First lady has short tim e to define her public im age By Em ily Goodin Posted: 0 3/16/0 9 0 8:13 PM [ET] A first lady has about 100 days in the White House to define herself, and Michelle Obama has already used up more than half her allotted time. The enduring historical images of presidents 9 wives are typically sealed in the public 9s mind during the first few months of a new administration. So while the nation 9s gaze is mostly fixed on what the new chief executive can achieve during his short- lived honeymoon, the woman at his side has a lot at stake, too.
cThey often become reduced to caricatures, d said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, historian of the National First Ladies 9 Library. cMichelle Obama? Right now people are talking about her sleeveless dresses.
She 9s being typecast, and she 9s got to be careful. d An ironic as well as potentially iconic New Yorker magazine cover this week depicted Obama as a Fashion Week model. Each of the three outfits she is seen wearing has long sleeves, defying the stereotype and also the blogosphere chatter. The Washington Post on Saturday ran a cartoon depicting the ... more. less.
first lady in the classic cRosie the Riveter d pose, with her sleeve rolled up and arm muscles bulging.<br><br> There has been plenty of comment about the president working out and having a toned physique. But Obama is also being defined as a sort of biceps babe 4 a Jackie Kennedy who does push-ups. Obama 9s predecessors had different challenges.<br><br> Laura Bush was swiftly regarded as a quiet and perhaps prim librarian. Hillary Rodham Clinton, handed the task of overhauling healthcare, became defined as a policy wonk and aggressive politician in her own right. First impressions of first ladies come with the projects they choose to champion and the way they promote them.<br><br> Anthony, the author of several books on the presidents 9 wives, says first ladies get pigeonholed into the early images they project. Bush focused on literacy in her early years at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., which set her librarian image. Clinton headed a healthcare task force but became embroiled in controversy when she held its meetings behind closed doors and kept them shrouded in secrecy.<br><br> Obama, meanwhile, is rapidly becoming subject to a call to arms 4 as in how to get strong, toned biceps. It 9s an impression that can be hard to overcome. Anthony notes that despite all of her other work, Nancy Reagan was never able to overcome the cQueen Nancy d image that got stuck in people 9s minds during her husband 9s first few months in office.<br><br> cIt 9s hard to break that first sort of classification, d he said. cThat 9s why it 9s important they define themselves before others define them. d Michelle Obama, he said, is in danger of being typecast as a cwell-dressed mom. d And while it 9s not a bad image, it may be difficult to shake from the public 9s mind. Anita McBride, who was one of Bush 9s chiefs of staff, said it is incumbent on the first lady to establish her own image.<br><br> cMrs. Bush would be the first to tell you she was slow to define her platform, d McBride said. But she noted it 9s different for Obama.<br><br> cShe is very quickly out of the gate, d McBride said. She added: cI 9m not surprised, given the number of consultations we had as a staff d during the transition period. Liza Mundy, who wrote a biography of Obama titled Michelle, agrees that Obama is defining herself as a cworking mom in chief, d but she thinks that image can be changed if Obama wants to set up her own policy shop.<br><br> cI don 9t think anyone has the illusion she 9s only a fashion plate, d Mundy said. Obama 9s bare arms have become her trademark. Her official White House photo features her in a black Michael Kors sleeveless sheath with her arms looking strong and toned.<br><br> Several magazines and websites have offered tips on how to get cMichelle 9s arms. d Mundy thinks the first lady has cultivated some of that attention. cShe 9s got to be enjoying that a little bit, d Mundy said. A spokeswoman for the first lady noted cMrs.<br><br> Obama 9s outreach to federal agencies, community organizations and stops beyond D.C. really should speak for itself. d Obama also has been embraced by the fashion industry. She 9s been on the cover of Vogue and made Vanity Fair 9s Best Dressed list.<br><br> Mundy traces Michelle Obama 9s fashion image back to the campaign trail, noting it emerged after she made a comment that got her a lot of negative press. In mid-February, Obama said at a campaign stop: cFor the first time in my adult lifetime, I 9m really proud of my country. d That comment caused a firestorm on the Internet, particularly in the conservative blogosphere. Observers noted Obama visibly stepped back from the campaign trail after the incident, and, a few months later, went on ABC 9s cThe View d wearing a black and white dress that became the talk of the fashion world.<br><br> From that moment, everything Obama wore was noticed. Mundy says Obama had less time to prepare for life in the White House than other first ladies. cJust five years ago she was wife of an Illinois state legislator. d Most first ladies get cpractice as governors 9 wives, d Mundy added.<br><br> Plus, life is different for a first lady versus a president. cA first lady can pick and choose what they get involved with, d McBride said. She noted that unlike a president, who has to deal with the myriad matters of the day, a first lady is free to pick the issues that interest her.<br><br> cEach person brings their own personality into it, d McBride said. So Obama 9s signature issue may become more than strong biceps. cI know in history there are certain moments that seem to really capture the public 9s attention, d Anthony said.<br><br> cThe fashion stuff shouldn 9t go away. It 9s about balance. She could pull forward a little bit, and I think she will. d<br><br>