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Duchess Harris

Duchess Harris

Posted: September 15, 2010 09:55 AM

Are Michelle Obama or Gabourey Sidibe Our Only Role Models?


On September 8, First Lady Michelle Obama traveled to New Orleans to participate in a game of flag football with some kids and even caught a pass. She has teamed up with the NFL's Play 60 clinic, a program that promotes up to 60 minutes a day of exercise for children to curb obesity. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy and New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister were on hand to help out.

"We're here because of you," she told about 70 students from the metropolitan New Orleans area. "We want you guys to grow up strong and healthy. Anyone can be smart and funny but if you're not in good health, we know that you will have a hard way to go."

This seems reasonable, especially when one considers the alarming statistics of childhood obesity. One in three children are considered obese. And one in every 400 to 600 children have Type 1 diabetes, a disease that the American Diabetes association has said disproportionately affects African Americans.

But then I saw the cover of October's Elle magazine, featuring Gabourey Sidibe, Academy Award-nominated actress for the lead role in Precious, which seems to contradict the First Lady's message.

And I was torn, wondering which message was better for young Black girls. After all, our culture is brutal to women in general, and to Black women in particular, especially those who do not look like Beyoncé.

Just so you know, I am not a self-righteous skinny girl. The average American woman wears a size 14, and I fall comfortably below that, but not enough to be considered "thin."

Now that I have sort of shared (it is obvious in photos of me that I am no longer a size six), I'd like to ask, whom our children should listen to? For those of us who have daughters, should we tell them it's OK to be big because someday you too could don a green, jeweled Tadashi Shoji jersey cocktail dress like the plus-sized Sidibe?

Or should we say that if you remain fit, more important than marrying the President, you could be healthy. (If you marry the President, or become the President--you could be on the cover of Vogue).

Presumably Ms. Sidibe feels good about herself and I am happy for her. The First Lady is arguably an excellent role model and her advice is sound.

However, as far as role models go, if my daughter wants to be strong, healthy, smart and funny, she need not turn to a magazine cover. She can look to the women in her family.

Crossposted from Race-Talk.