Michelle’s Buff Arms


Forgive me, because I am about to be cattier than I have ever been on my blog.

On the left is a picture of Jodi Kantor wearing short sleeves to a Batsheva Dance Company event (Panache Privee photo).

Below is the picture that accompanies Kantor’s latest blog post, taking Michelle Obama to task for her preference for sleeveless dresses (Doug Mills/NYT photo).

Nancy Reagan wore spangled ballgowns. Barbara Bush had fake pearls. Michelle Obama wears her bare arms.

It is February and Washington is freezing, but in appearance after appearance, the first lady displays her long, muscular arms. She is sleeveless on the cover of the new Vogue, she was sleeveless when she discussed menus on Sunday in the White House kitchen, and last night she was sleeveless again, in the House chamber for her husband’s first address to Congress. (All of the other women in the room seemed to be wearing long sleeves; a few even wore turtlenecks). If she keeps going at this rate, Mrs. Obama may do to dresses with sleeves what President John F. Kennedy did to men’s hats.



So Michelle Obama is athletic and disciplined. Yes, fine, but that was pretty clear before we started examining her triceps on a daily basis. Instead, those bare arms seem like a reminder of everything about her we can’t see.

In two years, she has shown us a great deal of herself, more than most of us would share, and yet right now, we actually don’t know that much about her. What does she think of the White House, and what does she do all day? Does her husband consult her on any of the difficult decisions he faces? Is the “Mom-in-chief” really, totally confident that her children are going to come through this just fine? In a few years, will she still look as confident as she did last night, or will she reach for cover? And is she comfortable as she looks in those skimpy tops, or is she actually freezing?

Now, as someone who has pretty decent arms myself (though not as great as Michelle’s), let me explain something to Ms. Kantor that she is likely unable to relate to: those of us that got ’em proudly flaunt ’em. There’s no need to look for some hidden meaning about that. We work out, as a result our arms look great, and they are a feature we show off the way other women flaunt boobs–though the boob-flaunters never seem to attract this much pettiness for their choice to flaunt. (I also have an affinity for formal tops that resemble jog bras because I happen to love wandering around in jog bras–but I can’t speak for Michelle on that count.)

And oh, by the way, I apologize to all those I spent inauguration night with for the number of times I shrieked, "It is so cool that we have a buff first lady" when pictures of Obama and Michelle came on. It’s about time we had a female role model that is so athletic.

But since we’re discussing hidden meanings, I wonder (and this is why I’ve included the photos under fair use). Do you think that Kantor’s ridiculous attempt to deconstruct Michelle’s triceps says more about Kantor’s insecurities about her reporting or about her own flabby arms?

51 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    Oh, and one more thing.

    As someone who lives in roughly the same climate that Michelle has lived in for most of her life, I gotta say. DC is not freezing. Not even close.

  2. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Do you think that Kantor’s ridiculous attempt to deconstruct Michelle’s triceps says more about Kantor’s insecurities about her reporting or about her own flabby arms?

    And not as catty as I was expecting from the top part of the post ;-))

  3. macaquerman says:

    Fabulous post.
    Let’s put Obama and Kantor in jogging bras and have them in a boxing exhibition, perhaps a fundraiser.
    Any thoughts on what type of pants would be most apprpriate?

  4. zAmboni says:

    I lived in the DC area for my first 20 some odd years. DC is not cold. Isn’t that what they make overcoats for anyways? Why dress down to the weather?

    BTW…we all know the reason why your arms are so buff EW. It is all of those pints you curl at beer thirty.

  5. prostratedragon says:

    Might as well start training those push-back muscles—they are the triceps, aren’t they—now. I’m sure we’ve not heard the last of this kind of thing, by far.

  6. Dismayed says:

    Hmmmm. This sort of talk keeps up and someone is going to wake up and realize that Mrs. Obama may be a FLILF.


    I take it back – Oh. can’t – spell it backwards and she’s still a FLILF.

  7. ffein says:

    Good for you! Great post. And not all that catty…

    My sleeveless days are over…enjoy them while you can!!

    And, there’s far more the First Lady her than fashion…she’s a great role model. My favorite ever.

  8. scribe says:


    But, seriously, it’s also a reminder that The Obamas and, by extension, their followers, are young, buff and vigorously assertive.

    Sort of Socialist Realism meets Tableau Vivant, but moving, walking and talking.

    At some deep lizard-brain level, it’s scaring the crap out of the wingnuts who manage to, paraphrasing the wise words of O.C. and Stiggs, daily turn five pounds of steak and a quart of liquor into odors and fat. And it’s letting the kids know that they, not the adults who made this mess, are now in charge.

  9. klynn says:

    Do you think that Kantor’s ridiculous attempt to deconstruct Michelle’s triceps says more about Kantor’s insecurities about her reporting or about her own flabby arms?

    (my bold)

    Should read:


    I vote, both!

    For Michelle, DC is down right balmy.

  10. Leen says:

    Who the hell is Jodi Kantor. Whoever she is great to know that Michelle could kick her ass if she so desired. Go Michelle!

  11. Leen says:

    Whoa..ot/ .Joseph Stigletz over at Democracy Now discussing Obama’s speech
    on Tuesday night. Joe Stiglitz, “is he holding the banks accountable”?

    JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Well, so far, it hasn’t happened. I think the more fundamental issues are the following. He says what we need is to get lending restarted. If he had taken the $700 billion that we gave, levered it ten-to-one, created some new institution guaranteed—provide partial guarantees going for, that would have generated $7 trillion of new lending. So, if he hadn’t looked at the past, tried to bail out the banks, bail out the shareholders, bail out the other—the bankers’ retirement fund, we would have easily been able to generate the lending that he says we need.


