Michelle Obama’s Butt
The latest public rant against Michelle Obama’s effort to promote low-calorie school lunches was recently caught on tape in Alabama — the usual protest against the federal government meddling in local business. And then it quickly found its way around to the first lady’s posterior.
“Fat butt Michelle Obama,” said Bob Grisham, a high school football coach who was surreptitiously recorded by one of his students. “Look at her. She looks like she weighs 185 or 190. She’s overweight.”
Grisham, who was suspended Monday, is neither the first nor the most high-profile person to feel moved to comment on the first lady’s physique. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly called her Michelle “My Butt” Obama. And Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican, issued an apology after he was caught commenting on her “large posterior.” (Grisham has also said he misspoke.)
Michelle Obama obviously is not the first first lady to be subjected to criticism for the way she looks. Hillary Clinton was accused of having “cankles” — slang for chubby ankles. One of her predecessors was immortalized in song by the group Mission of Burma: “I’m haunted by the freakish size of Nancy Reagan’s head /No way that thing came with that body.”
But what is it with Michelle Obama’s critics and the fixation with her derriere?
“We have a history in this country of white people not showing adequate respect for and devaluing the bodies of black women, and this most definitely falls in line with that,” says Ayana Byrd, the co-editor of the anthology “Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips and Other Parts.” (Grisham, Limbaugh and Sensenbrenner are white men.)
The focus on this first lady’s posterior has historical antecedents. It reaches back to the imagery of Hottentot Venus, a woman from what is now South Africa whose naked body and pronounced posterior were paraded in shows throughout 19th-century Europe. On to the selling and trading of black women’s bodies through slavery. In modern times, black women’s figures continue to be up for public discussion in ways that are celebratory (see: “Brick House” by The Commodores) and insulting (see above).
Michelle Obama — who is 5-foot-11 and praised for her fashion sense, her bangs and her toned biceps — regularly emerges in polls as one of the most popular public figures in the country. (The White House does not discuss her weight.) She has graced magazine covers from Vogue to Better Homes & Gardens. Women’s health magazines have created workouts to help other women get “Michelle Obama arms.”