Becoming by Michelle Obama: A Review

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As the former First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world. She dramatically changed the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and stood with her husband as he led the United States of America. Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance, who has steadily defied expectations and whose story inspires us to do the same.


Photo via The Obama-Robinson Family Archives


Michelle Obama grew accustomed to being the only person of color, as well as a young woman surrounded by confident men. She states, “I tried not to feel intimidated when classroom conversation was dominated by male students, which it often was. Hearing them, I realized that they weren’t at all smarter than the rest of us. They were simply emboldened, floating on an ancient tide of superiority, buoyed by the fact that history had never told them anything different.” While in college, she writes, “I lived like a half-closeted C.E.O., quietly but unswervingly focused on achievement, bent on checking every box.” She took the LSAT and applied to the best law schools in the country, getting herself into Harvard Law School.


Photo via The Obama-Robinson Family Archives


In Becoming, Obama writes that while on the presidential campaign trail, she grew tired of the “relentless, carnival-barker commentary on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News,” and that she treated herself instead to a “diet of E! and HGTV.” One of her most common refrains is that she doesn’t care much for politics at all. But she is at home living the soft power of celebrity. Obama’s frankness regarding the media’s processing of her image is famous. In Becoming, she dwells often on a concept she calls the “American gaze.” She writes, “It was as if there were some cartoon version of me out there wreaking havoc, a woman I kept hearing about but didn’t know—a too-tall, too-forceful, ready to emasculate Godzilla of a political wife named Michelle Obama.” The first Lady was a celebrity in the eyes of the entire world yet to herself and her family Michelle Obama wanted nothing besides avoiding the American Gaze and spending time with her family.


Photo via The Obama-Robinson Family Archives


Becoming is frequently funny, sometimes indignant or enraged, and when Michelle describes her father’s early death from multiple sclerosis, it turns emotionally raw. My favorite scene is a recent one, with Michelle in her new Washington home, alone one evening except for the armed guards in the garage. Feeling peckish, she pads downstairs, barefoot and in her shorts, toasts bread, grills cheese in the microwave, then takes the “fat mess of gooey cheddar” outside to eat – none of which she would have been allowed to do in the White House, at least not without supervision or fussy assistance. On the veranda, she chomps contentedly, “not thinking about the new president, or for the matter the old president either”. The character of youth and the fate of American democracy can wait; sometimes you just desperately need a midnight snack.


Photo by Chuck Kennedy


In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work. Michelle Obama is far more than a voice for this generation, she is and will be a historic figure for generations to come and Becoming will only prove how a young girl from South Chicago was able to influence so many people.