Never in my lifetime have I seen a First Lady’s butt held under a microscope quite like Michelle Obama’s. The FLOTUS was famously criticized for her “large posterior” by Wisconsin Republican, Rep. F James Sensenbrenner, who later apologized. In the same vein, conservative radio jockey Rush Limbaugh refers to her as Michelle “My Butt” Obama. The latest man to take issue with Michelle Obama’s backside is high school football coach Bob Grisham, who is recorded by one of his students saying “Fat butt Michelle Obama. Look at her. She looks like she weighs 185 or 190. She’s overweight.”
Some may try to explain away the criticism of Mrs. Obama’s posterior as backlash from her “Let’s Move” campaign and focus on healthy living. But our First Lady has covered several fitness magazines, is praised for her toned upper body and has been televised doing consecutive pushups and planting a kitchen garden at the White House. By most standards, she is in great shape especially when one considers she’s nearly 50 years of age.
Naysayers may also cite that Michelle Obama is not the first FLOTUS to be criticized for her appearance. Recently, Hilary Clinton was the subject of several crude remarks for her “cankles.” But why the obsession with Mrs. Obama’s butt?
These negative comments on Michelle Obama’s butt seem steeped in racism. Butts, going back to Hottentot Venus (a woman from what is now South Africa whose naked body and pronounced posterior were paraded in shows throughout 19th-century Europe according to The Washington Post), are racialized as a symbol of black womanhood and as such, it’s the subject of extreme fascination and criticism. The attacks condemning her butt unsurprisingly come from conservative white men, who may perceive it as an unwelcome reminder of her “otherness.”