The woman of wide shoulders, from the city of the big shoulders

In a thread started a couple of days ago, Kidist has been developing a psycho-sexual theory of Barack Obama that is based in part on the idea that Michelle is mannish. While the theory is certainly interesting, I am not persuaded by it, as it seems a bit overwrought. However, the way Michelle looked during her speech tonight, as I discuss here, certainly lent support to Kidist’s perceptions. She didn’t look like a woman, she looked like a male body builder. As I said in the other entry, how could her advisors have failed to see this obvious problem and gotten her to wear a different dress? The below photo captures something of what I’m talking about, but fails to convey how alarmingly wide Michelle’s shoulders looked on TV (which can be seen here). However, the photo brings out something equally unsettling, which I didn’t notice on TV. Look at the bunched-up musculature around her neck. I’ve never seen anything like it in a normal female. It’s like the excessive muscle development you see in a male body builder:


I don’t know if people have been talking about this openly or not, but if I can look within myself and know something about mankind, then I think millions of Americans must be having an at least subliminal reaction against the thought of this woman being in the White House.

- end of initial entry -

Paul K. writes:

“While the theory is certainly interesting, I am not persuaded by it, as it seems a bit overwrought.”

Yes, but overwrought theories are one of the things that make life interesting. They beat underwrought theories, at any rate.

Adela G. writes:

You write: “Look at the bunched-up musculature around her neck. I’ve never seen anything like it in a normal female.”

You said it, I didn’t.

This “bunched-up musculature” is the result of excessive lifting of heavy objects, such as a large purse.

Use of such heavy objects in the maneuver commonly known as “hauling off and smacking someone upside the head” serves to hasten the development of such musculature.

Also of note, heavily muscled, furred or feathered necks are used in displays of aggression as they make the animal appear larger and more formidable (although that would hardly seem necessary—or even possible—for this female).

The Editrix writes from Germany:

I was traveling by car yesterday, and as I possess neither a radio or a TV, this is always an opportunity to touch base with the media. I was stunned when I heard the following statement by Michelle Obama:

“He is incredibly smart and he is very able to deal with a strong woman, which is one of the reasons why he can be president, because he can deal with me.”

To me, “strong woman” seems, since the advent of feminism, nothing but an euphemism for “loud-mouthed, pretentious bitch,” and even more so when applied to oneself, but that aside: So the man is fit to rule the last remaining superpower because he is able to deal with a certain woman? Why did nobody laugh Michelle out of the room? But in a society so much degraded already by feminism, this was apparently just another normal and comprehensible remark to make.

As a European, I have difficulties with the emotional American approach to politics. When I grew into adulthood in the late Sixties and early Seventies, here, the wife of a politician was kept firmly out of the limelight, so it remained for a long time and although we are getting there, we have not quite reached American standards—yet. I remember when I heard the wife of Joe Lieberman, then running mate for Al Gore, referring to her husband publicly as “the love of my life,” that I was actually deeply shocked for two reasons, first because that is a statement which ought to be made only within a very small and very intimate circle of friends (if at all outside the bedroom) and second because I couldn’t fathom what such a statement was supposed to say about Mr. Lieberman. People are known to make the most awful choices when falling in love.

The American cult focusing on the wife and family of a politician is juvenile and distracts from the issues he is supposed to address. If a woman has political ambitions she ought to realize them as such, not as an accessory matter (which is what all those “strong women” are) of her husband. Besides, if we grant a wife any political importance the outcome is undemocratic and uncontrollable or at least that is how I see it. To put it bluntly: the wife of a president ought to make a good impression, smile sweetly and help her husband in social matters, mainly by keeping her mouth firmly shut.

But back to Michelle Obama. Am I alone in noticing how unlovely she is? That is the word that comes to mind, because she is far from ugly. She may be not particularly bright in spite of her academic credentials, she may have arrived where she is as an affirmative action token, but one thing she is for sure: as hard as nails. One look at her face ought to be enough to see that. And she is, too, the ace in the sleeve of her husband because she is both, black AND a woman and thus doubly untouchable.

If I read the fawning assessments of Michelle Obama, I feel a strong urge to throw up. The chickens of feminism have come home to roost.

LA replies:

Making the family of the nominee central in the campaign and especially in the national conventions, having the nominee’s wife and children deliver personal testimonials as to what a fine man he is, is a mark of the advanced decadence of liberal democracy. This is a development over the last 20 years or so. It’s an expression of the fact that we have lost the public understanding of politics, the understanding that there is a public sphere as distinct from the private sphere, and that we behave differently in the public sphere than we do in the private sphere. For Hadassah Lieberman to tell the world that her husband is the love of her life is a violation both of her private relationship with her husband, and of the public sphere of politics.

