I just want to stay Michelle, says US first lady one year on

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

WASH­ING­TON: Ev­ery once in a while Michelle Obama checks in with old friends.

“Do you still recog­nise me?” she’ll ask. “Do I still feel like Michelle?”

In the past year, the first lady’s name has popped up on Forbes’ most pow­er­ful women list, Peo­ple’s most beau­ti­ful list, Time’s most in­flu­en­tial list, Van­ity Fair’s in­ter­na­tional best-dressed list and Bar­bara Wal­ters’ most fas­ci­nat­ing list.

Her ev­ery word, move, bite, ges­ture, dress and shoe has been an­a­lysed and sec­ondguessed.

Is she tak­ing on too much? Why isn’t she do­ing more?

Did she touch the queen first? Should her arms be bare? Are her shorts too short? Are her sneak­ers too ex­pen­sive? Is she putting on weight?

“It wasn’t some­thing that I was pre­pared for,” she said last week as she looked back on her first year as first lady.

The chal­lenge, then, has been to re­main Michelle through it all, and not be­come “some­body else that is in a mag­a­zine”. To stay grounded yet reach high.

This is a first lady, af­ter all, who wants to make a dif­fer­ence, who dares to speak even now about her legacy.

She has spent the past year giv­ing the job of first lady a test run, set­tling her fam­ily into a new life in a new town, try­ing to avoid cre­at­ing con­tro­versy for her al­ready bur­dened hus­band and fig­ur­ing out where to make her mark.

“Our goal was to do ev­ery­thing that was done be­fore, so that we’d know what it was, and up­hold those tra­di­tions, but try to tweak it,” she told re­porters last week.

“And now that we’ve gone through a year, we can re­ally think about re­ally what works for this ad­min­is­tra­tion, what works for me as a first lady, what res­onates with where Amer­ica is to­day.”

Looking back, then, here are a few mo­ments that help to sketch the por­trait of a first lady who calls her­self a “110per­center,” al­ways looking to do more.

There she is, this Har­vard­e­d­u­cated lawyer and for­mer ex­ec­u­tive, dig­ging up sweet pota­toes on the back lawn of the White House. Michelle Obama, gar­dener? The first lady took her “pipe dream” of a mod­est kitchen gar­den and trans­formed it into a plat­form that she hopes will im­prove the lives of mil­lions of young peo­ple.

The gar­den gave her a gen­tle way to start up a con­ver­sa­tion about healthy eat­ing that will get more pointed this year as she makes a head-on cam­paign against child­hood obe­sity.

“We have a chance to change the fate of the next gen­er­a­tion if we get on it,” she says.

This is what Obama hopes will be her legacy.

They could have been two girl­friends headed out to lunch: Michelle Obama and Queen El­iz­a­beth, arm in arm, strolling in to a re­cep­tion at Buck­ing­ham Palace in April.

It may have been the most closely watched touchy-feely ges­ture of the first lady’s first year (“As­tound­ing!” Bri­tish wags called it), but it was hardly the only one.

Obama, whose hus­band is seen as a rather cool char­ac­ter, emerged as the na­tion’s nur­turer-in-chief.

She hugs with reck­less aban­don, clos­ing her eyes and en­velop­ing school chil­dren, young women, or­di­nary Amer­i­cans.

It fits with her larger mis­sion of men­tor­ing young peo­ple, giv­ing them the con­fi­dence to rise, as she says, “from me­di­ocrity to fab­u­lous­ness”.

The first lady started up her own men­tor­ing pro­gramme at the White House and is urg­ing other Amer­i­cans to do like­wise.

“If there is a pro­gram that speaks fun­da­men­tally to who I am,” she says, “it is this”.

The fas­ci­na­tion with Michelle Obama’s fash­ion choices started with her in­au­gu­ral twirl in a white, one-shoul­der Ja­son Wu gown and hasn’t let up since.

The first lady’s wardrobe – mix­ing trend­set­ting de­signs and off-the-rack cardi­gans – won her ac­co­lades from the fash­ion world. Still, it must be said, there was the oc­ca­sional howler.

Even her hus­band turned fash­ion critic at times, pok­ing fun at what he calls her “Star Wars belt”.

And it’s a fair bet the first lady never meant to be pho­tographed walk­ing dog Bo on the South Lawn in those less-than-flat­ter­ing Ber­muda shorts.

It’s where she started as first lady and where it all will end. Michelle Obama is a wife and mother.

She has spent the past year fig­ur­ing out how to be a very pub­lic role model, pol­icy ad­vo­cate and men­tor without los­ing hold of that. She’s tried to be the per­fect ex­am­ple without sug­gest­ing she’s per­fect.

When she sat for an Oval Of­fice in­ter­view about mar­riage with her hus­band last fall – some­thing of a nov­elty in it­self – she in­sisted that bumps are in­evitable, even con­tin­u­ous, in any re­la­tion­ship.

“The last thing we want to project,” she said then, is the im­age of a per­fect mar­riage.

Ask her what she’s most proud of in the past year, and she doesn’t hes­i­tate: “That my kids are sane,” she says.

And san­ity can be a pre­cious com­mod­ity when one’s life gets this level of scru­tiny. – Sapa-AP

KEEP­ING GROUNDED: US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at last year’s Neigh­bour­hood In­au­gu­ral Ball in Wash­ing­ton.

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