Monday, February 23, 2009

The Portrayals of Michelle Obama as First Lady

Today I'd like to discuss Michelle Obama as not only a First Lady but as a Vogue cover model. I went searching for stories on the politics page of and found two interesting videos: one regarding her role as First Lady and the other pertaining to her wardrobe and her appearance in Vogue magazine. I thought it fascinating how differently these two videos portrayed Ms. Obama. The former, entitled, "Michelle Obama's Role," made her out to be a qualified and serious woman taking on the position of First Lady with ease. The latter, called, "Michelle Obama Covers Vogue," gave little notice to Ms. Obama's professional life and instead focused on her fashion and this sort of "femininity."

The video regarding Ms. Obama's role begins with Michelle at a press conference saying, "I'm going to spend the next several weeks, or months, however long it takes, going from agency to agency just to say hello, to learn, to listen, to take information back where possible. But truthfully, my task here is to say 'thank you and roll up your sleeves because we have a lot of work to do.'" The video goes on to explain how Ms. Obama's office told CNN that the three main projects for the First Lady will be: focusing on working parents, helping military families, and boosting volunteerism. I was glad they brought this up because I had been wondering what her duties would be when she is 'at work.' I use quotes here because being First Lady is not technically a job. In this video, Robert Thompson from Syracuse University explains, "being First Lady in the United States of America has got to be one of the most frustrating jobs to hold because for one thing, it isn't even a job, for another thing, it has no job description, but for a third thing, you are constantly being evaluated as to how well you're doing." I really liked this quote because it's true; First Women are always under scrutiny even though their position lacks strict guidelines. With the duties outlined earlier, I believe Michelle Obama will really do some good and make the change needed. I'm excited to see how she handles her position, not only as "mom-in-chief," as she calls it, but as a hard-working, capable First Lady. This video shows her speaking to, working with, and showing compassion toward people, which gives us the same sense of pride and hope that her husband exudes.

The second video starts with Michelle Obama speaking to business students at Howard University, but this clip only lasts for thirty seconds. Anderson Cooper then veers from this subject and says, "since moving to the White House the First Lady's been busy making the rounds at federal agencies and schools; people want to know what she has to say, certainly, and also what she's been wearing. Next month her style and substance come together when Ms. Obama graces the cover of Vogue magazine." "Her style and substance come together?" I thought that was a particularly important phrase. Does anyone remember a time when a president's "style and substance [came] together?" I understand that this is the viewpoint of most people here in America, to distinguish differences between the sexes, but it bothers me. I also understand why Ms. Obama agreed to this article and photo shoot with Vogue. She is reaching out to a certain, and definitely a major demographic of women here. Something that stuck out to me in this clip was hearing that all of the clothes worn in the shoot were right out of Michelle's closet; she spent no extra money on clothes for this occasion. I think that shows character, and while appearing on the cover of Vogue is a feminine move, she is still able to maintain her respectable and strong persona. In this video they ask, "what makes Michelle Obama cover-worthy?" Andre Leon Talley, the writer of the Vogue article, claims that, "she represents power, she represents the seismic shift in our times and our culture, being the first African American First Lady of our nation." I agree with this statement and as the video went on, I began to further appreciate her choice to do this article. I think it's great that the Vogue subscribers will get to read about Michelle Obama and become inspired by her. In slight contrast to the other video, this clip shows her hugging small children and shows pictures of her with her family. The last line of this video is, "what this First Lady wants is for women to have fun with their clothes; don't take fashion too seriously, even if you are on the cover of Vogue." Clearly the two videos are showing different sides to Ms. Obama. While I tend to respect the first video's portrayal more, I do see that both sides to this woman are important to show. This way she can reach out to everyone, men and women alike, and show that she will not only be a loving mom and a confident, attractive woman, but that she will also be an amazingly dedicated First Lady to her country.

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