The first Black American President, Barack Obama, and the first Black principle dancer at the American Ballet Theater, Misty Copeland, sat down with TIME last month (February 29) for an in-depth conversation about race and body image. The interview began with a list of the pair’s similarities, as they both came from single parent households and grew up in mixed race families.
When it came to being a role model for young people, Copeland commented that: “I feel like people are looking at me, and it’s my responsibility to do whatever I can to provide opportunities.” President Obama also spoke about being someone young people “can immediately identify with,” but talked about the bigger issues of structural racism and poverty that prevent young people from having access to opportunities: “what we also have to remember is that the barriers that exist for them to pursue their dreams are deep and structural.”
Misty, who is a member of the President’s advisory Council of Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, spoke about how being a ballet dancer in a field predominantly made up of white people motivated her to push through her adversity: it “has definitely been a huge obstacle for me, but it’s also allowed me to have this fire inside of me that I don’t know [if] I would have had if I weren’t within this field.”
When the topic of body image and European standards of beauty was raised, President Obama mentioned his appreciation of his wife’s curves and how he’s learning about the unfair financial constraints of maintaining Black hair through being a father to two daughters. Misty spoke about how she has always fought against white ideals of beauty and refused to “pancake my skin a lighter color to fit into the court of ballet. I didn’t want to have to wear makeup that made my nose look thinner.”
Watch the video here.