Sunday, April 26, 2009

You are what you wear?

That seems to be the suggestion of Rachel Swarns' piece in the New York Times, at least when it come to Michelle Obama. The story's headline is "First Lady in Control of Building Her Own Image," and its first several paragraphs are entirely about how Mrs. Obama has asserted herself regarding what she has worn in cover photos for several recent magazine issues. Here's an excerpt:
[Michelle Obama] insisted on choosing her own dress (a sleeveless, magenta silk number) and using her own hair and makeup stylists for the glossy photograph splashed across Vogue’s March cover. This was nothing new for Mrs. Obama, who has pointedly controlled her look on the covers of People, Essence, More and O, Oprah Winfrey’s magazine. Editors at Essence, who suggested colors, styles and accessories, said her staff did not call to acknowledge their overtures. Editors at More said they were dumbfounded when, after painstaking negotiations, Mrs. Obama showed up at the photo shoot with a different dress from the one she had promised to wear.
Later in the story, Swarns reports on other ways that Mrs. Obama and her staff work at controlling her image. This image control seems largely about putting the First Lady's "domestic foot" forward first. As a student in my Gender and the 2008 Election seminar wrote in a blog post a few months ago, this might be thought of as "strategically taking the beaten path."

I just wish Swarns hadn't led with the clothing thing, but maybe that's what sells papers--even when you're the NYT.

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