Dark and Lovely, Michelle

If a black president represents change, a dark-skinned first lady is straight-up revolutionary.

Of course, some mahogany girls get play—Gabrielle Union, the actress; Naomi Campbell, the supermodel; Kelly Rowland, the singer and Lanisha Cole, of hip-hop video fame.

But consider the complexions of most of the black women who smile or stare seductively at the world from the covers of celebrity and beauty magazines—cream, café au lait, golden honey. Gorgeous sisters, yes, but we come in other good flavors, too. The failure to showcase dark-skinned beauties feeds the notion that pretty black girls are an exception. Not so much dark and lovely as dark but lovely.

The light-skinned, long-hair aesthetic reigns.

I think of India.Arie’s song from a few years back.

“I’m not the average girl from your video

And I ain’t built like a supermodel

But I’ve learned to love myself unconditionally

Because I am a queen.”

An empowering anthem, but even Arie acknowledges that many of us who don’t look like Barbie dolls—even chocolate-coated Barbie dolls—are not convinced of our beauty.

“I don’t know if young women necessarily think that certain women they see on TV are beautiful, but they do see that certain women are financially rewarded by looking a certain way and therefore that image is reinforced,” Arie told me via e-mail. She thinks that Michelle Obama’s presence on the national stage will “jump-start the challenge of those long-held beliefs. Not only is she naturally and uniquely beautiful, but she demonstrates a great deal of poise, class and style, which I think has and will continue to help capture the nation’s attention in a positive way.”