Patrick H. writes:

Blacks, both men and women, have higher endogenous levels of testosterone than their white counterparts. Blacks also seem to be more sensitive to the effects of testosterone: they respond more intensely to a given level of testosterone than do whites. Black women are more muscular on average than white women, exhibit far higher levels of aggression, and appear (this is my personal view) to have a high degree of desire for social dominance. Hence (again in my opinion) the reputation of black women for being extraordinarily surly and for behaving in social interactions with whites as if they, the black women, had an authority and status that they simply do not possess. Princesses with no subjects to fawn over them, divas with no audience to give them the ovations they crave.

This strikes me as a pretty good description of Michelle Obama as she has been limned on your site. And not just her shoulders.

Tim W. writes:

It’s bad enough that candidates’ families are so much in the limelight, but there’s also a growing assumption that there will be a co-presidency. This is particularly pronounced in the Democratic Party, but not unique to them. Bill Clinton bragged in 1992 that if you voted for him you would get two for the price of one. And for once he wasn’t lying because his wife nearly imposed socialized medicine on us. Then she used her position as First Lady to springboard herself into the Senate.

Michelle Obama isn’t just trying to help her husband get elected. She’s seeking a power position for herself and no doubt charting a future political career.

It’s also interesting how many of these high level political wives, though advertised as strong women, look the other way when their husbands are unfaithful. Hillary obviously did this. So did Elizabeth Edwards. These women aren’t strong in a moral sense. They’re strong in the modern feminist sense of having a craving for power. They’ll put up with any indignity from their husband if they can ride his coattails into a position of authority for themselves.

Larry G. writes:

Michelle Obama is six feet tall, so perhaps as another commenter noted, she has a bit more testosterone than the typical female. There were a number of tall women at the Olympics (one female volley ball player was 6’4”) but I didn’t notice their shoulders as my attention was elsewhere. But compare with Ann Coulter, who is also a six footer but much more willowy. Perhaps Michelle O works out, which is certainly a laudable thing. In any event, she really isn’t bad looking. Eleanor Roosevelt was also 6’0” tall but looked like Jimmy Carter.

While interesting in a Steve Sailerish way, this subject really isn’t helpful to our cause, and lowers the tone of our arguments. Whether Obama wins or McCain wins, we lose. It would be better to spend the time between now and January preparing a plan of opposition to the inevitable flood of bad legislation, #1 no doubt being another illegal alien amnesty.

Rachael S. writes:

Michelle does look mannish. She reminds me a little of Sigourney Weaver (but I think Sigourney is prettier). People probably don’t immediately mention (the mannishness) because a lot of black women don’t meet European definitions of femininity… so it is best just to change the subject.

Karl D. writes:

The thing that I noticed was that besides being totally contrived her body language and movement was very herky-jerky. Almost like someone you would see on cocaine. At one point when her kids were talking to Obama via satellite she kept twisting her mouth. Very strange. Steroids anyone? Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

Yet the European papers refer to her as the next Jackie O.

Rachael S. writes:

You write:

Of course, in our society, it is considered unworthy or silly—beneath the level of serious intellectual discussion—to draw attention to or criticize the physical qualities and dress of public people.

When I wrote “… so it is best just to change the subject,” I was referring to the motives other people have when not mentioning Michelle’s lack of femininity. It was not a directive to anyone. I also think that a person’s appearance is meaningful.

LA replies:

Yes, I understood that you were describing the conventional view, not giving your own.

Patrick H. writes:

I agree completely that commenting on Michelle O’s appearance is indeed appropriate and not at all “Saileresque” (a dig at my mention of testosterone?). I want to follow up on a commenter’s point that Michelle O is portrayed by the press as the new Jackie O. I believe that should Obama win the White House, the press will be in full enforcement mode for a new mythology: that Obama’s White House is the new new Camelot, no matter what its accomplishments compared to those of the hyped JFK rip-off (itself a media concoction), and that Michelle O is indeed the new Jackie, the Queen of New New Camelot. No matter how much she annoys, irritates, sulks, preens, postures, whines, sulks, and especially, wags her finger and lectures in that annoying way that black women have perfected, no-one will be allowed to point out that Michelle is actually a hectoring, humourless, vulgar, sexless nag. Anyone foolish enough to compare MO to JO and find her wanting will be pilloried not only as a racist but a sexist too. Why? Because Jackie O was indeed the picture of feminine grace and style. Michelle O, with her mesomorphic body, enormous mouth (in both senses), and general air of mannishness, resentment and self-pity, is nothing of the sort. She is the end product not only of anti-racist liberalism, but of feminism too. Utterly unwomanly to anyone with eyes to see, of course. But nobody will be permitted to say anything to that effect. Our First Linebacker—I mean Lady!—will become a one woman hub of a veritable network of taboos and Sunday beliefs. All in order to prevent us from paying any attention to our “lying eyes”.

