When I first saw Michelle Obama’s arms bared, I did notice she was in fairly good shape. As always, I thought it was wonderful to see some muscle on a woman, but I really didn’t think much of it. She is buff, but not exactly that buff. It was just nice to know she wasn’t afraid to become strong.
Yes, I admit it, for all my focus on women’s physical strength, most of my concern about an Obama was whether Barack really was going to dig us out of the legacy of the last administration. Oh, and if they would set a good example by adopting a shelter dog rather than buying a puppy.
But a lot of other people apparently noticed and seemed to feel it was a big deal. I won’t round up all the chatter as Jocelyn Noveck of the Associated Press managed to pin down most of it already in Why all the fuss over a first lady’s bare arms?.
The thing is though, she failed to answer it. In fact, there were things she reports in this that are glaringly wrong, sexist, strong-woman phobic and point right to the answer. Yet she never hits on it.
In Noveck’s section entitled “MRS. OBAMA’S ARMS COINCIDE WITH A FASHION TREND” she quotes Glamour magazine’s Susan Cernek saying that erogenous zones vary with styles, implying apparently that buff arms are current (this is not, actually, said here by Cernek so we don’t know if that’s what she meant or not). Noveck then goes on to note that Linda Hamilton, as Sarah Connor, started the trend of muscular arms but that Madonna was the most famous celebrity with them. Oddly enough, she makes Hamilton’s buffness out to be even earlier than it was, mistakenly saying that it was in the ’80s. As it is, of course, the trend of mainstream female muscle started and died in the 1990s, it is not in any way a current trend.
This actually is the reason for the big deal about Michelle Obama’s arms, because they are not the trend. Yes we had a few short years of buff actresses and sports models, but for the past ten years or so both Hollywood and Madison Avenue have given us thinner and thinner images once again. Madonna is one that didn’t follow this trend and there are a scant few others, as I post about often here, such as actresses Evangeline Lilly, Rhona Mitra, Jessica Biel and very few others. Now we have female “action stars” whose biceps I could touch my fingers around. No, the very reason for all this fuss is because this is simply not accepted.
And we can see why in other statements made, especially by the men who commented, along with some major fallacies again. Noveck quotes Tyler Thoreson, executive editor of men.style.com, as saying “When I look at Madonna’s arms I see someone whose priorities are way out of whack. It takes hours a day to keep them that way. Why not volunteer instead at a soup kitchen?”
No, it does not take hours a day to build and keep that sort of muscle, that’s a common cry by those who do not work out or who work out ineffectively and therefore figure those who have more success must be doing something unreasonable rather than right. Building muscle, in fact, requires rest, you can’t work them too much or you over train and you can’t work them daily. Now Madonna is not just big but very cut, so she may well spend a lot of time doing cardio, but correct me if I’m wrong as I’m not a big fan, but I think cardio is part of her actual job. Doesn’t she dance a great deal in her shows? So I think it’s probably a wise priority for her.
Thoreson himself doesn’t look like fitness is a key part of his life (I Googled him and there are lots of photos to go by) but one might hope a fitness trainer like David Kirsch would know better. But he too is quoted attacking Madonna by saying that unlike her arms “Mrs. Obama’s are feminine. She looks like a woman.” Um, sorry, Madonna is a woman so,you know, she looks like a woman too. Why is this so hard for people to grasp?
Because people like this are telling us constantly that if we get too big we suddenly become men.
One might, then look at the three clients of Kirsch who are noted, does he know how to train women this man who says that just by doing more and more push-ups everyday any of us could look like Michelle Obama (which someone with training in fitness would know is not true at all…it just doesn’t work that way)? Well, of the three famous clients noted, I will say Ellen Barkin is rather buff, while the other two all photos I could find show them painfully thin. Perhaps those are from before they trained with him? If dozens of push-ups does that, I think I’ll stick with my more diverse training (which does include push-ups, of various types and difficulty…hardly any just standard anymore).
Only Gloria Steinem comes close to the answer, this is sexism plain and simple. But it’s not clear if she gets the point about exactly what the message is, she’s only quoted as noting that if Hilary Clinton had become President Bill Clinton’s arms wouldn’t be a subject of discussion. The sexism is that it’s that these muscles are on a woman and that is supposed to be abnormal. They’d not be abnormal on a man.
The message is that Michelle Obama’s arms are a big deal because it’s still considered abnormal for women to be strong. And that’s the message many who are noting it want us to keep getting. And in case we don’t accept it, then we’ll be given bad fitness advice, that great contradiction of “women can’t get as big as men but make sure you don’t work out the ‘wrong way’ or you’ll end up looking like a man.”
So it’s time to stop making a big deal and just accept it, yes! women get muscles, we are strong! We do all have this potential, some of us might look like Michelle Obama, others might look like Madonna or Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, still others might fit the “farm wife” or “bull dyke” stereotypical images while others might be plumply hiding muscle and most of us won’t look like anyone else at all. But none of us, barring extreme medical conditions, need to be frail and weak. Rather than making a fuss, we need to make it not a concern at all because too many of us are strong.
Copyright © 2009 Kym Lambert