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Michelle Obama and the Power of Style

Book - 2011
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In many ways the world has never seen a First Lady like Michelle Obama. From the precedent of her race to the singularity of her style, she has been the object of immense fascination. What she says, what she does, and not least, what she wears, is scrutinized around the world. -- Publisher's website.
Publisher: New York : Clarkson Potter, c2011.
ISBN: 9780307591432
Characteristics: xiii, 242 pages :,illustrations (chiefly color) ;,27 cm.

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floy
Sep 16, 2011

This is an interesting book because it combines fashion commentary with sociology. I’m not so sure though that Michelle Obama is trying to be a fashion icon; maybe she’s just getting dressed. But anyway…

The author writes that First Ladies are the focus of our nation’s anxieties “about women, gender roles, politics and power” and, to some degree, it’s always been that way. She devotes a chapter of the book to talking about previous First Ladies and maintains they’ve generally fallen under two categories: style or substance. Substance was preferred by Hillary Clinton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosalynn Carter, and Betty Ford. Style was chosen by Jackie Kennedy and Nancy Reagan. Michelle Obama, according to the author, is the first to be both style and substance.

She calls Michelle Obama the first post-feminist First Lady but, as a feminist, I resist that. Some of the old stereotypes were never true. Michelle wears skirts and so do I. The author sees the First Lady as strong, individualistic, and vital and the bright colors and bold patterns she wears reflect her personality.

However, the author also acknowledges that during the campaign and in pre-campaign days, Michelle was seen in the usual lawyer attire – the corporate power suit. But, after commentators started criticizing her as being an “angry black woman”, her wardrobe noticeably changed to emphasize her softer side.

There is also discussion about how Obama is aware of being a role model to young women, especially young black women. Therefore, I find it puzzling that no space is given in the book to the issue of hair. This is a big issue among black women and the fact that Michelle has straightened her hair for decades is disappointing. It appears that she might even have her daughters’ hair straightened. The subliminal message is that black hair isn’t good hair and needs to be chemically restrained to be respectable. Michelle is a beautiful intelligent black woman in the world’s eye; how wonderful it would be if she wore her hair “natural”. Maybe that will happen before she leaves the White House.

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