It’s going to be a long four years, isn’t it?

LA replies:

Terrific comment by Patrick H., who has uncovered an emerging dimension of PC:

Utterly unwomanly to anyone with eyes to see, of course. But nobody will be permitted to say anything to that effect. Our First Linebacker—I mean Lady!—will become a one woman hub of a veritable network of taboos and Sunday beliefs. All in order to prevent us from paying any attention to our “lying eyes.”

Richard W. writes:

Yes! I noticed that too. She definitely has the trapezoids of a weight lifter. It’s an odd muscle that few exercises will build to the size of hers. Thus her shoulders look more like a middleweight boxers than a fashion models. That is they slope directly upward from the ends of her shoulders to her neck at about a 20* angle. I found it odd that they choose a dress for her that emphasized that.

Michelle is of that category of “big and powerful black woman” of which America has many examples.

She certainly would have looked at home on our track and field team, where that type predominates.

Independent Movie Database lists her height as 5’10 & 3/4. This makes her about an inch taller than the average man, black or white. I would put her weight at about 170 lbs.

While Barrack is a few inches taller than her, she is clearly “bigger” in terms of muscle mass. So there is another way that the Obamas are strange. Most men, especially Alpha-type men, are not attracted to woman who can beat them in arm wrestling.

Funny, American Thinker has an article “Why Obama Looks Vulnerable”. He looks vulnerable to me because his woman could probably bench press him!

I’m sure at least some of her psychology is due to her physiology, which from an athletic point of view is pretty impressive.

Of course blacks have an entirely different set of aesthetics about female beauty, as one would expect. Not so strangely while we have seen pictures of Obama in workout clothes and even a swimsuit we have seen Michelle only in suits and dresses.

Adela G. writes:

I think it’s less Michelle Obama’s size and musculature that we notice and more a complete lack of grace. It doesn’t help that she wears dresses whose cut only emphasis her admittedly mannish physique.

Both Jacqueline Onassis and Greta Garbo were taller than average for their day, with broad shoulders, small busts, and big hands and feet. Yet years after their deaths, they remain icons of feminine beauty. They knew how to stand and move (though even here Garbo was a bit mannish) and Jacqueline knew how to dress to emphasize her good points and de-emphasize her flaws. (Adrian, the Hollywood dress designer, knew how to dress Garbo.)

I think it’s a question of presentation and perceived femininity. Michelle Obama is incredibly awkward in her movements and in her verbal and facial expressions. This detracts from her good points: her facial features, which are fairly nice, and her obviously good muscle tone and smooth skin.

David H. from Oregon writes:

For centuries it has been known that dress influences the behavior of others toward the wearer, and, less obviously, influences the behavior of the wearer as well. “Clothes make the man,” how true it is. Some of us have experienced distinctly more deferential treatment while wearing our Sunday best compared to wearing old clothes.

Dan R. writes:

I once stood just a few feet away from Coulter, after a talk she gave, and I thought she was slightly shorter than me (I’m 5’9-1/2”). As for Michelle Obama, that is indeed an impressive set of trapezius muscles, which indicate to me she spends a lot of time at the gym.—Dan

LA replies:

Yes, I’ve stood next to Coulter too, there’s no way she’s anywhere close to six feet.

August 27

Kidist writes:

I am constantly made aware of the superior quality of posts on VFR. On this post, which on other websites could have deteriorated into a litany of negative comments, or just a cold, clinical, anthropological analysis of a human being, your readers warn of the dangers. And some, like Adela, will have a kind and good word for another human being.

Ultimately, I think this kind of discussion (in this way) in public is very important. Also, in view of the fact that a strange looking female may be part of the White House fronting American public life, as well as the world’s, it must be disturbing for Americans to see it happen.

