Paula Broadwell’s right to bare arms

Paula Broadwell on the Daily Show. Reuters

It was inevitable, I suppose, that in l’Affaire Petraeus currently gripping the US, clothes would come to play a part. Fashion is always a key part of any seduction narrative, because it is such a classic weapon of allure (and no, these words are not accidental). Paula Broadwell’s de facto signature has become her “toned arms” as widely and regularly displayed in various sleeveless outfits.

Jon Stewart even used them as an excuse for not realising, in his interview with Ms Broadwell last January, that something deeper was going on. He was bamboozled by her muscles!

Meanwhile, the NY Times also took note of Ms Broadwell’s “bare, toned arms”, the Charlotte Observer observed that she “favored sleeveless outfits that showed off toned, muscular arms”, and in Slate, Hanna Rosin cited depictions of her as “simpering seductress who flashed her bare arms”. And that’s just a sampling of the arms-related observations that have gone on. They have become her signifier.

And that interests me. Pointedly, Michelle Obama also had an arms issue in her husband’s first campaign – I remember being told by one of her consultants, who wishes to remain anonymous, that after the fist-bumping incident a decision was made that Mrs O should only wear dresses with sleeves until the election, so as not to further intimdate the electorate with her powerful biceps. Later, of course, they became a symbol of her strength. Robin Givhan even penned an entire ode to the Obama arms in The New Yorker.

I mean, cleavage is nothing, apparently, compared with cut biceps. So why are we so obsessed? Why is a woman’s right to bare arms so controversial? I’m going to do a column on this, so would appreciate all thoughts on the matter.