    Wall Street has done a great job at “fear mongering” You know SAVE THE BANKERS. Now there is a bumper sticker that would choke folks up


    • lllphd says:

      where did i see this reference to an opinion that the banks are essentially holding the country’s economy hostage? in other words, they’re playing some sick version of chicken with the gubmint daring them to nationalize (or put them in receivership) without taking care of their personal assets, and if they don’t, the banks will just somehow tank everything.

      now mind you, at the time that seemed far-fetched or i didn’t grasp it at all, but the more i watch this, the more it makes sense.

      wish i could reconstruct that source….. will work on it.

      • Leen says:

        When I was watching the Wall Street bail out hearings I felt like I was watching Wall Streets inside heist man holding a gun to our Reps collective heads. Pure “fearmongering” It was as if he was saying to the taxpayers the nations balls are nailed to the Treasury floor and there is no other choice. Then he handed our Reps and taxpayers a pack of matches and a butcher knife and said “choose”

        Joseph Stigletz latest over at Democracy now
        “AMY GOODMAN: Why is Obama saving these bankers?

        JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Well, we could all guess about the politics. We know one of the problems about American politics is the role of campaign contributions, and that’s plagued every one of our major problems. Under the Bush administration, we couldn’t deal with a large number problems, like the oil industry, like the pharmaceutical, the healthcare, because of the influence of campaign contributions. Now, my view is, one of the problems is that whether it’s because of that or not, it lends an aura of suspicion. The fact that there was so much campaign contributions from the financial sector at least raises the concern.

        Now, there is one other legitimate concern, that Wall Street has done a very good job of fear mongering. They say, “If you don’t save us, the whole system will go down.” But, you know, when these banks that I talked about before, when they go down, there’s not even a ripple. The fact is, you change ownership. It happens on airlines all the time. An airline goes bankrupt, a new ownership, financial reorganization—not a big deal. What they’ve succeeded in doing is instilling a sense of fear, so that it’s a kind of paralysis that hangs over what we’re doing. And you could understand a politician. He’s been told if you do one thing, the whole system—the sky is falling, it’s going to fall. That induces political leaders to try to do the smallest incremental step, and that’s what got Japan in trouble.”

  12. randiego says:

    I lived in DC for 6 years. When I’d complain about the cold, my Massachusetts friends would sniff “DC is NOT cold, DC is in The South!”.

    And then I’d give them a look like they were from Mars. Like hell it’s not cold in DC!

    The thing is, all the buildings are heated to ridiculous temperatures, so you really have to dress in layers and be ready for the sauna you are about to enter. (Same as summer, all buildings are cooled to ridiculous lows so you need a jacket with you).

    I defer to y’all on the catty stuff. All I know is that guys look damn silly in anything without sleeves.

      • phred says:

        Nice ; )

        By the way, you raise a good point about building temperature. I bet the First Lady knew perfectly well that the room would be really really warm packed with people as it was last night. That was a brilliant call (buffness notwithstanding) to keep cool, especially for a balcony seat. Buff and smart. You gotta like that in a First Lady ; )

      • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

        Cairns, eh?
        Brings back memories… some of them of ’stingers’ caught in my swimsuit.
        There’s more than one reason people go nude on those beaches, and carry lots of 4X. Kills the ’stingers**’ faster than anything.
        (Jeebuz, I hate jellies!)

        ** ’stingers’ = bits of stinging jellies (jellyfish)that float in the waves and if they get in your suit… it’s QUICK to the beaches and any form of alcohol to dry the damn stinging beasties up! They’re too small to see, so you don’t swerve out of their way.
        Hope you checked the weather reports for their lifecycle phase on your next surfing adventure Downunder ;-))
        Another good reason to wear a suit, I suppose.

        BTW: am I the only one who is seeing Quantas ads showing up on the right side of my EW web pages since randiego started mentioning his honeymoon travel plans…?

        Final note: Hope you saw Kilcullen on Maddow last week. If not, check her video clips. He’s the Australian anthropologist who’s advised Petraeus, Condi, etc, etc, — and who had dinner with Biden last week. (New Yorker highlighted him a year or more ago… truly exudes that calm, we’ll-get-to-it-after-smoko-so-don’t-excite-yourself national Aussie character, IMHO.) Kilcullen’s got so many brains, who gives a damn what his abs are like ;-))

        Fortunately, he didn’t start talking about endogamy and exogamy, or I would really have swooned… 8^0

    • Petrocelli says:

      Yep, what was the point of doing 100 crunches in under 2 mins if you had to wear Turtlenecks all year long …

  13. lllphd says:

    both. kantor is self-conscious about both her reporting and her arms. why else this drivel??

    and by the by, yet another from the frozen north to say that DC is NOT cold. spent the entire inauguration day, did not freeze. (bmaz, below 65 is nippy?? why, that’s kinda …wimpy, dude.)

    i’d say that in addition to the reason you posit, michele finds she may not sweat as much with her arms free. not as glamorous a reason, but there it is.

  14. KitH says:

    Kantor has her own shameless history of flaunting her arms for photographers. My favorite: the full-page photo of her at the head of the profile of her in the Fall 2005 issue of the Columbia alumni magazine.


    I prefer the FIrst Lady.

  15. LiberalHeart says:

    My arms are just as buff as Michelle’s. It’s just that they’re inside these really flabby fat arms so you can’t see them. When I wave, my whole upper arm waves.

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