Last week Michelle Obama's "Official" First Lady portrait was unveiled. I don't remember the unveiling of Laura or Hillary's even happening let alone being such a big deal. The unveiling of this portrait flooded the media.
The lack of sleeves was the most likely comment to be made, though it didn't seem to be with any criticism, just simply noted. Anderson Cooper headlined his CNN "360" show with something to the effect of "First Lady portrait unveiled, will she be sleeveless? Coming up." I laughed out loud at the sense of cliffhanger given over Michelle Obama's sleeves, or lack there of. While I wasn't surprised (her arms and our easy view of them has been a comment in the media for a while) I was a little dismayed by the attention that detail of the portrait received.
I understand the obsession with Michelle Obama's fashion and I too am guilty of it; she is the most fashionable First Lady in the White House in a very long time. I can sort of understand the curiosity behind her preference for sleeveless dresses as we are used the The First Lady dressing either ever so matronly or in the political attire of The Pant Suit. But really, does it matter all that much if she has sleeves or not? She is such a graceful presence and embodies so much class, I wish we would just appreciate that and move along.
I am relieved to have heard very little, if any, negative criticism of her appearance.
I shudder at the thought of Michelle Obama being berated as Hillary Clinton was early in President Clinton's term for wearing a headband. I do believe that criticism was so loud because she was such a presence and clearly a woman who speaks out. That cannot be criticized in this day and age, but her appearance can.
Last night I was on the internets pretending to be productive and decided to look up the First Lady portraits of the past. I am struck by the backgrounds chosen, the poses, and of course what they were wearing. Obviously there is in image one tries to project and uphold when they are First Lady and I suppose the Official Portrait is the way set that up and set in stone forever. Fresh cut flowers seem to be a common prop and I suppose the kind of flowers chosen is something that is as well thought out as wardrobe and background.
As I look through these portraits I am reminded of standing in Art Museums through out my life and staring at the antique portraits of Royalty. When I was a child I would bide my time with those portraits by imagining the life the person led, and the moment captured (or invented) on canvas - what that moment meant for them. I always made note of those who went against the grain by smiling and decided that I would have smiled too.
It is in that vein that I salute our First Lady, Michelle Obama for not wearing a sleeved dress in her portrait. It seems so silly to see someone as going against the grain for not wearing sleeves, but it is just what she did. Her quiet determination to stay true to herself despite her latest station in life has spoken volumes to me and says so much about the entire First Family. And that is just one of the many factors that gives me so much Hope for the next 4 years.
P.S. Former First Ladies L to R: Betty Ford; Rosalyn Carter; Laura Bush; Hillary Clinton