To Bare or Not to Bare Arms

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Obamas arms
As political pundits dissect President Obama’s second inaugural speech, the first lady’s outfit is likely to be a source of even greater discussion—especially if she wears one of her trademark bare-armed dresses. Since President Obama took office, the first lady’s propensity for showing off her arms seems to have stirred as much controversy as the fiscal cliff, with opinions ranging from absolute opposition to deep admiration.

Case in point: In a radio interview I heard a few years back, a female American citizen from the Midwest, when asked what she thought of the First Lady, practically spat into the microphone, saying something to the effect that Mrs. Obama certainly doesn’t look or dress like a first lady should. While the woman on the radio sounded as if she were in her sixties or seventies, she obviously didn’t have a very good memory of past First Lady fashion.

As author Bonnie Fuller pointed out in an article on the hot topic in the Huffington Post, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was often photographed wearing—you guessed it—sleeveless outfits. Fuller, a fan of the look, writes: “Michelle’s sleevelessness conveys the fact that she is ready to get to work as First Lady, doing everything that she can to help the American public.”

Opinions on Michelle Obama’s bare arms are about as polarized as American politics in general, though I’m not sure the subject has been studied enough to determine if feelings about Mrs. Obama’s arms are divided among party lines. What does seem certain, however, is that Mrs. Obama’s style has had had an impact on the fashion direction of all kinds of women.

Perhaps Mrs. Obama’s daring fashion statement has given women permission—if even on some sort of subconscious level—to show off their own arms, however buff or flabby they may be. You can see it on the nightly news; news casters’ often bare arms represent a departure from the stuffy blazers with linebacker-sized shoulder pads of yore. You can also glimpse them on the society pages of the newspaper—even among women of advanced age who, regardless of how many yoga classes they take and weights they curl—cannot escape the droop that comes with time.

In four years President and Mrs. Obama will depart the White House, but the First Lady’s fashion sensibility is likely to linger in the public consciousness for some time to come. Is that a good or bad thing? Tell us what you think of women, Michelle Obama and others, exposing their arms in public.

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