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Michelle Obama Is Fat? Elementary School Gibes as Political Commentary

4 years ago
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Two years into their stay at the White House, the Obamas must be resigned to the fact that no matter what they do, they're going to get blasted by the right. But I have to believe that Michelle Obama thought her call for kids to exercise more and eat healthier would be as plain vanilla and non-controversial as, say, Laura Bush's cause for children's literacy.

Sadly, she was wrong. For some conservatives, her effort to make our country's children healthier through her "Let's Move" program is just another socialist stategy to move us toward a nanny state.

Taking FLOTUS to task for her so-called veggie conspiracy isn't enough for some critics. Some attacks suggest that the first lady is a "do as I say, not as I do" hypocrite if she personally deviates from a strict food regimen, even though she's been quoted many times acknowledging that no one, including herself, should be expected to give up burgers or fries forever.

Andrew Breitbart's uber-right-wing political site decided, however, to use playground mockery to attack her, suggesting that the government should have no role in producing healthy citizens.

In its cartoon titled "Obama Nation: Listen to Your Betters," portrayed an unusually plump Michelle Obama shoving a plateful of burgers into her mouth, and demanding bacon from a large-eared Barack Obama, who is picking at a meager plate of lettuce and some other unidentifiable green vegetable.

Fat is apparently easier to attack than actual political positions.

Cartoon creators James Hudnall and Batton Lash contend that the first lady was fair game for their purported comic portrayal. After all, they say, she can't advocate for healthy eating and also serve wings and burgers at a White House Super Bowl party, right? Political humor is often in the eye of the beholder, but Hudnall and Lash's contention that their portrayal of Michelle Obama is just a caricature prompts the question -- are they attacking her program or are they dismissing her efforts by wrongly suggesting she's a Fatty McFatterson?

Portraying the first lady as an obese glutton is like resorting to a classic elementary school taunt: "You're ugly and your mother dresses you funny." I love a good political cartoon as much as the next person, but this one takes a cheap shot, dismissing the substantive things someone has to say by simply mocking her appearance -- and a distorted appearance at that.

Hudnall and Lash aren't the first to slam Michelle Obama based on how she looks and they won't be the last. Ann Coulter is famous for mocking her wardrobe as dowdy. The first lady has been called an elitist for buying a pair of pricey gardening boots. And wearing a red dress means she's a communist.

No matter how much the cartoonists or their editors might say otherwise, they're taking a page from the shopworn political playbook, attacking the appearance of an opponent to score points -- just as former California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina mocked Barbara Boxer's hair, just as Glenn Beck and others have ridiculed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for her reported facelifts, and just as Hillary Clinton was criticized during the 2008 presidential campaign for everything from her age-appropriate wrinkles to her cleavage.

Playing the "fat" card is more than just political mockery. As Kerry Deikmann writes at the blog for the American Association of University Women, the "politics of appearance" also have the effect of overshadowing the actual issues at hand. In other words, trying to shift our focus from real issues to a superficial one has a bait-and-switch effect, especially when it's women who are in the political spotlight.

"Mean Girls" isn't a political movie, but it has some advice that today's politicians might want to keep in mind -- "Calling somebody else fat won't make you any skinnier." And, I'd add, it will never advance your agenda, especially when the person you're talking about isn't fat at all.

You can follow Joanne Bamberger on Twitter and Facebook.

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Monica Amaon

I think the goal concerning healthy diet and exercise is moderation and being cognizant of what you're eating and why. Moderation wouldn't have it's name without the occasional back slide ie: Superbowl wings and burgers....

March 06 2011 at 11:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I seriously doubt MO gives a rodent's behind what anyone says about her. I would usually not come to her defense. I think she should get a real job and stop fooling around on the periphery of issues. But calling names is just stupid, and if she has a brain in her head, she'll consider the source and disregard.

February 18 2011 at 12:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"portrayed an unusually plump Michelle Obama" Unusually? C'mon...Anyone who doesn't have a liberal blinder on can see she isn't a poster girl for healthy eating. She should have no say in what other people want to consume. Whatever happened to individual responsibility?

February 17 2011 at 5:38 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I agree that some of the fat jokes are over the top and just vicious.

The point is that many people do not want the federal government regulating their personal behavior's, whether it's food, spending or education. None of it works anyway and these departments are a waste of time and money. The department of education should be abolished and so should the health department. Both of these regulatory departments should be handled by each state. We have become so accustomed to the heads of these departments telling us everything, we've come to believe everything they say, even though, we could have gotten the same information on our own. My problem with all this regulation is that it puts everyone in the same shoe box, whether you fit the profile or not. Guidelines that fit all just don't work. Those who do not fit fall through the cracks. Being individual and unique has been diminished with all this regulating.

The jokes and the gags about these things will continue too. It's not just been Michelle, I remember plenty about Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, all first ladies get this treatment, from one or the other political party.

February 17 2011 at 11:51 AM Report abuse +24 rate up rate down Reply

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