Did President Obama make a mistake by calling his daughters "beautiful?" Some believe it wasn't necessary.
Surely you won’t be surprised to learn that last Election Night was a really bad one for some people. When early exit polls favored POTUS, pundit Bill O’ Reilly couldn’t stop himself from pitifully lamenting on-air that “the white establishment is the minority.” When Fox News called the election for Obama, political consultant Karl Rove had what is commonly being referred to as “a meltdown” (it was so bad and widely talked about that The Simpsons mocked it). For the last week I’ve been reading (i.e. laughing) at the reactions to POTUS’s win on my new favorite blog, White People Mourning Romney, a collection of Facebook posts, tweets, pictures and news clippings of, well, white people distraught over the governor’s failed campaign.
There were plenty of complaints about Election Night (and its results), and one that’s gaining traction was from blogger Alice Robb for the Oxonian Globalist. In an opinion piece posted last Thursday, Robb complained that President Obama “conformed to the ideology that sets up beauty as something young girls should aspire to” when he referred to his daughters as “beautiful” during his victory speech.
(I’ll insert the “huh?” here for you.)
I stayed up until past 1 a.m. EST to hear that speech. I heard POTUS lovingly recognize his girls, Malia and Sasha: “Before our very eyes, you’re growing up to become two strong, smart, beautiful young women, just like your mom,” President Obama said, and I thought it was so sweet, not problematic in the least.
But Robb found it ever so. She wrote, “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.”
My first thought was “Really? No... really?” But I rolled her argument around for a bit in my head to see if I could get where she is coming from, generally. Overall, there is too much importance placed on women’s looks. Anytime a women gets promoted to a position of prominence, there’s an inevitable critique of her appearance. For Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin it was weight; for Hillary Clinton is was her clothes (pantsuits); and for First Lady Michelle Obama, it’s been the size of her backside and, of all things, the tone of her arms. Young women who are navigating changing bodies hear this and it can make them even more sensitive about their appearance, making it a bigger deal to them than it should be. And that is indeed a problem.
But it doesn’t apply here. In an effort to be politically correct (and likely feminist), Robb is going too far in the opposite direction. There is nothing wrong with any father calling his daughters beautiful — more fathers should do so, especially Black fathers, so that young women won’t go into the world seeking affirmation from strange men because they didn’t get it at home.
At the heart of this issue, one Robb may not even realize, is that Black girls turn into Black women who don’t get so many regular affirmations of their beauty in this world. Men yelling from cars and street harassment don’t count. And the few brown faces that show up in mainstream places, while an appreciated gesture, don’t erase the heaps of ways in which we are largely unseen or uncelebrated or generally made to feel undesirable. Just take a look at the heartbreaking doll test — the “new” one from 2008 — where most of the Black girls select the White doll as “good” and “pretty” and reject the one that is brown like them.
There’s no question, it can be difficult to be full-lipped, kinky-haired and/or wide-hipped in a world where those traits are much more celebrated when they are on a paler hue, where white skin, straight hair and blue eyes still widely reign as the ideal. It’s a place where some Black men think nothing of disparaging Black women openly and will show up to Black woman-centered blogs often to remind Black women of their preference for anyone but a Black woman. It’s at a time when the most popular song on the radio reduces a Black woman to “a big booty ho.” It’s an environment where too few men stand up for us and many more call us “angry” if we complain about it and “unfeminine” when we, by force and for survival, do things for ourselves.
Black girls, and Black women too, need to hear they are beautiful, especially from the men who care for them, to drown out the white noise of negativity. If not our daddies and our loved ones, who better to affirm our Black is beautiful than the President of the United States?
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk