Monday 24 July 2017

Meadhbh McGrath: Who cares what Malia Obama was smoking? Let the girl live

U.S. President Barack Obama and daughter Malia. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama and daughter Malia. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
Malia spotted at the Lollapalooza festival. Screengrab from video posted on Radar Online
New normal: Michelle and Barack Obama with daughters Malia (18) and Sasha Obama (15), pictured far right, who has begun a summer job in a restaurant
Sasha, 13, (left) and Malia, 16, (right) at the White House Thanksgiving turkey pardon
U.S. President Barack Obama waves to the assembled press as he walks with his daughter Malia on his family's return to the South Lawn of the White House January 3, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama hugs his daughter Malia Obama at the Fourth of July White House party on July 4, 2016 in Washington, DC. Maila Obama celebrated her 18th birthday during the party, which featured guests including singers Janelle Monae and Kendrick Lamar. (Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images)
Malia and Sasha Obama. (Photo by Olivier Douliery- Pool/Getty Images)

Meadhbh McGrath

Malia Obama is living her best life.

The US President’s eldest daughter has travelled the world, interned for Lena Dunham, acted as translator for her dad on a trip to Cuba, and had Kendrick Lamar perform at her birthday.

After graduating from school in June, Malia is taking a gap year before heading to Harvard University, where her mother has said she wants to study to be a filmmaker.

Last month, Malia was spotted hanging out with her friends at Lollapalooza, a music festival in her home town of Chicago that counts Future, Lana Del Rey, Major Lazer and Radiohead among its headliners.

New normal: Michelle and Barack Obama with daughters Malia (18) and Sasha Obama (15), pictured far right, who has begun a summer job in a restaurant
New normal: Michelle and Barack Obama with daughters Malia (18) and Sasha Obama (15), pictured far right, who has begun a summer job in a restaurant

While she probably gets to enjoy all sorts of festival perks we can only dream of (no portaloos, for a start), unfortunately she also has to deal with seeing her every move aggressively documented on social media.

Budding paps – or some pretty questionable ‘friends’ – shared video footage of young Malia dancing with her friends and smoking what may or may not be a joint during Bryson Tiller’s set.

That’s right: an 18-year-old girl likes to party. Why should this be a surprise to anybody?

It seems that when your father is the president of the United States, none of the usual rules about privacy and respect apply, as both Malia and her sister Sasha have been subject to a suffocating level of scrutiny throughout their eight years living in the White House.

Malia spotted at the Lollapalooza festival. Screengrab from video posted on Radar Online
Malia spotted at the Lollapalooza festival. Screengrab from video posted on Radar Online

In 2014, the First Daughters – aged 16 and 13 at the time - were both attacked for not looking enthusiastic enough while standing next to their father at the annual Thanksgiving ‘turkey pardon’, a particularly naff US tradition where the president is presented with a live turkey.

Malia and Sasha were pictured giving their father some flawless side eye, and were subsequently chastised on social media.

Elizabeth Lauten, a Republican communications worker, remarked that they should “try showing a little class” and slammed their outfits, which she deemed inappropriate.

“Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar,” she wrote.

Sasha, 13, (left) and Malia, 16, (right) at the White House Thanksgiving turkey pardon
Sasha, 13, (left) and Malia, 16, (right) at the White House Thanksgiving turkey pardon

Ms Lauten soon resigned from her post following a backlash over her comments, but that wasn’t the last time the Obama sisters were publicly shamed.

Last year, Malia came under fire when photos emerged of her “playing beer pong” during a tour of Brown University.

Obviously unaware that she was being photographed, she was doing nothing more incriminating than standing in the vicinity of some red Solo cups.

The college newspaper published an editorial apologising to Malia on behalf of their students, but she’s moving on to better things – the top-ranked university in the world, namely.

U.S. President Barack Obama waves to the assembled press as he walks with his daughter Malia on his family's return to the South Lawn of the White House January 3, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama waves to the assembled press as he walks with his daughter Malia on his family's return to the South Lawn of the White House January 3, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images)

Over the past 48 hours, Malia has endured another bout of online shaming after the video of her smoking went viral.

The clip was obtained by gossip site Radar, who judged it “a new low” for Malia, and prompted furious reactions from paternalising members of the public who implored her to look at her life choices and condemned her for “embarrassing America”.

According to these appalled viewers, Malia was “caught twerking” and “flashing her undies” (a pair of cycling shorts) while wearing a “tight fitting boob tube”.

President Barack Obama hugs his daughter Malia Obama at the Fourth of July White House party on July 4, 2016 in Washington, DC. Maila Obama celebrated her 18th birthday during the party, which featured guests including singers Janelle Monae and Kendrick Lamar. (Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama hugs his daughter Malia Obama at the Fourth of July White House party on July 4, 2016 in Washington, DC. Maila Obama celebrated her 18th birthday during the party, which featured guests including singers Janelle Monae and Kendrick Lamar. (Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images)

Aside from the fact that we should be commending America’s coolest teen for saying no to the flower crown, the hysterical coverage of Malia’s “out of control” behaviour is totally unjustified.

While much of the criticism focused on her famous dad - commentators chastised the Obamas for “bad parenting”, and wrote that “the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree”, as President Obama has admitted he smoked weed in his youth – it also has the distinct air of finger-wagging respectability politics.

Malia’s clothing and behaviour are exactly what we expect from any young person at a festival, and yet she is singled out as an example of failed femininity and wanton sexuality.

Malia and Sasha Obama. (Photo by Olivier Douliery- Pool/Getty Images)
Malia and Sasha Obama. (Photo by Olivier Douliery- Pool/Getty Images)

The characterisation of Malia as a “wild child” who has lost her “all-American girl status” suggests she needs to earn the approval of the masses in the first place by conducting herself in a way that aligns with notions of ‘appropriate’ and ‘acceptable’ womanhood.

Those very typical teen antics are seen as a lapse in some assumed obligation to act “respectably” by people who feel entitled to police the behaviour of a young black woman.

Malia is merely the daughter of a public figure. She is not a politician, nor is she a person who sought or chose her fame. She has every right to behave like a normal teenager – her life is not for our consumption.

Let the girl live.

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