need to choose them all, and it’s just the truth of life that seemingly mutually exclusive options may not be that exclusive because we are allowed to be contradictory, to be imperfect, to be growing. And that is where all the perfection is.
The Cost Of Fitting In
Compare the love letters above with this:
Instead she did what the first African-American first lady arguably had to do to play a successful public role. In Voltaire’s terms, she cultivated her own garden, never threatening and never intimidating her neighbors.
I, with admitted bias, disagree with this “love letter”.
There’s an implied presupposition that her choices had to do with an intention to assuage those who suspected that she would fit the trope of the angry/threatening black woman. And there is a suggestion that had she not been African American, that she could have (arguably) made different choices and still been successful in a public role.
I have a problem with these presuppositions because they disagree with my own belief that she lived boldly, authentically. They contradict my belief that even if she second guessed her choices at the beginning, that she quickly struck a chord that truly represented who she wanted to be.
I have a problem with these presuppositions because they make plausible the question whether African American women have to make choices that must not be deemed threatening in order to be successful.
Deemed by who? Who’s the gazer here and why must they care that the gazer has a scale for measuring the extent of threat?
Isn’t a suggestion that she lived different to fit in and meet expectations an assault on women everywhere that look up to her and that are constantly teaching themselves to appreciate and live loud their plus sizes, their intellectual strength, their unruly hair, their shrill voices, their strong opinions, their dark melanins, even when, and especially, when the world wants different?
We are allowed to have varying opinions about Michelle Obama’s choice of issues, and to pen love letters differently. Thankfully, as I started out saying, platforms and hearable voices are becoming increasingly inclusive. Where one sees her choices to be assuaging, the other sees her choices to be authentic, and still another sees a woman doing her best to define the self through all the contradictions.
Celebrating a style icon
Moving on to the other important legacy Obama is leaving behind!
Even her favored kitten heels, for women who cannot fathom wearing shoes in the halfway house between flats and high heels, have earned a certain respect because of her. No public figure better embodies that mantra of full female selfhood: Wear what you like. Adichie.
I love mid heel shoes. They feel sexy without being uncomfortable. I also have been in the awkward situation where a flat-wearer declares “6” or no heels”, seemingly taunting the rest of us for not scaling sexiness’s demanding heights however badly we want it. Here’s to making authentic choices!
. . . she has always been a woman who knows the difference between fashion (what outside forces tell you to wear) and style (the way you express a unique self). Steinem
We are celebrating a woman who stuck to her guns, her style guns, when the world wanted her to not bare her #fitnessgoals arms, when the world policed her sneakers, when the world wanted to ban her from doing pushups, when the world wanted her to wear a pantsuit while vacationing . . . It’s the difference between fashion and style — style is grounded, it is built, it can be defended. When the going gets rough, it can be grabbed onto, and it will survive, it will thrive on.
The Style lessons to learn
See our Pinterest board for inspiration from a #powerdresser we adore.
Some style lessons you can look out for -:
Choosing the right belt for your monochrome dresses, and for your feminine sweaters
Styling your statement necklaces, your statement earrings, and how to not disastrously do both
Living it up in bold colors
Showing off your arms and shoulders
Styling colored kittens
Wearing your suede boots
Pairing your tailored pants with feminine blouses
Stylish coats and cute little sweaters that work
Happy power dressing!
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Credits: Tech. Sgt. Suzanne Day, USAF