Michelle Obama: Not Just Your Former First Lady

After much anticipation, Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming,” hit shelves last month. Barnes & Noble announced the memoir had sold the most pre-orders for an adult book (since the 2015 release of Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman”)  prior to its November 13 publication. Its first week saw 1.4 million copies sold. Oprah Winfrey also announced “Becoming” as part of her famous book club, drawing even more excitement for its release. Along with an iconic spread in Elle Magazine, Mrs. Obama’s life post-First Lady has been in the spotlight for much of the past few weeks. The publicity surrounding Obama’s book has brought important topics to light including miscarriage, her marriage to Barack and her views on the Trump Administration. Her intelligent discussion of these topics raises a significant point to be made: Michelle Obama is not done now that her husband’s presidency is over.

I was eleven when Barack Obama was elected the 45th President of the United States of America. The 2008 election cycle was the first time I actively recognized politics and our nation’s political climate (to whatever extent a fifth grader can understand this). I recall seeing the Obama family on my TV, and thinking how different they seemed compared to my understanding of presidents and their families. The Obamas weren’t normal in the eyes of the U.S.; it wasn’t hard for me to comprehend this. A young, black president along with his tall, beautiful wife and two small daughters were a visible contrast of the Bush presidency before them. But, even in my acknowledgment of their seeming differences, I still did not understand the true significance of Michelle as the First Lady for much of her husband’s two terms.

Michelle Obama is a true force to reckoned with, regardless of her husband’s career. A Princeton and  Harvard Law graduate from the South Side of Chicago, she worked hard and earned her place in the field of law. It was at the Sidley Austin law firm that she met, and more notably, mentored her future husband, Barack Obama. She was an equal of the man who would become the leader of the free world. Later in her career, she served as the Associate Dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago and the Vice President for Community and External Affairs of the University of Chicago Medical Center. She has been involved with multiple non-profit organizations, including the newest addition, When We All Vote, a non-partisan effort to increase voter registration and participation in elections.

Michelle Obama’s political involvement is not only what makes her a revolutionary figure. Her presence as a strong, fashionable and emotional woman elevated the status of First Lady. She gave, and continues to give, impactful speeches without diminishing her humanity. Our nation wanted her to sink and hide into her place under the president; the media’s early label of her as “Angry Black Woman” now infamous. However, she refused to be meek and is now even more openly outspoken against criticism of herself.

My favorite aspects of Michelle are her personal sense of style and her acknowledgment of the importance of staying true to herself.  Her attention to appearance is indicative of the level of public attention she received during her husband’s term as well as after. In the age of social media, any public appearance means an opportunity for photographs and their immediate publication. The promise of constant attention generated an expectation of the Obama Administration; that of personal appearance and style. Michelle’s fashion sense has been a topic of conversation in the media since her husband’s 2008 campaign trail, specifically an October 2008 interview on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. Michelle’s attitude toward fashion allowed women of her stature to be both fashion-forward and self-expressive while remaining professional. She has been known to sport looks from a variety of designers, both high-end and affordable. Along with fashion, Michelle has also been increasingly intentional with her hairstyles. She was recently revealed as the cover star of the December 2018/January 2019 issue of Essence and made a significant statement by wearing her naturally curly hair. Her status as a role model, specifically for young black girls, is important and directly recognized in her new book as well.

The lasting effect of Michelle Obama is perfectly described by Rashida Jones in a 2016 New York Times thank-you note to the former First Lady: “Michelle Obama will have her own legacy, separate from her husband’s. And it will be that she was the first first lady to show women that they don’t have to choose. That it’s okay to be everything.” Michelle is a woman who has been a graduate of two ivy-league schools, a collegiate administrator, and a non-profit contributor. She is also a mother, wife, an advocate for women and a self-proclaimed “hugger-in-chief.” She continues to be and works towards becoming everything she wants to be.