Can a fly twenty-year-old live? On Sunday, The Daily Mail published photos of Malia Obama drinking an $80 bottle of rosé poolside with her friends in Miami. The following day, the tabloid published another article claiming they’ve found Obama's secret Facebook account where she’s been vocal about her gripes with President Trump. The whole saga suggested more people side with Obama than against her, as evident by the flood of responses in the Daily Mail's mentions, in which the obvious point was made over and over again that the former First Daughter is a college student. On vacation. Whomst among us?? Really, we just wish we were drinking rosé in Miami instead of defending her on the lord's day (also known as Toni Morrison's birthday).
The first piece noted that Obama “could be in for a real scolding from her parents, Barack and Michelle, after her pool-side antics,” as if her dad’s swaggiest photos to date are not his college-era photos of him smoking in a fedora. And lets not forget Michelle Obama opening up about smoking pot as a teen in her memoir Becoming.
As if they couldn't be any more degradingly archaic, the Daily Mail chose to give Obama some points back for wearing a “tasteful black bathing suit.” The whole thing set off a 48 hour Twitter storm, with a united front using memes to defend Obama against the publication, calling them out for invading her privacy. Others reminded us not to act like we haven’t had a few drinks while underage ourselves, while many also pointed out the hypocrisy amongst conservatives outraged by Obama's drinking when so many supported Brett Kavanaugh's now infamous admission of his high school love of beer.
More importantly, the Malia Obama photos prove she is light years ahead of the rest of us at 20. She's out here sipping $80 rosé while we were drinking things much less chic. Maybe she too has felt the sting of Four Loko, but we don't know for sure; instead, these photos show evidence of a classy, classy lady. Not a Mad Dog 20/20 in sight. And if she does have a secret Facebook for griping about Trump, she’s more sophisticated than the rest for that too. Besides, who among us doesn’t have a secret space somewhere just for the purposes of shading your enemies? The group chat is where pettiness thrives.
These pieces weren’t the first time that Obama’s private moments became tabloid fodder. In 2016, Radar published a viral video of her allegedly smoking pot at Lollapalooza with the racially-stereotyped opening line “twerking was just the beginning." In 2017, Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton stepped in to defend her when tabloids and conservative media came after Obama after videos of her kissing a boy and blowing smoke rings surfaced. Clinton generally benefitted from a gentleman's agreement between the White House and reputable news outlets when she was growing up in the first family that they wouldn't report on her private life. But it wasn't foolproof, and there were still flare-up moments, like when Saturday Night Live ran a "Wayne's World" sketch in 1992 where Mike Myers jokingly implied she was unattractive, echoing tabloid commentary at the time. The sketch upset the Clintons, and the network edited out the scene in re-runs. After Clinton, despite a similar request of the press by their parents, the Bush twins were fixtures in gossip publications for drinking underage, and it took years for them to shake those reputations.
The Obamas have had their moments calling out the press for crossing lines reporting on their daughters. Back in 2012, The White House sent an email to Buzzfeed about an "unwritten yet widely understood policy," as BuzzFeed put it, following the publishing of a photo of Malia Obama at a One Direction concert. The policy called for neither she nor her sister were to be photographed or reported on unless they were at a public event with their parents. The publication ended up cropping Malia out of the photo and adjusting the story. In 2014, a communications director for Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher resigned after she commented that Sasha and Malia needed to "try showing a little class." But as Jessica Testa later reported for BuzzFeed, those unwritten rules seem to have lessened for Obama as she's gotten older (and as her father has left public office). Only months after Obama's Lollapalooza kerfuffle, she was snapped wearing a “smoking kills” T-shirt while standing next to a giant bong in a University of Pennsylvania frat house. (Radar published that too, of course.)
Clearly, the fascination over what "scandalous" behavior Obama is up to has its historical precedents, its double standards, and is compounded by her being the first black first daughter. But things have shifted slightly: just as gossip sites are starting to ramp up their coverage of her private life, how much their audience cares seems to have shifted. The public is finally stepping in to say they're not here for the public shaming. Perhaps now we can all just kick back, cheer her on, and thank her for raising our standards of what 20 should be looking like.
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