Racist Framing: Michelle Obama in a Spanish Magazine

Gracing the front page of magazines is nothing new for First Lady Michelle Obama. However, on August 8, a photoshopped picture of Michelle with her breast exposed appeared on the cover of Fuera de serie, a Madrid-based magazine. The image is the work of artist Karine Percheron-Daniels in which the First Lady is dressed in garb similar to that of enslaved Africans with her right nipple exposed and seated in a chair with the U.S. flag draped across it. While news pundits have been highly critical of the nudity on the cover, the racialized nature of the photo deserves attention.

Exploring the image of a half-nude Michelle Obama reveals the centuries old framing of black bodies as hyper-sexual and racist framing of black women. Racist imagery has long been a part of the dominant racial frame in media. As sociologist Joe Feagin (2010) notes, “A great range of racist imagery, stereotyping, and emotionality was communicated in popular entertainment settings from the early nineteenth century onward.”

One of the most pervasive images is the Jezebel, the hyper-sexual Black woman who uses her sexual prowess to beguile white men. The Jezebel has occupied a unique space within the white ethos as an exploited sexual object feared for her manipulate nature. Analyzing the Fuera de serie cover, the photo of Michelle is laden with Jezebel imagery.

At first glance, one notices the First Lady’s bare breast, suggesting she recently engaged in sexual activity. Further implying erotic intentions is the seductive gaze placed in the photo. Hence, the image asserts it was not Michelle’s intellect or ingenuity, which gained her popularity with Americans, but her sexuality. Such claims are central features of the racist framing of Black women. While the front page of Fuera de serie, is laden with racist framing, the article juxtaposes the first lady’s popularity as an intelligent, classy role model (especially among African-American women).

The troubling issue of the international media’s (in this case Spanish) use of Jezebel framing of Michelle Obama is then explicitly stated in the author’s claim that she was able to not only conquer the love of her husband, President Barack Obama, but able to seduce the American public (“Para conocer de qué manera Michelle ha conseguido seducir al pueblo americano, el periodista Pablo Scarpellini detalle los secretos de la mujer que no solo ha conquistado el corazón de Barack Obama.”).

The dominant racist frame has long be perpetuated through racist imagery. Racist images are central to racist framing because they create visual counterparts to racial narratives. This is the case in Fuera de serie cover. Presenting Michelle Obama as a lascivious Black woman seducing the American public, Percheron-Daniels is reinforcing the narrative of the Jezebel. Such framing is particularly harmful because is reaffirms the dominant racist frame in the international community.


  1. Mmm . . . Okay, so Fuera de Serie needs some defense.

    The portrait they photoshopped Michelle Obama’s face on is Portrait D’Une Negresse by Marie-Guillemine Benoist. According to wikipedia “…this image became a symbol for women’s emancipation and black people’s rights.” Louis XVIII bought it!

    If Fuera is harkening back to that day, it’s actually kinda awesome when you think about it. The idea that a person who centuries ago would’ve been chattel property is today the first lady of a world power. And it’s important to connect our past to our present.

    Yeah, someone should’ve told them the cover could be problematic. Had the photoshop not been of such an iconographic, and apparently important, portrait I’d have to co-sign your thoughts 100%. But assuming the best of things, it’s not so bad. Odd maybe, especially to an US American audience. But not so bad. I’m willing to give them the benefit of doubt.

    But that’s me. And it’s been suggested that I can be too forgiving.

    • I was shocked when I saw Fuera de serie’s digitally altered picture of Michelle Obama. It was crass, vulgar and racist.
      I checked Fuera de serie’s website. It describes the magazine as “[D]irigida a hombres y mujeres con un alto nivel de formación y poder adquisitivo medio-alto” ( “Aimed at highly educated and middle-to-high income men and women.”) I would say, “highly educated and middle-to-high income bigots of both sexes.”
      I have no doubt that Ann Romney will never be portrayed in the same unspeakable manner in any magazine published in Spain or anywhere else in the world.
      Michelle Obama is a bright attorney educated at Princeton and Harvard. She is the first lady of the most powerful nation in the world. I am afraid, however, that in spite of her accomplishments, for many she is and always will be most of all a N—-r.
      José A. Cobas

  2. Joe,
    I looked for the article’s text. The full article is not available for non-subscribers. I also looked for the magazine’s email address to protest against their decision to publish such a disgusting altered picture, but didn’t find it.
    What a surprise.

  3. Todd

    I was able to find a copy of the full article and the narrative provided was fairly positive. However, at various points racist framing of Michelle crept in. Also, the narrative provided in the text seems to contrast the image painted of the First Lady on the cover of the magazine. Analyzing the full article alongside the photo, I think Fuera de serie’s article epitomizes multi-framing. The ability to write what I think they thought was a progressive article yet still operate out of racist frame is a classic example of multi-framing.

    Below is the link to the full article:

  4. mbfromnm

    This photo enrages me. It is nothing more than a way to reduce Ms Obama to being the age old Jezebel.

    I have no patience for the Spanish or any of the European countries when it comes to racism. They have never owned up to their role in starting this whole travesty.

    As for being educated, I remember what Walter Mosley said about education not being an antidote to racism. He said something to the effect that the final solution was administered and developed by very educated people, including lawyers.

  5. I found the photo crass and racist, too but at the same, I knew I had seen the pose before. It’s rare that the writers of an article chose the cover photo so we should bare that in mind.

    But, does the fact that the portrait itself has a history of its own, and one that quite noble and apparently anti-racist. After all, white women used to be painted naked. If someone wanted, they’d have no problem finding a painting to photo-shop a past first lady on to. But who’d want to? . . . I’m sorry. That’s a separate discussion.

    There’s no question that the cover certainly throws you for a loop. An exposed breast on the cover of a magazine? That’s not something we see everyday in the US, regardless of the race of subject. And porn mags are usually behind the counter. Tough to get a look at unless you’re motivated. So I think that has to be considered, too. The fact that Americans are, stereotypically at least, prudish when compared to Europeans.

    I don’t know. There’re definitely several ways to come at this.

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