The Obama girls: The burden of fame

Will the Obamas succeed in protecting the privacy of their daughters?

Welcome to the fishbowl, girls. Barack and Michelle Obama pledged to protect the privacy of their children while living in the White House and to strive to create a “normal” life for Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7. But by the time the Obamas crossed the threshold of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., said Sue Shellenberger in, someone was already exploiting the First Kids’ celebrity. Ty Inc., maker of Beanie Babies, claimed that its brown-skinned “Marvelous Malia” and “Sweet Sasha” dolls had no connection to the two most famous pre-adolescents in America. But Michelle Obama “came out swinging,” saying it’s “inappropriate to use young, private citizens for marketing purposes.” Battered by negative publicity and an online petition, Ty Inc. quickly “retired” the dolls. So chalk up one for the First Family. But given the history of children growing up in the White House—from Grover Cleveland’s “Baby Ruth” to the photogenic Kennedy kids and beyond—they’re probably “fighting a losing battle.”

Maybe so, but it’s one worth fighting, said Emily Bazelon in It’s not Michelle Obama’s duty to transform her daughters into role models or expand the horizons of children clutching “little Sasha and Malia replicas.” She’s got two kids to raise—and that will be hard enough given the relentless scrutiny endured by the First Family. A “normal” life, though, just isn’t possible, said Kirsten Powers in the New York Post, and the Obamas should have known that when Barack ran for president. Meanwhile, there’s a great public service the girls can render, by becoming wholesome role models for African-American girls—and girls of all races, for that matter. “Who would you rather have your daughters looking up to—Lindsay Lohan or Malia Obama?”

That question has a very important racial component, said Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post. Recall, if you will, the famous psychology experiment cited in Brown v. Board of Education, in which children were offered dolls with different skin tones. Black children not only preferred white dolls, they picked the black doll when asked which doll was “bad.” “If anyone understands the debilitating power of these internalized messages, it is the new president,” who admits he once experimented with drugs to prove his blackness. If, as they grow up in the White House over the next four to eight years, Sasha and Malia can help us transcend a history of negative social messages about race, they may make a contribution of almost immeasurable value.

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