12.24.11 4:00 AM ET
Who Are You Calling Fat?
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about how Jim Sensenbrenner, the quadruple-chinned Republican congressman from Wisconsin’s 5th District, called First Lady Michelle Obama unfit to “lecture us about eating right” because “she has a large posterior herself.”
According to Fishbowl DC, Sensenbrenner made the comment during what he thought was a private cell phone conversation at a Washington, D.C., airport lounge. Sadly, an unnamed Democratic operative overheard him raging against Mrs. O’s “Let’s Move” machine and tipped off Fishbowl DC.
In response to the media firestorm, the press-averse congressman made this brief statement: “I regret my inappropriate comment and I have sent a personal note to the First Lady apologizing.”
Today, his D.C.-based press secretary confirmed that Rep. Sensenbrenner sent the apology. However, citing “short notice,” she declined to answer my policy questions:
Can you elaborate on Rep. Sensenbrenner’s disagreement with the Let’s Move Campaign? Are there specific provisions that he takes issue with?
Can you point me to any legislative activity Rep. Sensenbrenner has sponsored or supported that addresses childhood obesity in the United States?
Without even a basic idea of what Sensenbrenner specifically dislikes about a multi-pronged campaign to reduce childhood obesity and chronic illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure, I—an African American woman sitting on my own rather large posterior—am forced to theorize.
My big theory: What the Wisconsin Republican and his ilk are really expressing when they take cheap shots at Mrs. Obama’s famously fit body is fear.
For instance, back in February, when Rush Limbaugh accused Mrs. Obama of being a hypocrite because she ate ribs during her Vail ski vacation with her daughters, he added, “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 or of a woman Alex Rodriguez might date every six months or what have you.”
Unless Limbaugh has some secret files stashed in his lair, I’m unclear how a rational person could have made that leap. Michelle Obama is an accomplished attorney, former hospital executive, international fashion icon, mother of two girls, and the wife of the president of the United States. Like most grown women I know of, her ultimate goal is not to land on the cover of a swimsuit issue or date a baseball player.
And that’s what’s scary to a paunchy, sexist trash-talker like Limbaugh. He simply can’t bear to see a woman be proud of what her body actually looks like when she’s eating nutritious foods, splurging occasionally without apology, exercising regularly, and sporting biceps that make his look like mammoth knees.
I also think Sensenbrenner, Limbaugh, and their folk are afraid of how this country’s first black First Lady is changing the centuries-old, dehumanizing scripts about women of color in media and beyond.
Every time Michelle Obama from Chi-Town jumps Double-Dutch with schoolkids, hits the hula hoop, teaches us how to dougie, shows Desmond Tutu how to do a proper pushup or does a record number of jumping jacks, she chips away at Ronald Reagan’s fake welfare queen, Hollywood’s jolly mammies, and Jackie magazine’s “niggabitch” with a “ghetto ass.”
Most important, I suspect they’re afraid of their own Venus Hottentot fantasies. Clearly, these petty, dirty old men have been gawking at the First Lady’s behind when they could have been studying and debating Let’s Move policies.
But it’s a lot easier to call someone a bubble butt than it is to explain what’s wrong with, say, eliminating food deserts in low-income and rural neighborhoods, equipping more women of color and poor women with breast pumps, reducing infant mortality, and fighting childhood obesity that too often leads to chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. Just like it’s a lot easier for a potbellied stove to call the svelte, savvy kettle black.