Barack Obama Talks Education, Body Image With Misty Copeland In Moving Interview

“We’re fully capable of doing exactly the same thing."

In a new video, TIME reporter Maya Rhodan spoke to both President Barack Obama and ballet dancer Misty Copeland. Their 35-minute conversation included a discussion on race, gender and body positivity.

"You know, as the father of two daughters, one of the things I'm always looking for are strong women who are out there who are breaking barriers and doing great stuff," Obama said in the interview. "And Misty's a great example of that. Somebody who has entered a field that's very competitive, where the assumptions are that she may not belong. And through sheer force of will and determination and incredible talent and hard work she was able to arrive at the pinnacle of her field."

Copeland, the American Ballet Theater's first African American female principal dancer, has built an amazing reputation for her incredible talents as a skilled ballerina. She recognizes the obstacles that she had to overcome.

"A lot of what I've experienced has not always been to my face, or it's been very subtle," Copeland said in the interview. "But it's in a way that I know what's going on and I feel it deep inside of me. And I, being the only African American in almost every environment in terms of classical ballet, it weighs on you and it wears on you after a while."

In the interview, Copeland thanked movements like Black Girl Magic for having a positive impact on young, African American girls, girls like Malia and Sasha Obama. Both Copeland and Obama spoke about pressing issues impacting today's young women.


Dennis Brack/Black Star/Getty Images

"We are fully capable of doing everything that the person who doesn't have an extremely athletic body, that is more thin [can do]," Copeland said. "We're fully capable of doing exactly the same thing. And I think that being in this position and showing that I can execute and do all of these things that it's possible to have any skin complexion, to have a healthy body image for the ballerina body."

Obama doubled down on the body positive messaging: "When you're a dad of two daughters you notice more... We socialize and press women to constantly doubt themselves or define themselves in terms of a certain appearance. And so Michelle and I are always guarding against that. And the fact that they've got a tall gorgeous mom who has some curves, and that their father appreciates, I think is helpful. I do think that culture's changing for the younger generation a little bit more."

Obama pointed out that Copeland, who has broken down barriers and defied the odds through hard work and persistence, is a prime example of much-needed, career-driven representation for young girls.

"We're, for example, trying to get more girls and women to study the STEM subjects, math, science, engineering. Because they're chronically underrepresented," Obama said. "And in researching this we found out that for example, since CSI came on, and there are women who are doing forensic investigations, that the number of women who are in this field has skyrocketed, right."

Copeland ended the discussion by including some advice to millennials.

"To be empathetic to everyone around you I think is such a powerful thing to hold," Copeland said. "To be able to forgive. All of those things I think can strengthen this generation of our youth. I think having a strong sense of self and just knowing who they are and being comfortable with that."

Cover image via Sam Aronov / 


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