First lady trends: Michelle Obama’s arms

This First ladies often set fashion trends,since no matter what their other accomplishments,the country obsesses about their appearance. Michelle Obama has made it unacceptable for women to appear in public with covered arms

Written by New York Times | Published:October 7, 2012 2:27 am

Joyce Purnick

I had expected to keep mum about my problem with Michelle Obama until after the election,but my frustration has gotten the better of me. I can contain it no longer.

I refer not to her politics,but to her arms—her bare,toned,elegant arms. Enough!

The first lady has made it unacceptable for women to appear in public with covered arms. However innocently,however unwittingly,that is what she has done. Those bare,toned,elegant arms of hers have spawned an epidemic of sleevelessness,exposing arms,arms,and not all of them toned and elegant.

This should not come as a surprise. Not all women are blessed with the first lady’s workout discipline or genetic gifts. That is especially true of most of us over the age of,say,50. Or,to be more candid,older.

To us,the naked arm taunts—as tall taunts short,as lithe taunts square.

This I know because I am significantly beyond the age of 50,and began anticipating upper arm betrayal many years before reality struck. I spent untold hours swimming,lifting weights,struggling through bench dips,and perfecting triceps pushups — all in a very determined effort to keep my arms looking as they did when I was 20. In fact,I started doing all of the above when I was about 20.

Of course,you know where this is going. My exercises have failed. Aging as one’s mother did is a fact of life,and I should have expected it. I guess I did.

OK,not the worst thing in the world,not by a long shot. But still,hard to take in this world of nonstop arms. Bare arms now often trump cleavage,have you noticed? What woman on the red carpet at this year’s Emmys dared hide her shoulders?

TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress,an ode to wedding-dress angst,is a virtual parade of arms,some well-cut,some not even close. I did not even have to look at the current issue of Vogue to know that arms would dominate it—in this case belonging to Keira Knightley. Surely Lady Gaga allowed herself to be pictured on the September cover wearing a semi-sleeved gown just to underscore her fondness for being different.

First ladies often set fashion trends,since no matter what their other accomplishments,the country obsesses about their appearance. Nothing new there. Women tried Mamie Eisenhower’s bangs,Nancy Reagan’s favorite colour (red),Hillary Rodham Clinton’s headband (and senatorial pantsuits) and,of course,Jackie Kennedy’s everything. Every woman wanted to be Jackie,to wear her pillbox hats,trim A-line dresses and chic suits.

However,hats can be modified to fit the head,dresses and suits are routinely altered to fit the body,bangs can be styled. Even red is not rigid; it comes in many shades. But bare arms? Bare arms are bare arms.

If President Barack Obama is re-elected,we will continue to be treated to endless images of the first lady’s bare,trim,elegant arms. What a prospect for those of us who have trouble finding T-shirts that cover our problem area.

Here’s a thought. Maybe she could take a cue from her husband and,in a bipartisan gesture,adopt Ann Romney’s preference for elbow-length sleeves and red taffeta. Or not.

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