Huffpost Style
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jennifer Donahue Headshot

Would You Ever Reduce a President to his Outfit? Is Michelle Obama Only as Good as her Appearance?

Posted: Updated:

First, people were shocked at First Lady Michelle Obama's sleeveless black dress with pearls for her official portrait. Now she is being slammed for wearing some seemingly benign outifts to England. She got slammed for overdressing for the Inaugural festivities. Who can blame her for erring on the side of dressing down a little this time?

It's a bad day when I am reading about our First Lady's hip to bust ratio. I saw the photos and thought not about what what she and the President were wearing, but about the amazing fact that the Queen of England was flanked by two African Americans who are President and First Lady of the United States of America, a country still very young by comparison.

I personally think her outfits were well-coordinated in color and style, but who cares what I or anyone else thinks about her clothing? She obviously liked the colors and styles or wouldn't have worn them. It is not just the Queen of England the First Lady is reaching through her visit. Young women in England probably loved her Diana-esque classic meets hip style. Real people in Europe and every other Continent are eager to see more about this fascinating new First Family. So why are we focusing on their outward appearance rather than thinking about what the reaction of the world is to our new President and First Lady?

Michelle Obama is a natural at retail politics. I watched her in New Hampshire as she spent 10 or 20 minutes with individual voters, asking repeatedly if she could rely on their support in voting for her husband. This woman is successful in her own rite, and we should be measuring her success as First Lady not in what she wears, but in the potential she has to be a role model for young women and men, and what she can teach people of all ages and cultures.

The suggestion that Michelle Obama should rewind history forty some years and look at pictures of Jackie Kennedy and emulate that is sad. It has an underlying suggestion that women have to look a certain way to be in the game and have to conform to a particular standard to be accepted. That isn't fair to the young women and men who are forming their personal and professional identities, or to the men and women who are watching the new Presidency unfold.

These are trying times, politically, economically, and Internationally. The last thing women need is a backlash against them at a time when jobs are scarce, or to be reduced to the status they had professionally and culturally in the era of the 1950s and early 1960s. The last thing the world needs during trying times are lists of Do's and Don'ts about how to dress and behave as countries struggle to keep up with the demands of a global economy that changes by the day.