Fashion icon Iman has raised a few eyebrows in print and on the web (including my Hot Topics page) with her comments that First Lady Michelle Obama is “no great beauty.” But in her full quote about Michelle Obama to Parade Magazine, Iman says:
“Mrs Obama is not a great beauty, but she is so interesting looking and so bright. That will always take you farther. When you’re a great beauty, it’s always downhill for you. If you’re someone like Mrs Obama, you just get better with age,” she said. (AFP)
Is that a diss or a compliment? (Or worse, a backhanded compliment?) Because Iman is rather blunt with her words they can easily be interpreted many ways. Is she saying the First Lady is unattractive, or is she just saying that beauty is skin deep and Michelle Obama has way more going for her than looks? (Which is true.) But why does the comment feel wrong? Why is it eliciting responses like this?
More after the jump.
I THINK I understand what Iman was TRYING to say, but as compliments go, this is an EPIC FAIL … I’m predicting a retraction, clarification, “I was taken out of context,” “you see what I meant was…” any minute now. (Gina, Michelle Obama Watch)
Iman done started some some mess with what sounds like a back-handed compliment, a statement increasingly getting reported around the globe. I see a backtrack in Iman’s very near future! (Booker Rising)
We all know that the fashion world’s standard of beauty is not a realistic one. And Iman should be ashamed of herself for applying that same standard of (artificial beauty) to the First Lady, who in my opinion is quite lovely. (Sandra Rose)
And those were the nice ones.
Who the f is Iman to even talk? Cougar-pirates really shouldn’t be talking. Granted, I am sure Iman is dating the sexiest pirate in all on (sic) Somalia. (Shabooty)
So, in Dr. Suess terms – “If you start off fine, you’re sure to decline.” All you ugg-a-muggs out there should be happy that you were born ugly. You can only go up from beneath the bridge you live under….says Iman. (Bossip)
(S)he can go sit her azz down .. carefully don’t want her to tip ova from that huge head of her(s). (comment on Sandra Rose)
Obviously some people have already interpreted this as a bitter diss, but could someone as astute, educated and accomplished as Iman be engaged in petty back-biting? Is she judging Michelle’s looks by supermodel standards? Because if that was the journalist’s question to her, if Michelle Obama stacked up among the “great beauties” of the world, was this question a trap to being with?
As we all know, the First Lady is a lovely woman, but her attractiveness is relative and constantly up for interpretation because she’s a lawyer, she’s a professional woman, she’s a mom, she’s one of us, not a beauty pageant contestant or a fashion model. And Iman is saying she basically shouldn’t want to be because that is fleeting.
I was initially taken aback until I read the full quote, then I wondered how long it would take before only the first part of the quote would spread around and people would wonder if Iman was being catty? I don’t think Iman is being catty, but I think she picked a clumsy way to make her point about beauty versus brains. We don’t know what the reporter asked her specifically, but Iman’s choice of words left her intent up for interpretation and she sounded like she was delivering the ultimate backhanded compliment. Iman could have easily just said, the First Lady is a lovely woman, but she has much more going on for her than looks, as it should be, and left it at that. Why the need to quantify whether or not she is a “great beauty?”
As a reporter, I know the trick of asking the same question fifteen ways to wear a person down in hopes of getting an interesting answer. In my Nightline interview with reporter Yunji de Nies, I think I was asked at least five times when-oh-when would Michelle be more of the lawyer and less of the mom-in-chief and I pretty much gave the same answer over and over again: different versions of “When she feels like it” and “eventually.” I knew I was giving a dull answer there and of course most of it didn’t make the final cut when the story aired, but I had no desire to get into what I thought a grown woman should or shouldn’t be doing with one of the most impossible to please jobs in the world.
So maybe Iman fell into that trap, but I don’t know. She’s been giving interviews for nearly all her adult life. Surely she knows all the tricks of the trade as well as I do, so she had to have meant what she was saying, yet it’s hard to ascertain what exactly she meant by it.
What do you think Iman meant? How did you read it?
PS. What’s crazy, in the same interview Iman makes this sage observation about being the token black on the runway:
“You suddenly represent a whole race, and that race goes, ‘Well, that person does not represent our ideals of beauty.’ For lack of a better term, it becomes what it was like during slavery,” she said.
“One had the field n…(expletive) and the house n…(expletive). There was this notion that I was chosen by white fashion editors to be better than the rest, which I am not. I did not like being thought of as the house n…(expletive).”
Like I said, Iman’s a smart woman. So what IS she saying about Michelle? Is everyone reading too much into it?