There are people in this world whose looks are worth talking about; models, designers, actors, pop musicians and hotel heiresses make the list of said people. They are, after all, the ones who drive the fashion, make-up and anorexia-rehab industries. If anyone should be reduced to what they are wearing or weighing, it’s pop icons.
Other professionals, with a few exceptions (i.e. Donald Trump), are off limits.
With the upcoming US election, I’ve been seeing a trend in the headlines whereby the candidate’s wives are getting rated on an aesthetic scale before we hear what they’re about. This sort of thing is by no means new. We’ve reading been about blonde politicians (think Stronach) and adorable gymnasts and sleek business women for years. I was just hoping we’d be done with it by now.
Michelle Obama, in particular, has appeared in several style magazines, praised for her regal beauty and labeled as the next Jackie Onassis. Vanity Fair listed her among “10 of the World’s Best Dressed People” and Tyra Banks posed as “one hot mama” Obama in Harper’s Bazaar. While that’s all well and fabulous, there’s more to Michelle Obama than her pearl earrings and Vogue fashion spread.
What we’re not hearing (at least not enough) is that she is a lawyer who graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. During her school years, Obama spent her spare time running a literacy program for kids from local neighborhoods and recruiting black undergrads to Harvard. At the moment, she is traveling around the States, campaigning to help her husband win the election.
I’m not trying to wave Michelle Obama’s flag. I’m not American and I don’t know much about politics. My point is that we’re still seeing women—intense, successful, intelligent women—first, for their appearances and then for their accomplishments.
It seems like such a small thing, but that’s the nature of hegemony, isn’t it? When we dwell on a professional woman’s physicality—even if it’s a few descriptors—we’re reinforcing that looks are the basis of a woman’s merit and reducing the value of her real successes.