Sasha Obama has done it again. Weeks ago the youngest first daughter wore a sweater in public that ended up selling out shortly thereafter. Now her recent ensemble at her father’s official Thanksgiving Turkey-pardoning press conference has also generated headlines, and style watchers are anticipating that it may spark frenzy, too. This would simply mean that the 12-year-old is following in the footsteps of her mother, who is well-known for putting brands and designers on the map.
But aside from their fashion choices, there is another way in which Sasha and her older sister, Malia, may end up becoming role models and trendsetters for a generation of girls. They exude confidence not only in what they wear but also in how they wear it. Both Obama daughters are tall for their age and tall, period, and yet you never catch them slouching as if being tall were a shame. This is no small feat.
Speaking as someone who reached Malia’s height (just under 6 feet) when I was her little sister’s age (12), I know the pressure that can come with being “tall for your age” and towering over your classmates. Though I was fortunate in that I always had a mother who instilled confidence in me, plenty of tall girls struggle with body-image issues.
Stacia Brown wrote with humor about “Tall Girl Problems (and Solutions)” for Clutch magazine, with slouching being cited as one of the main tall-girl ailments. It often lingers into adulthood after starting when one feels like a giant in a classroom of seemingly normal-sized peers. (Pediatricians have also written about slouching among tall children, especially girls.) But most tall women didn’t need to read Brown’s column because we’ve lived through the scenarios and challenges that she lays out.
Though some of you reading may think, “Well, everyone has issues in adolescence such as acne, glasses and braces,” the difference is that acne may clear up, you can buy contact lenses, and braces eventually come off, but height is essentially forever. Some girls traumatized by the impact of being tall in their adolescence carry baggage with them that affects their romantic lives well into adulthood.
Brown cites some men’s discomfort with dating a tall woman as one of many challenges. There are others, though. Some studies have found that tall people, particularly women, appear to be at greater risk for certain cancers. But those aren’t the kinds of concerns likely weighing on the mind of some 12-year-old girl who is in junior high, being made to feel ashamed or awkward because she is taller than her classmates.
Despite the fact that all sorts of successful women benefit from height—models and WNBA stars, to name a few—that is not much comfort to the average girl, who is not going to become a supermodel or super basketball star anytime soon.
Which is what makes the rise of the Obama girls as budding style icons and role models so awesome. They both seem to embrace their height, and no doubt a big part of that comes from the fact that they have parents, like my own, who celebrate their daughters’ long legs and stature. The president joked about Malia’s growth spurt in a speech in 2010 when he said, “Even though she’s 5 feet 9 inches, she’s still my baby. And she just got braces, which is good, because she looks like a kid and she was getting … she’s starting to look too old for me.”
Who knows? Maybe, thanks to Malia and Sasha, more girls will hold their heads a little higher and stand a little straighter and take pride in literally being above it all.