UChic Pop Rocks: Fashion Gets the Presidential Treatment

The Michelle Obama Fashion Craze: it’s been impossible to avoid. From blogs to online photo slideshows and most notably, major news sources like MSNBC and the New York Times— whenever Obama gets dressed, there is a major media response.

Then there is the backlash, the media response to the media response. Scornful bloggers and sophisticated pundits alike have questioned: all this news coverage for someone’s clothes? Do we have nothing more important to fill the headlines?

In addition, certain media voices, particularly women, have expressed dismay that when faced with a successful, intelligent woman, all anyone wants to talk about is what she is wearing. The focus on something as frivolous as fashion, they reason, denies Michelle Obama the respect she deserves as a smart, accomplished woman in the world.

And then there are extreme accusations which turn the Obama Fashion Craze into a race issue, which are as illogical in their antagonism as they are anachronistic in their reasoning. “Folks are still struggling to understand her (and to define her),” writes a blogger on We Are Respectable Negroes, because “she does not confirm the WASP woman as an ideal – neither by fitting into the stereotype of the loud, overweight black woman nor by being the good, middle-class Negress who conforms to the norms of white women.” Really, are expectations for white America still so low?

The media response to the media response regarding “MObama”’s fashion just adds to the cacophony of voices drawing our attention to what the First Lady wears. This loud media scorn for the topic exacerbates the absurdity of the situation and is counterproductive.

While the backlash-wielding press may be right to assert that the media attention devoted to what Michelle Obama wears is excessive, a certain degree of fashion coverage devoted to Obama is valuable. What Michelle Obama wears does matter. Fashion as a visual language of culture is vitally important in our dynamic society, and Obama’s sartorial statements are significant because she is an American and female symbol to the world.

The main issue is that fashion coverage has a proper place. Countless magazines, websites and sections of reputable newspapers like The New York Times have sections devoted to fashion news and features. This is where reports and opinions, intrigues and outrages regarding Michelle Obama’s fashion choices rightly belong. Cathy Horyn of the the Times and Robin Givhan of the Post need not apologize for their insightful articles, nor must Oscar de la Renta justify his critiques of Obama’s choice to wear J. Crew. These are fashion experts, and in the world of fashion, what the First Lady wears does indeed matter.

So there is nothing wrong with Michelle Obama’s fashion choices making the news. But let’s remember that that is what they are: fashion. The Style section isn’t the only section of the newspaper, people. With that in mind, hop on over to nymag.com and check out their ever-growing MObama LookBook!

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