Principal Ballerina Misty Copeland and President Barack Obama have a lot in common.
Both are from a mixed race background, both were raised by single mothers, and both have reached the pinnacle of success in their respective fields.
They sat down for a joint 3-part interview with TIME reporter Maya Rhodan at the White House to discuss their success, how they handle adversity, and why social media movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackGirlMagic are so important. Check out our favorite highlight from the interview.
OBAMA: Well part of classical ballet that makes it challenging is that there’s a very set way of doing things. There’s sort of this canon that people want it just a certain way, or they want it to look a certain way. So do you find now that you’re in a position where you can start pushing the barriers a little bit and the boundaries in terms of what people expect? Now that you’ve established that alright, I can do this, so let me also do that. Or I can master that style, and so now can we introduce something a little bit different? How much of that takes place?
COPELAND: Absolutely. I mean I think that having a platform and having a voice to be seen by people beyond the classical ballet world has really been my power I feel. It’s allowed me to say, it’s okay to have a healthy athletic body. We are fully capable of doing everything that the person who doesn’t have an extremely athletic body, that is more thin. 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. I think it’s given me more of a voice. And it’s I think forcing a lot of these top tier companies to address the lack of diversity and diversifying the bodies that we’re seeing in classical ballet. It’s really forcing that conversation to be had.
OBAMA: I have to say as an outside, I don’t know if you feel the same way. When I hear that like your body type is considered sort of more athletic or large, you’re tiny. For those of you who are watching, you may not be able to see. I mean, you’re petite.
OBAMA: So the notion that somehow that was even a question is pretty interesting.
COPELAND: Yeah, I mean I think it’s how – I think it’s a lot of the language and how we use it. And I think for a lot of people of color, that seems to be an easy way or a way out by saying you don’t fit in. It may be it’s your skin color. It may be the texture of your hair. Whatever it is.
OBAMA: We want a certain look.
COPELAND: Yeah. And I think that’s an easy way of addressing that.
TIME: As a father of two daughters, do you see that at all? Do you see that pressure in your own life?
OBAMA: Yeah. I mean some of this is just gender issues, generally. I mean when you’re a dad of two daughters you notice more. When I was a kid I didn’t realize as much, or maybe it was even a part of which is the enormous pressure that young women are placed under in terms of looking a certain way.And being cute in a certain way. And are you wearing the right clothes? And is your hair done the right way. And that pressure I think is historically always been harder on African American women than just about any other women. But it’s part and parcel of a broader way in which 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. You see Beyonce or you see some of these pop stars and what both white, Latino, black children are seeing as representative of beauty is much broader than it was when I was a kid. You just didn’t see that much representation. And that’s healthy and that’s encouraging. But it’s still a challenge. I mean Malia’ll talk about black girl’s hair and will have much opinions of that. And she’s pretty opinionated about the fact that it costs a lot, it takes a long time, that sometimes girls can be just as tough on each other about how they’re supposed to look. And so it’s, as a parent, that’s a constant learning process that you’re trying to hold the fort. And that’s why somebody like Misty ends up being so important.
A lot of it is the power of that image, even if they’re not dancers, even if they’re not interested in pursuing a career in entertainment or the arts. For them to know that that’s valued end up making a big difference.
Oh how we love how he LOVES Michelle Obama! Check out the full interview below.