Ten years after weighing in on Jennifer Lopez' ass, writer Erin Aubry Kaplan has contributed a strange, in-depth essay for Salon about Michelle Obama's booty. Kaplan, who describes herself as "a black girl who came of age in the utterly anticlimactic aftermath of the civil rights movement," explains: "What really thrills me, what really feels liberating in a very personal way, is the official new prominence of Michelle Obama. Barack's better half not only has stature but is statuesque. She has corruscating intelligence, beauty, style and — drumroll, please — a butt. (Yes, you read that right: I'm going to talk about the first lady's butt.)" And she does:Kaplan muses, "While it isn't humongous, per se, it is a solid, round, black, class-A boo-tay. Try as Michelle might to cover it with those Mamie Eisenhower skirts and sheath dresses meant to reassure mainstream voters, the butt would not be denied." Kaplan sees Michelle Obama's butt as the a signifier of her blackness, as a symbol of what it means to be black:
Lord knows, it's time the butt got some respect. Ever since slavery, it's been both vilified and fetishized as the most singular of all black female features, more unsettling than dark skin and full lips, the thing that marked black women as uncouth and not quite ready for civilization (of course, it also made them mighty attractive to white men, which further stoked fears of miscegenation that lay at the heart of legal and social segregation). In modern times, the butt has demarcated class and stature among black society itself. Emphasizing it or not separates dignified black women from ho's, party girls from professionals, hip-hop from serious. (Black women are not the only ones with protruding behinds, by the way, but they're certainly considered its source. How many gluteally endowed nonblack women have been derided for having a black ass? Well, Hillary, for one.)
But mostly, for Kaplan, this joy over Michelle Obama's butt is personal. Michelle Obama makes her feel better about her own backside. "It's OK for black women to be heavier than most, but we still have to conform to a universal (that is, white) standard of thinness and shape. This means that, even if you're 120 pounds, your butt better not account for more than 2 percent of that." Now, Kaplan claims, "we'll all be able to wear leggings to board meetings; we'll sport pencil skirts sans the long jackets meant to cover the offending rear at big conferences where we have to make a good impression." Why is this writer obsessed with asses? Why is she working out her issues on the home page of Salon? Why would Salon choose to run this as its lead story? Are we really having a discussion about the future First Lady's bottom? Would this have ever been done to Laura Bush? Is a Hillary Clinton-made-me-love-my cankles feature in the works? (Latoya from Racialicious says a reader named Virginia wrote about Kaplan's piece, complaining: "She is defining Michelle Obama and black women in general by their butts and hair. There are so many other traits that she could have discussed." Agreed.) In any case, while it's great that Kaplan feels a kinship or a personal alliance with Michelle Obama, it's upsetting that she reduces an incredibly smart and accomplished woman to a body part, something completely beyond her control. Oh, and Kaplan has a tip for the First Lady-to-be about her hair:
I can't talk about Michelle's butt without acknowledging her hair, another physical feature that stirs anxiety about black female difference. Let me just say that I hope that gets unleashed, too. How sad that, in order for a black family to prevail — because Michelle and the girls were all running for office, not just Barack — they had to sublimate their blackness like crazy, starting with the visuals. Michelle's ethnic butt might have snuck under the radar, but an ethnic do wouldn't have stood a chance.