What's Up With Calling Michelle Obama Fat?

Why Rush Limbaugh (and other critics of the first lady's campaign to improve nutrition) are getting personal about her body and food choices

Full disclosure: I happen to think that Michelle Obama’s efforts to raise awareness about childhood nutrition, from planting an organic garden on the White House lawn, to pushing the fast food industry to offer healthier fare, are pretty great.

But even if I disagreed with her, policy-wise, I’d be mad about the tasteless way critics have taken her to task this week. First, BigGovernment.com ran a cartoon depicting Obama as a stereotypical fat black woman devouring hamburgers while she bosses her husband around. Then, Rush Limbaugh, reacting to news that Obama ate ribs while skiing in Colorado. He came up with this gem: "It doesn't look like Michelle Obama follows her own nutritionary, dietary advice. And then we hear that she's out eating ribs at 1,500 calories a serving with 141 grams of fat per serving […] I'm trying to say that our first lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue."

Um, hello kettle, this is pot calling-- you're black.

First off: Last time I checked, there was no law saying you can’t enjoy a plate of ribs (or insert-your-favorite-treat-here) once in awhile, when, generally speaking, you eat well and stay active. Which, as her skiing weekend suggests, Michelle Obama certainly does.

But even if she did eat platefuls of ribs every day, I’d say it’s none of our business. Just like we don’t need the first lady to wear American designers every day of the week to show her support of the American fashion industry, we shouldn’t need to police every bite she takes to believe she really wants to improve school lunches or work to end childhood hunger. What matters is Obama’s ability to make big change happen by endorsing key legislation, fighting for funding for critical programs, and challenging food manufacturers to clean up their acts. People working for the greater good are still entitled to a less-than-perfect private life. That’s why so many male politicians get away with affairs and drinking problems. It was a few bites of ribs, people. It’s not like we caught her force-feeding Taco Bell to a classroom of obese five year olds.

And then there’s that Sports Illustrated crack. No, the first lady does not project the image of women you might see on the cover of the Swimsuit Issue -- and thank goodness for that. She’s a lawyer, not a Barbie doll.

When we challenge food manufacturers to disclose calorie counts and market healthier fare to our children, we aren’t doing it so we can achieve the thoroughly unrealistic standard of beauty perpetuated by the Swimsuit Issue and other media portrayals of women. We’re doing it to promote a standard of health — one that should be achievable no matter what size you are.

Nitpicking Obama’s physical appearance is wrong. Aren’t we supposed to hate her because she’s beautiful? What happened to the debate over her right to bare arms?

Attention, Rush and friends: Time to find a new theme.

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