We're All Barbie Now?

We're stumped about why Michelle O's chic, broad-ranging style is a matter of debate. An accomplished woman, how she chooses to spend her money on her clothing is her business.
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Cathy Horyn's snarky piece in today's NY Times, "Wrapped in Their Identities," about Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama's style, has us Bitches on a Budget thinking. In our usual favorite fashion writer's piece comparing Sarah Palin's style to Michelle Obama's she takes to task Ms. Obama's fashion choices. Ms. Horyn writes: "Is this how a modern, educated, working woman wants to be viewed in her first historic year -- as a maven, an icon? Who's Barbie now?" Meanwhile, Ms. Horyn extolled the simple, chic, everywoman style Sarah Palin exhibited pre-RNC-bankrolled shopping spree.


Just like some of us love our pho (a delicious noodle soup) filled with veggies and topped with loads of fresh chopped cilantro, for others that cilantro sets our teeth to chattering. Is there one right way to make a pho? Absolutely not. Is there one right fashion look? Absolutely not. Are there ways to make fashion faux pas? Without a doubt. But the only false moves we've seen for either woman has been in Governor Palin's choice of having someone else spend so much money for her clothing while she was busy running a campaign as Mrs. Everywoman Populist. It was the cognitive dissonance of a Neiman Marcus binge that set the world to chatter.

We're stumped about why Michelle O's chic and broad-ranging style is a matter of debate. An accomplished woman, how she chooses to spend her money on her clothing is her choice and business. Besides, isn't it refreshing to have a first lady who has a sense of style adventure and spirit, who isn't a slave to a single designer, who isn't too uptight to be seen in Target clothing and jean shorts? Isn't that how real people dress? What smart woman doesn't dress high and low, classic and trendy, biker jacket and floral print?

We think Sarah Palin is incredibly attractive, and looks great in a tailored and crisp style that suits her look. Michelle Obama experiments with looks, a seeming reflection of the many moods, roles, and self-images of women today. More power to them both, as they reflect, via their sartorial choices, on the multi-tasking challenge of all modern women.

We won't go so far as to comment on their politics, but we will speculate that the exploding Facebook fan base for our book (release 12/29!) says something to how exhausted women are... about the alienation that comes from feeling unable to achieve, let alone afford, all of the unattainable and unrealistic standards set for them today.

And unlike men, who have less identity multi-tasking pressure than us, our clothes become a reflection of the many roles we play. We can be freed from ourselves by our clothes, but also trapped by them. This is the paradox of fashion -- the paradox of the public eye -- and in this ever-connected world it's impossible for anyone to opt out of the game. Ms. Obama and Ms. Palin represent the many parts all women today play, and calling either of them Barbie seems beyond the point.

Mother, sister, wife, party girl, caretaker, bread winner, Victoria's Secret model, budget maker, housekeeper. Who are you? How does your style relate to your identity? Big questions, but something tells us that today's women are grappling with them in a new way.

It's no wonder that in a country whose governing leaders are mostly men, whose major corporations are by and large led by men, that women are left feeling exhausted and unempowered. We need a voice that understands that we want to be attractive and smart and have careers -- and we want to be heard and represented -- and we want to dress on our own terms, and look amazing, and know it. All without getting fleeced.

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