Michelle Obama deserves more than fashion coverage

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Throughout the decades, women have looked to the first ladies for strength, assurance and yes, fashion. Style icon, Jackie O’s A-line dresses and oversized sunglasses are memorable, Hillary Clinton’s “mansuits” still make me cringe, and now Michelle Obama has become the poster child for J. Crew.

First ladies have come a long way since the days when they silently stood by their husbands as more of an accessory than a contributing factor. There is no set job description for the first lady, yet her role has changed significantly throughout the years. Martha Washington was content with being a hostess, while Abigail Adams pushed for greater gender equality in her “Remember the Ladies” letter to husband John Adams. Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the busiest first ladies, visiting relief projects, surveying working conditions and reporting her findings to her husband. By the time Jackie Kennedy got to the White House, the first lady was becoming a position of celebrity. She hired the first press secretary to handle all the attention she was getting.

Although the roles of a first lady have changed, it seems the way the media covers first ladies has not. In a time when these women are effectively taking charge and promoting policies, we still choose to focus on what they have decided to wear to any given function instead of what they say at said function. The public is enamored by Sarah Palin’s eyeglasses, in awe of Michelle Obama’s dare-to-be-bare sleeveless dresses and obsessed with how we can get that look for less.

In their recent trip to Europe, coverage of the first lady was limited to a “fashion face-off” against Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the wife of the French president, and articles like the Huffington Post’s “Michelle Obama’s New Kind of Glamour,” in which they praise her sense of style. “Her slim fitting, three-quarter sleeve fuchsia dress looked exactly right. It combined Asian elements with a whimsical femininity and completely washed out Carla's subdued gray sheath.”

The articles are everywhere:

Flower Power! See the first lady’s Easter outfit!

Michelle Obama’s Top-Five Outfits from the First Couple’s European Trip

Michelle Obama J. Crew outfits in London prompt shopping frenzy stateside

Can we give it a rest already?

I, for one, would like to hear more about the Michelle Obama who gets choked up while speaking to a group of London girls. I would even prefer to read about the controversial hug she gave the queen. But most of all, I would like to hear about her stance on issues and what's she's doing to help our country. Reading about the first lady’s outfits in a fashion magazine is one thing; being bombarded by it while watching CNN Headline News is another.

It is offensive to me, as a woman, that major news outlets believe I can be appeased by hearing what the first lady wore to an event. Yes, it’s nice to know she believes in wearing almost affordable clothing from J.Crew, but what else is she doing? Can I not be both a fashionable woman and someone interested in politics?

First Lady of Fashion and First Lady of the United States have become synonymous. As Gina McCauley says in her article, “Michelle Obama, fashion mistress,” “We don't want her to use her expertise as a hospital executive to shape health care policy but are perfectly happy to demand that she be held responsible for ruling American fashion, a position she never asked for nor expressed any interest in holding.”

I hope we, as a progressive country, can either lay off the gender-biased clothing coverage of Michelle Obama, or start giving equal pantsuit pandemonium to President Obama. I'm talking every stich of his wardrobe, right down to the necktie designer. Just because I own more pairs of shoes than a Payless Shoe store doesn’t mean I want to hear about what is gracing our first lady's feet. My politics are separate from my pumps. Let’s keep Michelle’s style on the pages of Vogue and off Headline News.

Tracy Barnes graduated from MU in 2008 with degrees in journalism and English. She is a former copy editor and multimedia editor for the Missourian. She can be contacted at

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Stephanie Thompson April 20, 2009 | 7:04 p.m.

Finally! I couldn't agree more. Here is a smart and educated woman in a very interesting position who could be influencing much more than just styles. Hopefully, as time goes on, she will become more involved and vocal about issues which interest her.

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