Today, Misty Copeland is a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater. But before she’d established herself, she says she felt pressure to conform to the “traditional” look of ballerinas.
The dancer said in a conversation with TIME and President Obama that she spent the early part of her career fighting the urge to try “pancaking her skin” and contouring her nose to make it look thinner.
“I think it couldn’t be more positive for a young black girl to see that it’s O.K. to be yourself, it’s O.K. to not have to transform and look like what you may see on the cover of a lot of magazines,” she said, noting that she constantly celebrates acts of self-love and movements like Black Girl Magic.
As a father, President Obama says that’s a message he hopes to relay to his two daughters, Sasha and Malia, every day. The pressure to look and dress a certain way, he says, is hard on women—particularly young black women.
“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,” he said. “Michelle and I are always guarding against that.”
It helps, too, he said, that his daughters have someone to look up to in the first lady.
“The fact that they’ve got a tall, gorgeous mom who has some curves and that their father appreciates [that], I think it’s helpful,” he said.