I do agree with Adela’s points. I would call Michelle face good looking, but like others have commented, that doesn’t negate her other “faults”, if that’s what they are.

As for Jackie Onassis, she really was the epitome of femininity—even though she wasn’t very pretty—which shows that awkward features can be overcome with an innate sense of one’s self. Any woman can look feminine and attractive if she wants to.

The Editrix (Nora Brinker) writes from Germany:

You wrote:

“Of course, in our society, it is considered unworthy or silly—beneath the level of serious intellectual discussion—to draw attention to or criticize the physical qualities and dress of public people.”

That is an interesting point and does apply not just to public people. I think it ought to be seen in a broader context because it is part of the sickening “we are all one anyway so what does appearance mean” philosophy that has gone a long way already to undermine our sense of what is proper and decent. Dress used to be one of the most important social markers, its details firmly codified by law within the European corporate system. Not more than three generations ago, even though it had ceased to be a legal requirement, traditions were still strong enough that, for example, a member of the middle classes would frown on a working class woman who left the house without wearing an apron. We will all agree that it is a good thing that anything like that has gone to the dustbin of history, but instead of arriving at a—well—decent and proper solution, we have come together once again at the very lowest common denominator, which is to appear as sluttish and yobbofied as possible.

Female politicians are looking like personal assistants showing cleavage at any time of the day, nice girls are wearing tattoos and a ring through their nostrils. Would they, as they ought to, wear cashmere jerseys and pleated skirts, they’d come across more incongruous than a little green man from outer space, and when the upmarket hooker the French President married made an attempt to look ultra-respectable for meeting the Queen and ended up as the cartoon character of a coy schoolgirl, nobody laughed. Instead, the media, who wouldn’t know style even if it hit them square in the face, went over the top to let us know how “she stole the show” from the octogenarian monarch. (Pictures here and here.)

A society that has forgotten what “embarrassment” is, is doomed.

As Jacqueline Kennedy was mentioned in the course of the discussion, this blog entry may explain further what I mean:

Maybe this is not germane anymore to the topic of Michelle Obama’s appearance, but I am inordinately grateful to VFR for discussing a topic I find increasingly important, so this may explain my rambling.

LA replies:

I am particularly grateful for the comments from Kidist and the Editrix, since a long-time female reader contacted me today and told me that the discussion of Michelle Obama was “beneath” me and made her question whether I am a thinker worthy of respect.

Gintas writes:

I am drawn to VFR because I think you’re an interesting conversationalist willing to tell us what we see in plain sight but have been trained to pretend is something else, and you bring together and moderate an interesting group of commenters who like to kick the observations around intelligently. What’s more fascinating than flesh-and-blood reality, and trying to recover our traditional Western reality?

I recall Chesterton’s remark, “there are no uninteresting subjects, only uninterested people.” While you don’t wear your heart on your sleeve, you do engage the whole man, it’s not just intellectual maneuvering. What you’re asking re Michelle Obama is, “What does a traditional Western man see when he looks at Michelle Obama? (And here’s a picture!)” Maybe your long-time female reader just doesn’t understand men.

Gintas writes:

There is a sense that Michelle Obama is not going to be a feminine wife (normal), but a power woman wife (Lady Macbeth!). That would fit with my thesis that the Democratic Party is a pagan mystery religion. Those were often dominated by females as priestesses. The kind of man such a woman would marry is not someone who would dominate her, but one she could dominate, but for the sake of politics in America he would be the smooth front-man. We had the Clintons already, are we in for a reprise with the Obamas?

Lady Macbeth, in Act I scene 5:

Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief! Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry ‘Hold, hold!’

Patrick H. writes:

Thank you for your kind words about my comment. I really do insist that your female correspondent who attacked you for commenting on MO’s physique and what it means is reading you from the perspective of women who think the man is doing the equivalent of calling a woman a “bow-wow” or making oinking noises at her image on the television. It strikes me as so obvious that that is not what you are doing that I won’t defend you any more.

But there is something that has been lurking at the edges of all this talk of Michelle’s mannishness: her husband’s lack of it. I never realized until now the real nature of Barack Obama. Look at him! Listen to him! Barack Obama is slender, graceful, delicate of bone, light on his feet, precise in motion, soft-voiced in diction, and generally congenial and unthreatening in manner. If Michelle O is mannish, and she is, then Barack O is womanish. She is big, strong, harsh, confrontational, aggressive … masculine. He is everything that is opposite. He is … feminine. I’ve never realized this, and I have no idea if you have discussed this, but it strikes me as important. Barack Obama is unquestionably the most feminine, even effeminate, candidate to run for the Presidency that I can recall. I simply have nothing more to say on the topic for now, because I am so startled at this rather obvious fact about Barry O.

