Of all the adjectives that could be used to describe Sasha and Malia Obama, “strong”, “smart”, and “beautiful” were the ones President Obama chose in his victory speech on Tuesday night.
It is difficult to imagine a president congratulating his sons for being handsome. So why was it appropriate for Obama to praise 11-year-old Sasha and 14-year-old Malia for their beauty?
“Sasha and Malia, before our very eyes, you’re growing up to become two strong, smart, beautiful young women, just like your mom,” said the newly re-elected President. “And I am so proud of you guys.”
Obama’s comments beg the question of why a girl’s beauty should be source of pride for her father— and why beauty should be a value lauded alongside strength and intelligence.
The President may have been directing his comments at only two people, but he had the ears of the world, and on a day that should have been a triumph for women, his remarks stung.
More women were elected to Congress than ever before. Congressman Todd Akin of “legitimate rape” notoriety was soundly defeated in Missouri. The party that advocates women’s right to choose prevailed.
This campaign reminded us that the presidency is a symbolic role as much as a practical one. Voters overlooked Obama’s failure to revive the economy and reduce the deficit, ultimately pulling the lever for the candidate who has consistently come first in likability if not in job approval.
Every evidence suggests that Obama takes his role as a figurehead seriously. On Father’s Day 2008, he famously chastised fathers who fail to engage with their children. He has made a point of going on “dates” with Michelle and spending time with his daughters in spite of his busy schedule.
It is disappointing that on Tuesday, Obama— a liberal President seen as a champion for women’s rights— conformed to the ideology that sets up beauty as something young girls should aspire to. Women are voted into office with more and more regularity and Obama has appointed women to top Cabinet positions, but girls are still praised not only for their accomplishments but for their appearance.
Aside from being all over the place, this opinion piece makes me chuckle and shake my head. White women have never been able to understand the political nature of referring to black women as beautiful and on equal footing to their white counterparts placed on a pedestal by patriarchy.
Robb’s piece is yet another sad example of how the application of white feminist principles often miss the mark when it comes to its musings over the lives of women who don’t fit into their model citizen: white, cisgendered, straight, middle class and able-bodied women.
Black women have been and continue to be demonized, ostracized and degraded for our looks. Black women consistently are positioned as the exact opposite of what beauty should be. From our lips, noses, hips, buttocks, kinky hair to our dark skin, black women are routinely deemed as The Other; the type of woman that’s okay for a quick fuck, but not good enough to bring home to one’s white family.
Every minute of every hour, black women and other women of color are faced with incessant images that attempt to brainwash us into thinking that our natural features are not beautiful. Black women spend billions of dollars each year on hair relaxers, hair weaves, skin lightening creams and forms of plastic surgery all in the name of conforming to oppressive white beauty standards. Black women have had our bodies poked and prodded at all in the name of validating to white women that their beauty is the norm and that they are safe on their pedestals.
President Obama did what so many black men have refused to do for their black daughters: he validated and legitimized their beauty in front of white America. Obama proclaimed to the world that his daughters are not only intelligent and have great personalities, but their beauty can rival that of the standard whiteness promotes. President Obama told tens of millions of people that his black daughters–and his wife, no doubt–are just as worthy of representing so-called conventional, Western standards of beauty many girls and women can aspire to.
I can only imagine how millions of black women would have turned out if they’d only had a male father figure remind them of their beauty from an early age.
White women who subscribe to traditional feminist viewpoints and feel Obama’s praise for his daughter’s beauty was “inappropriate” fail to see how their form of feminism–and white privilege–doesn’t apply to women of color. White women have had the luxury of being propped up by patriarchy as the ideal woman–beautiful, frail, virtuous–that they’ve now come to see those representations as oppressive. While they indeed are oppressive, white women can’t understand how black women and other women of color have longed for that opportunity to be seen as beautiful and worthy of male protection, thus creating a disconnect in the feminist movement. White feminists have long been unable to understand that their fight to end their form of oppression is not exactly the same fight shared by women of color.
White women have had the luxury of society holding them up as models to mimic when it comes to personality, style of dress and, quite frankly, how well they can seduce a man to bed. White women can’t imagine how empowering to have their father publicly proclaim to the world–the world that shoves whiteness down the throats of people of color on a relentless basis–that you and your blackness is also beautiful.
White women can’t understand how important this is because our beauty and our blackness is something they have been brainwashed to see as inferior.