President Obama walks with his daughter Malia across the South Lawn of the White House. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
President Obama sat down with Time magazine and ballerina Misty Copeland at the White House last month for a candid conversation about race. And the discussion turned to body image and the relationship that young black girls — like Sasha and Malia Obama — have with it.
“The fact that they’ve got a tall, gorgeous mom who has some curves, and that their father appreciates, I think is helpful,” President Obama said. “I do think that culture’s changing for the younger generation a little bit more. You see Beyoncé or you see some of these pop stars, and what both white, Latino, black children are seeing as representative of beauty is much broader than it was when I was a kid. You just didn’t see that much representation. And that’s healthy and that’s encouraging. But it’s still a challenge.”
Copeland, the first African-American principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, agreed.
American Ballet Theater’s Misty Copeland in “A Ballerina’s Tale.” (Oskar Landi/Sundance Selects via AP)
“I think that having a platform and having a voice to be seen by people beyond the classical ballet world has really been powerful,” Copeland said. “It’s allowed me to say, ‘It’s OK to have a healthy, athletic body.’ We are fully capable of doing everything that the person who doesn’t have an extremely athletic body — that is more thin — we’re fully capable of doing exactly the same thing. And I think that being in this position and showing that I can execute and do all of these things, that it’s possible to have any skin complexion — to have a healthy body image for the ballerina body — I think it’s given me more of a voice. And it’s, I think, forcing a lot of these top tier companies to address the lack of diversity and diversifying the bodies that we’re seeing in classical ballet. It’s really forcing that conversation.”
Obama said he’s surprised Copeland’s body type is challenging the classical ballet world’s notion of what a ballerina looks like.
“I have to say as an outsider … when I hear that, like, your body type is considered sort of more athletic or large — you’re tiny,” he said. “I mean, you’re petite. So the notion that somehow that was even a question is pretty interesting.”
The president said Copeland’s emergence as a role model for aspiring young black dancers is important — but not necessarily enough to affect real change.
“It is wonderful that the potential dancer can see Misty and say, ‘I can do that,’” he said. “But if there’s no dance studio at all in their neighborhood, and if their schools don’t offer any extracurricular activities at all, or if their school is chronically underfunded, then it’s going to be a problem.”
President Obama jokes with Steph Curry at an event honoring the 2015 NBA champion Golden State Warriors at the White House, Feb. 4, 2016. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Obama even referenced body image while talking about Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry, who, the president said, “is the greatest shooter that I’ve ever seen.”
“The fact that he’s about my size and he’s doing what he’s doing” is remarkable, Obama said. “I am having more fun watching him than anybody since Michael Jordan.”
But is Curry better than Jordan?
“He’s not,” Obama said. “Even Steph wouldn’t necessarily say he’s better than Jordan.”