Malia Obama’s Status Update: Times Have Changed

For every high school girl, prom is supposed to be an unforgettable, perfect night. But most of the time when you look back on it, the night was a blur, you wish you hadn’t gone with sequins and you hate that you were so nervous that you look constipated in the million photos your parents insisted on taking. Not so, though, for the Holton-Arms class of 1975, the all-girls school in Bethesda right outside of D.C. Thanks to their super dialed-in classmate, First Daughter, Susan Ford, their glossy prom was held at the White House during Gerald Ford’s presidency. We’re sure none of those Holton girls have forgotten that night in the East Room, rocking out 70’s style with their dates to the tunes of The Outerspace Band (side note, clearly that gig was the highlight of this group’s short-lived musical career).

With Malia Obama now in high school, could the Secret Service be looking at chaperoning another White House prom? We doubt it. But it did get us thinking…times have changed a lot since Susan Ford rocked her corsage at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re not just talking dress styles. Malia Obama is going to have to face hurdles her teenage First Daughter predecessors never had to consider.

Unfortunately, Malia can’t look to Amy Carter for sage advice – she lived in the White House from ages nine to thirteen. The Bush twins won’t be much help either – they were already in college when their father took office. The closest thing Malia has for a template is Chelsea Clinton, who was also in high school while living in the White House. And yes, there are some definite similarities. One, Chelsea is an alumni of Sidwell-Friends, the prominent D.C. school Malia currently attends (and one of the high schools that served as inspiration for Georgetown Academy). And two, both girls have kick-ass, razor-sharp intelligent mothers to serve as role models for them.

But beyond that, it’s difficult to draw comparisons because a White House experience in 1997 is still very different than one in 2013. Yes, Chelsea was thrust into the spotlight, but let’s face it, the media and technology back then make us feel really old. In 1997, we were using dial-up to sign into our AOL accounts and seriously dubious about trading in our VHS player for something that had just come on the market called a DVD player. Back then, there were less than two million websites on the Internet compared to the 644 million now. And in 1997, The National Enquirer, one of the only supermarket tabloids, was more concerned with headlines like “I Ate my Baby” than ones about a celeb’s baby.

We’ve targeted the three biggest differences facing Malia Obama and other political children today.

1) Camera phones!

Ummm, they’re everywhere. Back in the day, when having a camera meant hauling around a big, heavy Nikon with a blinding flash, it was kind of obvious when someone was taking a picture of you. (And even more so for video which would’ve required a piece of machinery so heavy, you needed to rest it on your shoulder!). Now, not so much. As Michelle Obama herself noted in an ABC News interview, “[Malia and Sasha] are the first kids in the White House growing up where everybody’s got a cell phone and everybody’s watching. You may be having a moment, but somebody could use that moment and try to define you forever.” After all, Chelsea Clinton never had to worry about someone capturing her first kiss on camera and the posting it on the Internet for the world to see. Or, what’s to stop a friend of Malia’s from posting cell phone party pics on Facebook that show the First Daughter holding a telltale red, plastic cup at a house party? For the students in Georgetown Academy and all political children, being captured doing something embarrassing (or illegal) is a top concern. And unfortunately, these days it’s easier than ever to get caught. Sorry, Malia. Looks like you may be missing out on beer and boys til college.

2) Us Weekly

Okay, it’s not just Us Weekly. It’s the plethora of Us Weekly inspired celeb-hungry mags and websites that we all disparage (even as we devour them at the nail salon). But that celebrity culture, which is a thousand times more intense than it was twenty years ago, has turned being a public figure into a 24/7 job. Stylists are not just there to clothe you for “events” anymore, but to help you dress as you stroll down the street, lest Joan Rivers and company see a pic and decide they want to skewer you on Fashion Police. No one expected Chelsea Clinton to be a style icon. But Malia is never photographed without looking polished. Even getting off a plane. Instead of wearing sweats to exit the flight from her recent trip to Hawaii, she was in a sleek outfit capped off by a camel-and-black contrast coat that set the Internet (and the girls at Georgetown Academy) buzzing within hours. Case in point!

3) 24/7 News Coverage

In Susan Ford’s time, there were three networks. That’s it. THREE. If you didn’t watch the news at 6:30pm, you missed it (no DVR’s either!). And with a mere half-hour to fill, only the most important stories made it to air. Sounds quaint, doesn’t it? Now, we live in a world with 24/7 news coverage from MSNBC and Fox News, to the thousands of popular political blogs like Huffington Post and the Drudge Report to the commentators all over Twitter ready to pounce at a second’s notice. And all these people need content. They need things to talk about, to be outraged about, to be passionate about. Like whether or not Malia Obama should’ve gone on her Spring Break trip to Mexico, which was an argument being made across the media before the White House shut it down. Can’t a girl go to Cancun without a bunch of old dudes dissecting it? Apparently, not!

One thing is for sure, Malia is diving into uncharted territory and no amount of viewings of Chasing Liberty will help prepare her for what to expect during her White House years. But maybe that’s a good thing. Because, really, why would you want to want to watch Chasing Liberty more than once?

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