It seems ridiculous, but that’s the question Oxonian Globalist writer Alice Robb recently posed.

In the President’s victory speech Tuesday night, Mr. Obama praised his family and told his daughters, “Sasha and Malia, before our very eyes, you’re growing up to become two strong, smart, beautiful young women, just like your mom, and I’m so proud of you.”

While most people watching let out a collective, “Awwww,” Robb, a third year student at Keble College, called the President’s comments “inappropriate” and said the mention of the Obama girls’ beauty “stung.”

She explains:

Obama’s comments beg the question of why a girl’s beauty should be source of pride for her father— and why beauty should be a value lauded alongside strength and intelligence.

The President may have been directing his comments at only two people, but he had the ears of the world, and on a day that should have been a triumph for women, his remarks stung.

Robb continues:

Every evidence suggests that Obama takes his role as a figurehead seriously. On Father’s Day 2008, he famously chastised fathers who fail to engage with their children. He has made a point of going on “dates” with Michelle and spending time with his daughters in spite of his busy schedule.

It is disappointing that on Tuesday, Obama— a liberal President seen as a champion for women’s rights— conformed to the ideology that sets up beauty as something young girls should aspire to. Women are voted into office with more and more regularity and Obama has appointed women to top Cabinet positions, but girls are still praised not only for their accomplishments but for their appearance.

Here’s the thing. While women are often beat over the head about our looks, a father—and a black father (yes, this matters)—praising his daughter for their beauty is a good thing.

Our relationships with our fathers are crucial to our development as women, and one component of that relationship is affirming our inherent beauty—both inside and out. Furthermore, for two African American girls on the world stage who have been repeatedly cut down by ideological nut jobs who take shots not only at their parents, but also at them, hearing your father, the President of the most powerful nation in the world, call you beautiful matters—not only to Sasha and Malia but to young black girls everywhere.

While I’m sure Robb meant well, her narrow interpretation of President Obama’s statements speaks to her inability to parse nuance. After all, beauty is more than just a physical trait. Moreover, Robb’s knee-jerk reaction—without any examination of how black girls are not often viewed as traditionally beautiful—hints at her privilege as a white woman.

I’m sure President and Mrs. Obama have taught their daughters that there is more to life than being a pretty face, but damn if it doesn’t feel good when your dad marvels at you like you are the most precious, and yes, beautiful girl in the word.

I agree with Robb on one thing: Tuesday was a great day for women. The senate is now comprised of 20 female senators, and many anti-choice laws were beaten back by the electorate. But it was also a win for black women and girls who will have four more years of the Obamas and their beautiful girls in the White House.

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  • Sarah Warren

    To be honest I think for any young girl being told you’re beautiful is, can be, should be a boost, a source of self confidence. Of course parents should feel able to tell their daughters “you are beautiful” and I don’t care if it’s in private at home or broadcast round the world.

    But I think particularly for two young black women in America, picking out their father for calling them beautiful (and ignoring the other qualities on which he complimented them, or the fact that beauty isn’t just about physical experience) is just… Wow. What an idiotic thing to say and I’m glad someone called Robb out on it.

    That election was one where even from the other side of the Atlantic, I saw rampant racism towards Obama, people holding up signs and wearing shirts that said “it’s called the White House for a reason” and other really ugly things like that. It should be self evident to anyone with half a brain that in that situation, telling two young women of colour that they are beautiful as well as intelligent and strong is the most ridiculous and flimsy reason to criticise Obama.

    Bleh. What was Alice Robb thinking? Huh, answered my own question: clearly, she was not :-/