Standing Room

Political Muscle

For all its faults, the Guardian can be counted on to steer one’s mind to subjects whose political import had previously been overlooked. It’s difficult to forget Adharanand Finn mulling the politics of showering, or Cath Elliott’s timely ruminations on KitKat bars and peanut butter residue. Today, Tracy Quan ponders the socio-political significance of Michelle Obama’s upper arms, while posing that thorniest of questions: Are Biceps the New Breasts?

Like the J Crew outfits women are buying en masse, the first lady’s biceps are quickly becoming the next must have on our list. Women at every stage of life are finding ways to emulate Michelle, wanting to bond with her physically, whether through exercise or the display of flesh. I just can’t imagine feeling this way about Laura Bush or Hillary Clinton, can you? Neither seemed to be physically in love with herself the way Michelle is. No wonder her body lends itself so nicely to political myth.

Shamefully, I hadn’t hitherto considered Mrs Obama’s upper arms, or those of ladies generally, as the stuff of “political myth.” I shall, of course, try harder to register these things. I’ll also try to fathom the correct political response to Ms Quan’s belief that,

Those of us who regard our breasts as a private treat are always in need of alternative cleavage.

Amidst this celebration of the First Lady’s forelimbs, readers are warned,

We should avoid treating the female biceps as a visual trophy. Whether we oppose or welcome its display, it’s a mistake to get too fixated on a particular muscle.


Getting your arms to such an exalted place involves the use of many different muscles. Indeed, Michelle shouldn’t be known for “one body part” but rather for the way she uses her lats, traps, rhoms and delts – muscles in the back and shoulder – to get there… The bicep is a showy muscle, ripe for comic symbolism. Think of Popeye.

Actually, Popeye isn’t memorable for his biceps, which are rarely seen and are generally depicted as somewhat puny. Ms Quan is perhaps thinking of Popeye’s distinctive facial deformity, or more probably his forearms, the alarming proportions of which suggest a need for immediate medical attention.

I’d be more impressed if the symbol of our strength were the first lady’s less-talked-about triceps. This is the harder muscle to train, and a real challenge for most women. Also, the state of your triceps is what really determines whether you should go sleeveless in the first place. Michelle’s are unimpeachable.


Ms Quan has been hailed as “the only chick-lit writer to discuss indentured labour... and the proper purse in which to carry a dildo.”



"Women at every stage of life are finding ways to emulate Michelle, wanting to bond with her physically, whether through exercise or the display of flesh."

Ooh, steamy. This bint needs a cold shower.


There is, I think, the air of an impending dorm room pillow fight.


I am SO turned on right now.


For the Popeye error alone she should be dismissed out of hand. Or sent one of the recent gorgeous volumes of the original Segar strips:

wayne fontes

I'm happy the focus of the press's obsession has moved on from Obama's rather disconcerting man-boobs. I guess we can all be grateful that Selma Hayek isn't the first lady because God knows the feminists would be in high hysterics on the unavoidable attention certain aspects of her anatomy would receive.

If you click on the link below I assure you the eyes aren't drawn to miss Hayek's biceps.

John D

That Popeye cartoon is hysterical. :)


First collar bone was the new cleavage, now its biceps? I'm so out of touch.


It's triceps apparently.

"the state of your triceps is what really determines whether you should go sleeveless in the first place. Michelle's are unimpeachable."


I have no expertise in the subject whatsoever, but, as Wayne points out above, I’m fairly sure the new cleavage is pretty much the same as the old cleavage. Guardian columns notwithstanding.


"Are biceps the new breasts?"

Babies say no.

carbon based lifeform

Husbands say no.


Thank you, Wayne. Nice, er biceps.


I bet she could field-strip a moose with those arms.

Jason Bontrager

Well I, for one, find this objectification of a Powerful Black Woman to be *utterly* degrading and sexist!

This woman should be sent to the nearest Sensitivity Training Re-Education Facility before she objectifies again!

Tracy Quan

Hello, silly billies. When Popeye *consumes spinach*, his biceps inflate!! It's a temporary phenomenon, though. Hence my ref to the economy.



*That's* the bit you want to defend? Really? Heh.


But… but… comparing Popeye’s weedy biceps with the U.S. economy is both subtle and profound, surely? Much as the “unimpeachable” upper arms of Michelle Obama – with whom “women at every stage of life” wish to “bond physically” - are clearly a “political myth,” a symbol of national strength and perhaps even “the new breasts.”


carbon based lifeform

No. :)


With those biceps it's obvious that she's the one who wears the pants.


Do you suppose our MSM could take their focus off MO's biceps for a while and, oh, I don't know -- maybe try to check out WHO was responsible for the $550 billion run on the banks back in Sept '08 which led to Bush's multi-billion-dollar bailout?

Or maybe try to find who remembers Barry from any one of the colleges he attended (all transcripts have been withheld; doesn't anybody wonder why?)

Speaking of incurious, Obama got elected in Illinois when his opponents had their messy divorces revealed. How do you suppose that happened?

Doesn't our press do ANYTHING related to NEWS?

Rich Rostrom

Inasmuch as several people specifically attacked the Popeye reference, I think Ms. Quan is entitled to defend it - especially as I can remember MANY bicep-inflation moments in Popeye cartoons.

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