Barack Obama is the most feminine, least masculine man to run for President in memory.

Do you agree? If so, I think this is something that needs to be pointed out. I’m not implying that Barack Obama is homosexual. Only that he is very feminine in the same way that his wife is very masculine without any indication that she is a lesbian. But I must insist: sexual roles have been reversed in this couple in a way that is, as far as I can tell, revolutionary. It is the outward physical sign of how utterly unprecedented the Obamas are as political figures, and of course as social and cultural figures too. Just as in my previous comment, I am arguing here that their revolutionary impact (or better: significance) is as much about feminism and changes in gender relations as it is about race.

Do you agree that this is important? Because if it is, then the entire discussion about Michelle’s physique is not only justified, it’s essential, because it leads directly to an understanding of the genuine social and cultural earthquake that is the ascendancy of Barack Obama. The post-racial candidate is much, much more than that. He is the post-sexual candidate. And since sex is far more fundamental to human identity than race, I can say (while quite literally trembling as I type these words):

Barack Obama is the first post-human candidate for the Presidency of the United States.

We live in a post-human world. May God have mercy on our souls.

Respectfully, if somewhat histrionically, PatrickH

P.S. Lawrence, please feel free to slap me down, ridicule me, even publicly on VFR if you wish. I’ve never wanted to be wrong about anything so badly in my life. Please, tell me, show me, prove to me that I am wrong, and ridiculously so. Believe me, you’ll be doing me a favour.

LA replies:

I do think you’re being somewhat histrionic. It’s true that there’s never been such a slender candidate for president. I’ve often thought that Obama’s striking thinness is a reason it’s hard to see him as president: it makes him look like a student rather than a leader. And yes, with his thinness and gracefulness he is not masculine in the familiar sense; and that definitely is different. But I don’t see him as being feminine or effeminate or as revolutionizing our notions of the masculine

Same with Michelle. It’s true that there’s never been such an aggressive, angry, mean-looking (and tall and muscular) First Lady, and those things, combined with her race thing, are objections to her that I’ve talked about before . But that’s not the same as saying that she is masculine and that she revolutionizes the notion of the female.

However, it’s still the case that the Obamas do not fit our familiar patterns, and the race thing, which is already revolutionary, combined with their variations from the mean range of their respective sexes, adds to their strangeness and inappropriateness as a prospective First Couple.

On the other side, we’ve never had a First Couple like the McCains, who began their relationship as an adulterous affair that broke up John McCain’s first marriage. Remember the female reader last week who said she preferred Obama over McCain because having a president with McCain’s marital history would be damaging to the country.

LA continues:

I want to add this about Obama. My guess is that his “graceful” aspect fits with his quality of being a dreamer, a fantasist of his own messiahship, rather than a strong leader. His entire campaign is about narcissism. He really believes that he is the change we’ve been waiting for, that his very being, his glorious being as the race-transcending (and perhaps gender-transcending?) One, will be the satisfactory fulfillment for America and the world. Such an unreal attitude suggests that if elected he will be an ineffective, bumbling president.

More to the point: it suggests he will not be elected at all.

To put it another way: while he’s not feminine or effeminate, he is fey (i.e., having an elf-like strangeness or unworldliness). He lacks the force to be a real leader. And this suggests that the entire Obama phenomenon, as has already been happening to a certain extent, may continue to unravel, as the lack of any reality at its core becomes more and more apparent.

Or, as I said elsewhere:

[I]s Obama a left-wing, nonwhite, world-changing messiah, or is he a talented but callow b.s. artist whose act has run out of steam and is about to collapse in a pile of cardboard Greek pillars?

August 28

Alan Levine writes:

While I agree that Madame Obama is a bit odd looking, I do not think that this is true of her husband. His build and general appearance is quite typical of East Africans, and looks unusual only compared to largely West African black Americans.

Kidist Paulos Asrat writes:

Alan Levine writes:”[Obama’s] build and general appearance is quite typical of East Africans.”

Actually, I’ve always thought that Obama looks somewhat like the southern African bushmen (and certainly not Kenyan). I’ve known some Namibians and South Africans who look very similar to him. He even reminds me a little of Nelson Mandela.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 26, 2008 01:49 AM | Send

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