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.”