I’m not sure whether Michelle Obama is the tallest of our First Ladies, but she has got to be up there. About 5’10” without heels, I’d say. (My thanks to anyone who can supply the actual stats). Eleanor Roosevelt was quite tall, as was Florence Kling Harding. Mrs. Harding could, and would, deck any woman who might come as a temptation to her husband — and there were several. President Harding got around this by finding inventive ways to make use of a White House coat closet.
The most notable thing about Ms. Obama’s face (we’ll get to the arms) are her very prominent cheekbones. Fortunately, because she has a long face, the cheekbones are easy to exaggerate without running into a what I call a “proportion problem.” This happens when a major feature of the face is so large and extreme as to make it difficult to balance the proportions in caricature. Think Jay Leno’s chin or Barry Manilow’s nose.
Eyebrows: Michelle Obama has been described as having a high, natural arch to her eyebrows that can make her appear surprised, angry, harsh, or all three. And while the arch itself is described correctly, Ms. Obama, as she revealed during her wonderful speech at the Democratic convention, and on other television and public appearances, is anything but angry or harsh. Just the opposite, in fact — which shows that caricature only goes so far as a method of psychoanalysis.
The first lady’s eyes are also very interesting. You usually see the whites of her eyes below the irises — always fun for the caricaturist. However, when she smiles broadly, her right eye scrinches up much more than the left, presenting yet another opportunity for exaggeration. No, it is NOT true that seeing the whites under the eyes is a sign of insanity, as claimed a psych major who roomed down the hall from me at college.
Ms. Obama’s hair is also fun to render — and, unlike Hillary Clinton during her early days as First Lady, she seems satisfied with her hairdo. Hillary changed her style every few weeks before settling on one ‘do, halfway through her husband’s second term. This constant change drove me nuts.
Another noteworthy feature of Michelle Obama is her strong forehead. Taken together with her cheekbones, her head would make for a great subject for sculpture. Out of deference to the First Lady’s wishes, most caricaturists aren’t going to lampoon the Obama daughters. Myself included — at least until they turn 18. But I might point out that older daughter Malia appears to have her mother’s skull shape, but her father’s facial features. It’s a striking combo. Her sister, Sasha, appears to be one of those children (I could count myself in this group) who bears little resemblance to either parent. On the other hand, she might look just like some other family member — an aunt, perhaps, or a cousin.
Finally, those arms. Yes, they’re well-toned and sleek. No “bat wings” in evidence, as my wife refers to the adipose tissue that can accumulate between the arm and underarm, particularly in women when they reach middle age. But neither of us see these limbs as muscle-bound, unlike Madonna’s are or used to be. However, given Ms. Obama’s height, her long, sleek arms and attractive hands are worth showing off with sleeveless outfits. Still, since so many fashion- and fitness mavens have referred to her arms as “muscular,” I couldn’t resist making them so. Sometimes, the caricaturist has to the give the people what think they see.
Hmmm….I’m trying to imagine Barbara Bush wearing a sleeveless gown. Or Nancy Reagan. I never go sleeveless myself. But, if you must know, my arms are more like Nancy’s than Barbara’s. It’s kind of sad. At least Mrs. Reagan has the excuse of old age.
For some quick comparisons of our First Ladies, I’ve included caricatures of Laura Bush, Hillary, Barbara and Nancy here. Hillary may have the most expressive eyes I’ve ever drawn — making her a near-perfect specimen for caricature. Laura Bush is still sort of cute for a 61-year-old woman — despite the squirrelly eyes. But I’ll explain the “cute rule” in a future blog. Nancy Reagan’s enormous eyes, at all times, express profound adoration. It is her hallmark look.
As for Barbara Bush, who became wide-eyed during her husband’s presidency due to Graves’s disease, was never my cup of tea. I think I was one of the only people in America who wasn’t a fan of Bar’s. Sorry about that. When polls consistently showed that 99.9% of Americans viewed Barbara Bush as the “Most Admired Women in America,” I was among that .1% who begged to differ. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps the caricature will give a clue?