President Barack Obama is the first black president, and Misty Copeland is the first black principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater. Now, the two are talking about race and about breaking barriers in a 30-minute sit-down with TIME’s Maya Rhodan.
“As the father of two daughters, one of the things I’m always looking for are strong women who are out there breaking barriers and doing great stuff,” Obama said. “Misty’s a great example of that. Somebody who has entered a field that’s very competitive, where the assumption is that she may not belong.”
He went on to say that he had not noticed the pressures women face concerning the way they look and act until he became a father. “When you’re a dad of two daughters, you notice more,” he said. “And that pressure I think is historically always been harder on African American women than just about any other women.”
“The fact that they’ve got a tall gorgeous mom who has some curves, and that their father appreciates, I think is helpful,” he continued.
Copeland spoke to those pressures and admitted that she had struggled with her own appearance. “I didn’t want to pancake my skin a lighter color to fit into the ballet. I wanted to be myself,” she said. “I didn’t want to have to wear makeup that made my nose look thinner.”
Both Obama and Copeland also spoke to the need to speak out on racial issues and to try to bridge the divide in the United States. “What I say to my kids is use this as something that provides you a particular power to be willing to fight on behalf of what you think is right,” Obama said.
“I feel like people are looking at me, and it’s my responsibility to do whatever I can to provide opportunities,” Copeland said.