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Arms and the women

March 27, 2009 |  4:00 pm

First Lady Michelle Obama stands tall and regal in her official portrait, a double strand of creamy pearls around her neck, her figure clad in a fitted Michael Kors dress. But there's one aspect of this seemingly benign photograph that's causing something of a commotion, and it lies in that exposed 10-inch-or-so stretch between her shoulder and elbow. The first lady is buff, and she's not afraid to show it.

45768234_2Her curvy biceps have become something of a lightning rod for remarks from both sexes in a larger discussion of how much female muscle constitutes too much. Though some praise Obama as a role model in a world gone obese, others say she's gone too far in displaying the fruit of her workouts. Read one online forum comment: "There is nothing uglier than manly, muscular arms on a woman. Mrs. Obama should be hiding them instead of showing them off."

Even more vitriolic comments have been aimed at Madonna, whose über-ripped physique is a perennial favorite subject for photographers.

Why do we care so much? The issue speaks volumes about how men and women view the parameters of femininity and strength, and apparently not everyone is ready for such an obvious symbol. But considering how much women fear upper body strength training -- for fear of looking like the Incredible Hulk -- only time will tell if the first lady proves to be a role model.

Find more on the story in Image.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Ron Edmonds / AP