Obama's Answer to First Lady's Critics

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

(The Root) — By now we're all familiar with just how much President Barack Obama loves his daughters, Malia and Sasha. As a father, he rarely holds back. On election night in November he called them "strong, smart, beautiful young women," and after his swearing-in ceremony last month he gave each a kiss on the cheek.


But most recently, as ridiculous criticism surrounding first lady Michelle Obama's looks has bubbled up like a persistent boil, what have come to be seen as Obama's normal proud-dad moments have taken on something of a hard line (and utterly complimentary) tone.

"It is true that my daughters are gorgeous. That's because my wife is gorgeous. And my goal is to improve my gene pool," joked the president while speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington this Thursday.

Sure, his effusiveness could easily be chalked up to the fact that the Obama daughters are, in fact, gorgeous. If there were polling data available on the popularity of first children, Malia and Sasha would no doubt score higher than any others in recent White House memory. But considering the latest hullabaloo centered around, of all things, Mrs. Obama's backside, the president's compliments seemed even more meaningful.

Without directly addressing the most recent wrongheaded rant about "fat-butt Michelle" and her "Let's Move" campaign, the president, by calling his wife gorgeous, did just that. He continues to combat the growing wave of thoughtless ad hominem attacks pouring out of the clown car of conservative talk radio from the likes of Rush Limbaugh by stating simple fact.

In his book The Audacity of Hope, Obama writes, "Most people who meet my wife quickly conclude that she is remarkable. They are right about this. She is smart, funny and thoroughly charming. Often, after hearing her speak at some function or working with her on a project, people will approach me and say something to the effect of, you know, I think the world of you, Barack, but your wife, wow!"

That same type of seemingly unsolicited admiration and praise has been consistent over the past four years Obama has been in office, during which time she has been painted in every role imaginable. From militant to angry to just plain ugly, every slur used historically to vilify and devalue black women has been hurled at the first lady, who currently has a 73 percent public approval rating, according to a poll conducted by CNN.


Dissecting the subject of Mrs. Obama's body, Krissah Thompson wrote in the Washington Post, "The focus on this first lady's posterior has historical antecedents. It reaches back to the imagery of Hottentot Venus, a woman from what is now South Africa whose naked body and pronounced posterior were paraded in shows throughout 19th-century Europe."

All this is old news to most black women — so much so that I am sure Mrs. Obama pays her critics little to no mind. But there is still a consistent narrative in the Obama household that plays out in the public square. Telling the most important women in his life that they are valued and seen is clearly a priority for the president.


"I don't think there's too much you could say that," Mrs. Obama explained in an interview last August about telling young girls that they are beautiful. "They just need to hear that," she continued. "And I think they need to hear it from the men in their lives, too."

This is something the president has known for a while. 

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter. 


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Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.