The Obama Girls and Black Womanhood

President Obama’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, are ages sixteen and thirteen, respectively. They are teenagers — children really — who have received backlash for their choice of dress and their actions. Elizabeth Lauten, who felt the need to comment is also the communications director for Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) and who resigned from her position, posted the following on Facebook:

“Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play. Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Nevertheless, stretch yourself. Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.”

Not only is Lauten criticizing the President for his actions, but his family members as well. Malia and Sasha are teenagers, and growing up as a black girl is hard enough outside of the public eye, let alone being inside of it. Lauten is accusing the girls of dressing too old for their age – “Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar” – even though they were both wearing sweaters and one was wearing stockings. I can only assume that Lauten is discussing the length or style of the skirts, but his daughters should have never been brought up to begin with. These girls have done nothing wrong. They dress impeccably and certainly do not lack class.

After receiving quite a bit of backlash, Lauten later goes on to retract her statement by saying:

 “I reacted to an article and quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager. After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents and re-reading my words online, I can see more clearly how hurtful my words were. Please know that these judgmental feelings truly have no place in my heart. Furthermore, I’d like to apologize to all of those who I have hurt and offended with my words, and pledge to learn and grow (and I assure you I have) from this experience.” source

This apology is empty and only happened because she got caught. I do not recall a stance on the Bush daughters who used fake IDs in order to enter bars illegally. Also, Lauten’s record is not clean itself. In 2000, at seventeen, Lauten was arrested for stealing from a Belk department store. However, she was not publicly ridiculed to the extent that Lauten, and others, have ridiculed Obama’s daughters. She was “just being a teenager.” The equality here is nonexistent.

Lauten is not the first or the only person attacking Obama’s daughters. Andrea Tantaros, a FOX news host, asked if Obama was going to put her on birth control at age fourteen after Obama’s decision to make the morning after pill, Plan B, more accessible to younger women. This was none of anyone’s business but the Obamas. People are robbing Malia and Sasha of their innocence; they are still teenagers, and just because their father is the President of the United States, it does not mean that they cannot be teenagers. A father’s job should have no bearing on the actions of his family, even if they are in the public eye.

Black girls are more often than not hypersexualized starting at a rather young age. The black female body is criticized, fetishized, and coveted simultaneously. This started when Sara Baartman, or Saartjie Baartman (1789-1815), also known as, “Hottentot Venus,” was sold to London from a South African doctor. She was paraded around Europe as “exotic” with unusual — only as compared to white women — bodily features, such as a larger backside, wider hips, and enlarged vaginal area, etc for four years. When she died around age twenty-six, Baartman’s body was dissected and put on display for over one hundred years until the 1970s. This is an invasion of her body and womanhood that has passed down to our children.

It’s bad enough children are being told that they are too “fast” – offering/inviting sex at an early age – or acting “grown,” when really they are just being themselves. They have no control over how their bodies are developing, but these ideas are thrust upon black girls especially, and that is not fair. We need to protect black girlhood by whatever means necessary. Let black girls be themselves without repercussions. Let black girls dress how they want without calling them names. Let them be. Leave your comments to yourself.


Published by

Ashley Elizabeth

Ashley Elizabeth (she/her) is a writing consultant, teacher, and poet. Her works have appeared in SWWIM, Rigorous, Mineral Lit, Sante Fe Writer Project, Knights Library, and Kahini Quarterly, among others. In June 2020, Ashley was the featured writer at Drunk Monkeys. She is also the author of the chapbook, you were supposed to be a friend (Nightingale & Sparrow). When Ashley isn't serving as assistant editor at Sundress Publications or working as a member of the Estuary Collective, she habitually posts on Twitter and Instagram (@ae_thepoet). She lives in Baltimore, MD with her partner and their cat. Once COVID is over, they plan on going on a foodie road trip.

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