There’s a particularly mean meme about presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson and his wife, Lacena, aka Candy, circulating around social media. In the meme, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are striking at the China state dinner Friday. President Obama is dressed in a well-tailored tuxedo, and the first lady has long, side-swept hair and an off-the-shoulder, custom-made Vera Wang gown.
The contrasting picture of the Carsons was taken in May, on the day Carson officially announced his candidacy for president in Detroit. He is dressed in an unremarkable but still presentable blue suit. It’s Candy Carson’s appearance that makes the meme funny to some (but not me). She is wearing a hairstyle and patriotic ensemble that is unflattering, ill-fitting and dated. The meme caption is a play on a popular DirecTV commercial that clowns its cable competitors for being subpar.
This is what my P.C. mind thinks: I’m no fan of presidential candidate Ben Carson. I don’t like his politics. He receives his fair share of ire from potential voters, but he asked to be dissected in the media, traditional and social, when he announced his bid for the presidency. Candy Carson did not. There are plenty of exceptionally valid reasons to rage about Ben Carson without adding his wife to the mix.
I hark back to the time in 2008 when Obama, then just a presidential candidate, appeared on Good Morning America to defend his wife from undue attacks for her alleged lack of patriotism.
“I’ve been in public life for 20 years,” he explained. “I expect them to pore through everything that I’ve said, every utterance, every statement. And to paint it in the most undesirable light possible. That’s what they do.”
He added: “But I do want to say this … if they think that they’re going to try to make Michelle an issue in this campaign, they should be careful. Because I find that unacceptable … I think it is just low class.”
I loved how Obama stood up for his wife. He was the candidate running for office, not his wife. And Michelle Obama didn’t deserve to be ripped apart because of his political ambitions. Her being attacked wasn’t right and was “low class.” Period.
But then there’s also the un-P.C. part of mind, the side that gets me in the most trouble as a writer. That untamed part of my brain? It’s mature enough not to laugh at Candy Carson’s expense, but it’s still asking why she came out of the house looking like that when her man is announcing his presidential bid. She didn’t just join him onstage to say, “Congrats, boo!” and go on her way. Candy Carson, an accomplished violinist, performed that day, too, playing the national anthem as her husband’s intro music. Come on!
Well-meaning sympathizers of Candy Carson have excused her appearance as a result of her religious beliefs. She is a devout Seventh-day Adventist, a religion that discourages women from wearing makeup and jewelry and emphasizes a modest appearance. OK. But religion and modesty are not synonymous with ill-fitting and unflattering and out-of-date. Also, there’s a Seventh-day Adventist church on my block, and on Saturday morning, the women I see look well put together for service. Candy Carson’s look can’t be blamed on religion.
Let me tell you a story: I recall, when I was a kid, maybe 10, I attended a family event with my mother. A male family member, who had always been praised for his looks and appearance, showed up looking dapper, as always. His wife? Not so much. Pretty lady, but she looked as if she hadn’t put in much effort for the occasion of seeing all of her husband’s family, when she should have.
My mother leaned over to me in my seat and offered me a dose of grown-lady wisdom: “When your man is looking like something, you make sure you look like it, too. Don’t show up looking like the help.” I never forgot that.
Is that shallow? Maybe.
But let’s stop pretending that appearance never matters, when there are times that it absolutely does. It’s because appearance matters that when she was plucked out of the Alaskan wilderness and thrust into a presidential campaign, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s handlers spent $150,000 at Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus to dress her for the campaign trail. It’s because appearance matters that over the last eight years, first lady Michelle Obama has transformed from a rather stiff and conservative look popular among politico wives to that of a glamorous and designer-wearing fashion icon. It’s why black women still have serious debates about whether to wear their hair natural or straightened for work.
Are there sexist and, in this case, racist underpinnings that make appearance matter more in certain circumstances? Absolutely. But until those “isms” are dismantled, women absolutely need to look as if they at least tried, especially when they’re up for a role they really want.
I won’t drag Candy Carson. I’m sure she is a lovely woman, and she has endured her husband’s politics for 40-plus years. But I will say that I can’t help noticing that as a presidential candidate, Ben Carson always shows up looking like the position he wants to have. I want the Mrs. to look the same.
She doesn’t have to slay in off-the-shoulder, hip-hugging ball gowns, but it would be helpful if the team that works with his presentation, if he has one, would add a little oomph for her. And if there is no team, Candy Carson would be well-served to enlist the help of a glam squad. Not because social media has no chill, but because appearances matter, and when it comes to running for president, her husband needs all the help he can get.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. Follow her on Twitter.