Dita De Boni 's Opinion

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Keeping Mum: What does it feel like to be the Obama girls?

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President Barack Obama holds hands with his youngest daughter Sasha, while 14-year-old Malia walks behind with her mum, Michelle.Photo / AP
President Barack Obama holds hands with his youngest daughter Sasha, while 14-year-old Malia walks behind with her mum, Michelle.Photo / AP

On November 6, 2012 I did something I almost never do; I ignored the pleas and whining of kids clamouring for children's television programming and insisted on keeping the channel tuned - almost the whole afternoon and into the night - to US election coverage.

Watching President Obama's speech to his supporters at the end of the night was thrilling, (even Romney made a really good speech at the end), and I tried my hardest to explain to the four and six-year-old the importance of what we were watching. To no avail as it turned out, as they both pointedly spurned history-in-the-making to grump and thump around the house and off to bed because they missed the 90th repeat of Regular Show and Adventure Time.

There were at least two children in the world, however, who had little choice but to witness proceedings - Barack Obama's daughters, Sasha and Malia. I found myself wondering what they were experiencing as they strode on stage with their mother very late that night to the cheers and screams of thousands of their father's supporters.

They may well be used to the adulation and the security detail but that particular night there seemed to be something else - they stood alongside someone who had just given his all in a fight for his political life. Relief all around, was what it felt like, as much as euphoria. Although is it relief for those girls? Do they look forward to another four years in the White House, their parents and themselves being picked apart by the national media at every turn?

Even the British media has got in on the act, in particular the Daily Mail, whose readers generally abhor Obama and all him and his family stand for. It has been interesting seeing the Mail change its coverage ever so slightly to embrace the first family, with the Obama presidency painted these days as almost Camelot-like.

Recently the online organ ran a story about how Malia Obama is becoming a "style icon" - "Mommy's girl grown up: How Malia Obama has blossomed from an awkward teen to America's next style icon as she follows in the First Lady's footsteps".

The story was catnip to Obama detractors, who took the opportunity to bash both Malia and her mother, while others were full of praise for the beauty of the first daughter. Looks are a subjective matter no doubt. While both women are tall and striking and stylish, style might in this case be more associated with having lots of money and access to stylists than anything else.

There were a huge number of commenters who disagreed with the whole premise of the article, and felt the looks of a 14-year-old girl should not be discussed by strangers or the media in any way. That sentiment would no doubt have the backing of the White House which has done things like shut-down production of a line of dolls modelled on the first daughters and gone on the attack when either of them has come under domestic media scrutiny.

If someone had been giving me media coverage at 14 it would have been truly horrific - I was a fat, spotty, dorky teenager with a big scowl on my face most of the time. Malia Obama is lucky that she is, at least, schooled in the art of being in front of cameras and dressed the part. However, for any teenage girl it can't be easy to be considered as a fashion icon, let alone have your every move photographed and beamed out to a curious world.

Dita De Boni

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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