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