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What do the First Lady’s toned arms truly represent, for the future of America? How will J. Crew be remembered in presidential history? Do Joe Biden‘s teeth gleam when he makes love to Jill?

. . . And other burning questions—-revealed!—-in this edition of Sexist Beatdown, wherein Tiger Beatdown blogger Sady of NYC and yours truly of Washington D.C. discuss Vogue’s latest covergirl, Michelle Obama:

SADY: I cannot believe that I bought a copy of Vogue, first of all. I have not done this in years. Actual quote from Anna Wintour: “when people stop shopping, other people lose their jobs.” BUY THIS DRESS OR THE PROLE GETS IT, is what Anna Wintour is saying to you.

AMANDA: coincidentally, there’s been a lot of talk about Anna Wintour losing her own job.

SADY: haha, so you REALLY need to buy that dress.

AMANDA: Yeah man. Ok first of all—-Michelle is the second First Lady to grace the cover of Vogue. Hillary was the first, and then they skipped Laura! I hope Laura got Good Housekeeping or something at least.

SADY: yes, and only the fourth black lady, which is really shocking to me.

AMANDA: I know, that was truly amazing. I do not follow fashion magazines too closely, but four?? That’s crazy

SADY: Yes, well, if it had been Palin it would have been “Guns & Ammo” so I’m happy that it didn’t turn out that way. But I really think that like, race, and gender, and Michelle Obama being as smart and as open as she is have sent people into a tizzy. Like, the concept of this woman has driven people out of their minds, everybody needs to write something about what she means and who she is. Including maybe me!

AMANDA: Yes, and all of this has something to do with how cut Michelle Obama’s arms are.

SADY: I KNOW. Arms are the new erogenous zone! Some Irish lady wrote! I mean, seriously, I can’t help thinking how weird it is – and maybe the fashion magazine aspect of this has something to do with it – that everybody needs to process her as A BODY. and sometimes discussion of who she is gets cut out of that altogether. like, the fascination with her arms is almost fetishy… yeah, she looks like she works out. super. but THE ARMS have come to dominate our national discourse.

AMANDA: well, to be fair, some of the discussion did touch on whether the backdrop was flattering to her skin tone.

SADY: oh, good! i’m glad we are getting to the deeper issues at hand.

AMANDA: I think Michelle Obama is a really interesting figure because she is such a nontraditional first lady in so many ways but really hews to tradition in others. She’s clear about being a mom to Sasha and Malia first, and she’s I think reluctantly embraced the fashion icon role, too, in a way that other independent first ladies (Hillary) didn’t, really. Though Hillary did say yes to Vogue, too.

SADY: True enough, but not during the Presidential race! It’s weird how we encourage women to be All About Teh Fashions and then view fashion as somehow trivial.

AMANDA: I know. I think the arms are sort of an interesting thing to focus on, because the discussion around them represents (ARMS REPRESENT SOMETHING NOW) both seeing her as a “strong woman” and still holding her to a physical standard of beauty

SADY: Yeah, exactly. There’s all of this discussion of her being tall – yet svelte! and opinionated – yet a mom first! I think some of it is well-intentioned, like they are trying to take her seriously, and thereby demonstrate that they CAN take the first first lady of color seriously, but then it gets into this weird thing where it’s like, “have we mentioned she has pretty dresses? She has suuuuch pretty dresses. and is pretty.” It’s weirdly overeager, like everyone wants to define the Michelle conversation and come out looking good. Oh, holy crap, that was a long speech of mine.

AMANDA: That’s an interesting point, actually. I’ve heard a couple people say, you know, “Michelle Obama? I don’t get what the whole fuss is, I don’t think she’s that stunning.” Or, “Michelle Obama’s dress the other day was not my thing at all.” And people will just jump on them for voicing that opinion, it’s not really acceptable. But why is the “pretty pretty pretty” discussion acceptable?

SADY: exactly! it’s kind of like making a Barbie out of her. I think people get weirdly tripped up around expressing approval of women, like, well, isn’t the nicest thing you can do to compliment her shoes? or something?

AMANDA: yeah, and also, I think there’s a bit of a compensation going on here, too. she’s married to a guy who people just went crazy about—-his politics, yes, but his looks, too.

SADY: Yeah, exactly, and I think that – here is the thing where I Get Serious – we need to be careful around that, because people of color have always been portrayed as somehow hypersexual. like: Obama Dildo? editorials about ladies having sex dreams about Obama? that is creeeeepy, and racially charged… and michelle becomes part of that too. like, the “at last” dance was really charged, but then afterwards people were like “I BET THEY GOT BUSY AND NOW MICHELLE HAS A BABY IN HER TUMMY.” seriously, can you imagine people speculating about laura bush’s sex life?

AMANDA: Yeah, people often voice their speculations about the Obamas doing it. And part of it, I think, is that they’re younger, and they seem very happy with each other.

SADY: True true.

AMANDA: But on the other hand, I mean, we all know that Jill and Joe are probably doing it on Observatory Circle. And I have heard NOTHING about that.

SADY: Yeah, I think because you would start to wonder if his teeth were gleaming, it gets into a weird area.

AMANDA: I just did actually imagine them having sex, and that was a weird, foreign image that I definitely have never heard hinted at before. Even though Joe Biden makes borderline comments about his wife all the time!
SADY: I did too, and now need to purge that image from my brain. Oh God. But, you know: the Obamas are young, and they obviously love each other, and they’re both attractive people, but the weird prurient interest in whether they’re doing it? That pushes so many buttons, for me.

SADY: Here is a quick change: Michelle Obama! In Vogue! Has a centerfold! Wearing J. Crew! I think it is totally hilarious that the First Lady is wearing the only outfit in Vogue that I could actually afford.

AMANDA: That is funny. She’s really become a J. Crew model. She really likes J. Crew, I guess! Which seems a little suspiciously brand-y to me but I guess maybe she knows it fits.

SADY: Tiger: Yeah, true enough. And there’s talk about her wearing “American” clothes that are “affordable” in the mag. I think she’s trying to make an economic statement.
Why not American Apparel, Michelle? Dov Charney needs your support!

AMANDA: I know. It must be a weird shopping trip where you have to think of the impact of every piece of clothing you buy. like, my kids live in the White House and go to private school and we an afford it, so they obviously would be wearing something nice. but not TOO NICE!

SADY: right? It would be very intense to be Michelle Obama. Because most first ladies are probably like, “well, you know, people are going to pay attention for a while, but then later you could be Chester A. Arthur, which is to say: no one will give a crap.” not Michelle! she KNOWS people are going to remember this! so the pictures are going to be around FOR A WHILE. and everyone right now wants to know what they mean.

AMANDA: this is freaking me out. she has to dress for centuries of fashion critics. who knows what toned arms will represent in 200 years??

SADY: right, and throughout history, her message will remain clear: i really, really liked this cardigan.