Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The PEI Practices: To Arms!

Last week, in its second cover to feature Michelle Obama, the New Yorker went from satirical (the candidate’s wife as a machine-gun-toting terrorist fist-jabber) to sartorial (the first lady on the runway, in three different outfits).

It took the PEI a while to locate the raison d’etre for this cover, which is an extended caption for a photo of two designers who have supplied garments for the first lady.

These dresses don’t have sleeves, which means they reveal Michelle’s arms, the display of which some conservatives see as a deliberate undermining of White House decorum, but which the New Yorker’s Robin Givhan unequivocally supports.

“The arms,” she writes, “imply vanity and power: two things that make many women uncomfortable and yet are fundamental to self-confidence.”

So why, the PEI wonders, does the magazine’s cover feature Michelle in three outfits with long sleeves?

Were the editors afraid that by depicting the first lady’s bare arms they might appear to be endorsing the hateful rightwing fashionistas?

Or—undoubtedly more likely—was the switch to long sleeves simply a nod to Fashion Week, which featured the fall collections?

True, a perusal of the collections suggests that countless women will as usual be going barelegged and bare-armed even as the leaves fall—but, to paraphrase Barack's remark on the day he dared to wear a coat on the campaign trail, “You want a first lady who has sense.”

When the PEI contemplates the pair of New Yorker covers, she worries most that they serve to encapsulate a collective desire to transform Ms. O from armed and dangerous to merely armed.

Among Michelle’s sisters in being bodily scrutinized now, the PEI thinks, are Lindsay and Britney and all the starving models, as well as Oprah (who sadly but perhaps brilliantly often preempts any rival coverage of her weight) and Meghan McCain, who recently told her critics that they could “kiss my fat ass.”

I wish Michelle (and her daughters) luck. Can her psyche survive the assault? In an interview, ABC’s Robin Roberts comments, “We see the workouts are doing very well for you.”

MO responds, with the faintest hint of sarcasm, “Well, I covered my arms up.”

“You couldn’t resist! You just couldn’t resist! I didn’t go there! But you did!"

“I know, “ said Michelle.

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