The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Dar­lene Su­perville

When Michelle Obama con­sid­ered the daunt­ing prospect of be­com­ing first lady, she pur­posely avoided turn­ing to books by her pre­de­ces­sors for guid­ance. In­stead, she turned in­ward. “I didn’t want to be in­flu­enced by how they de­fined the role,” Mrs. Obama once said. She in­stinc­tively knew she had to de­fine the job “very uniquely and specif­i­cally to me and who I was.”

That meant do­ing it her way: shap­ing the role around her fam­ily, specif­i­cally her two young daugh­ters, and not let­ting her new re­spon­si­bil­i­ties con­sume her.

Through­out her eight years, Mrs. Obama has been a pow­er­ful, if some­what enig­matic, force in her hus­band’s White House. She chose her mo­ments in the often-un­for­giv­ing spot­light with great care and re­sisted pres­sure to be­come more en­gaged in the mud­sling­ing of par­ti­san pol­i­tics.

At times, she’s been more tra­di­tional than some ex­pected — or wanted — from this first lady. At other times, she’s been ea­ger to up­date stuffy con­ven­tions as­so­ci­ated with the of­fice.

As she nav­i­gated her way through, the woman who grew up on the South Side of Chicago dis­cov­ered a tal­ent for tele­vi­sion and a com­fort with Hol­ly­wood A-lis­ters, haute cou­ture and so­cial me­dia. And she used all of those el­e­ments to pro­mote her causes — child­hood obe­sity, sup­port for mil­i­tary fam­i­lies, girls’ ed­u­ca­tion — with at least some suc­cess.

When she leaves the White House next month, just a few days af­ter cel­e­brat­ing her 53rd birth­day, Mrs. Obama will do so not just as a po­lit­i­cal fig­ure, but as a lu­mi­nary with in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ence.

Friends say she charted that path largely on her own.

“She sort of lis­tened to her­self and al-

lowed her own in­ner voice and strength and direc­tion to lead her in the way that felt most authentic to her,” Oprah Win­frey told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “And I think watch­ing some­body makes you want to do that for your­self.”

Child­hood obe­sity

Mrs. Obama grap­pled with the child­hood obe­sity is­sue be­fore be­com­ing first lady; a doc­tor had warned her about her daugh­ters’ weight.

At the White House, she de­cided to share her ex­pe­ri­ence with the coun­try and started by plant­ing the first veg­etable gar­den there in more than 60 years. That led the fol­low­ing year, in 2010, to the launch of her child­hood-obe­sity ini­tia­tive, “Let’s Move.”

The first lady ap­pealed to elected of­fi­cials, food mak­ers, sell­ers, restau­rant chains and oth­ers to try to make healthy food more ac­ces­si­ble. She lob­bied law­mak­ers to add more fruit, veg­eta­bles and whole grains and to limit fat, sugar and sodium in the fed­eral school lunch pro­gram.

That led to the first up­date to the pro­gram in decades, and for Mrs. Obama the process was akin to a crash course in Wash­ing­ton sausage-mak­ing.


Mrs. Obama’s push to put the coun­try on a health kick ex­tended to ex­er­cise — and she made her­self ex­hibit A.

To pro­mote “Let’s Move,” the first lady often donned ath­letic wear and ran around with kids at sports clin­ics, some on the South Lawn. She twirled a hula hoop around her waist 142 times and kick-boxed in a video of the gym work­out that helped tone the up­per arms she showed off reg­u­larly, as in her of­fi­cial White House photo.

She did pushups with Ellen DeGeneres, raced in a potato sack against latenight TV’s Jimmy Fal­lon in the East Room and shim­mied with a turnip in a brief video pop­u­lar on so­cial me­dia — all to show that ex­er­cise can be fun.

“I’m pretty much will­ing to make a com­plete fool of my­self to get our kids mov­ing,” she once said.

In­stead she turned her­self into a fit­ness guru and a fig­ure sig­nif­i­cantly more pop­u­lar than her hus­band.


Once in the White House, Mrs. Obama vowed to pro­tect her then 10- and 7-yearold daugh­ters’ right to a nor­mal child­hood. She de­clared be­ing “mom in chief ” to Malia and Sasha as her pri­or­ity.

Mrs. Obama was an en­thu­si­as­tic White House host­ess. She rarely spoke about is­sues that were out­side of her port­fo­lio. She crafted her pub­lic sched­ule around her daugh­ters and lim­ited travel so she could spend time with them.

The Oba­mas’ par­ent­ing style — de­scribed by both Oba­mas as warm, but strict — made them role mod­els, a point of pride, par­tic­u­larly in the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity. “We have heard no Obama chil­dren drama,” said In­grid Saun­ders Jones, na­tional chair­woman of the Na­tional Coun­cil of Ne­gro Women.


In the fi­nal weeks of the pres­i­den­tial race, Mrs. Obama set aside her dis­taste for pol­i­tics to wage one last cam­paign, an ul­ti­mately fu­tile at­tempt to help elect Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton. She quickly be­came one of most pas­sion­ate Demo­cratic voices op­pos­ing Trump and call­ing him out for “brag­ging about sex­u­ally as­sault­ing women.” It was yet an­other mo­ment when Mrs. Obama again seemed to be fol­low­ing her path rather than prece­dent.

First lady Michelle Obama en­dorses health­ful eat­ing habits dur­ing a visit with preschool­ers at the Pe­na­cook Com­mu­nity Cen­ter in 2012 in Con­cord, N.H., as part of her Let’s Move ini­tia­tive. Jim Cole, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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