Believe me when I tell you how hard I gritted my teeth and refrained from commenting on the clucking chatter of First Lady Michelle Obama stepping off Air Force One wearing short shorts in 108-degree temperature on a visit to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
“Smart, lady,” I say to myself. “Very practical.”
But, nooo. Her critics among the fashion police piously complained she was showing too much leg for a First Lady. Her fans — myself included but who, for one, remained mum until now — countered the Puritanical outrage with “Get A Life!” I mean, we’re talking about Michelle Obama, not Britney Spears.
What catapulted me into the circus circulating the gossip of what a First Lady should wear in public is an article written by Robin Givhan in today’s Washington Post. I confess Givhan knows more about women’s fashion than me because, frankly, my dear, I really don’t give a damn unless Michelle experiences a wardrobe malfunction as did Janet Jackson during a Super Bowl halftime show. Writes Givhan:
The noteworthy aspect of Obama’s ensemble is that in recent history, first ladies have rarely dressed so informally in public, particularly as they are emerging from Air Force One while a phalanx of photographers stands ready to record the moment.
My God, I would hope so. Can you imagine Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Nancy Reagan or even Hillary Clinton in shorts? You may ask, what about Jackie Kennedy? I would say women in Camelot would never dare.
The image of Obama in her shorts was strikingly modern. And for a long time, modern was not a word typically associated with the role of first lady. The women who have most recently occupied that nebulous position often seemed terribly constrained by its traditions, by the contradictory demands of the public, by the desire to do the nation proud and by the need to live a fulfilling and authentic life. Balancing all that is impossible, and so these women have cherry-picked some things that are inviolable and gone on from there. The public has been free to applaud or criticize each woman’s choices. The resulting analysis has had first ladies declared, among other things: elitist, dowdy and tragic victims of chauvinism.
Can’t argue with that. No sooner than I was prepared to honor Givhan for her forthrightness, she says:
Avoiding the appearance of queenly behavior is politically wise. But it does American culture no favors if a first lady tries so hard to be average that she winds up looking common.
Oh, come on Givhan and anyone else who predisposes our First Ladies are royalty.
It’s not Michelle’s fault she was born in a lower income middle class family, earned a law degree and managed a large hospital. She should be accepted for whom she is: a brilliant mind, a terrific mother, loyal wife and, as they say, comfortable in her own skin. Being First Lady is just desserts and she can wear any outfit she deems appropriate.
However, Givhan nailed it when she observes:
This exclusive group of women might have dressed in a relaxed manner — khakis or jeans, for instance — but it was always in a way that suggested that they were keenly aware of the ever-present cameras. None of them revealed as much leg as the current first lady, either — a fact that has been duly noted on the Internet by a nation that gets more squeamish about an artfully photographed nude than it does over a naked body lying in a pool of fake blood on an episode of “Law & Order.”
Let me join the chorus: Come on America, get a life!
Let me add one other thing. Those who think a black woman, First Lady or not, should not wear shorts at appropriate occasions are what Barney Frank would ask “Of what planet are you living on?”
Jerry Remmers worked 26 years in the newspaper business. His last 23 years was with the Evening Tribune in San Diego where assignments included reporter, assistant city editor, county and politics editor.