“Normal, inspirational and many degrees of cool”: in praise of Michelle Obama

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Moya Crockett
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Okay, so we all already knew that Michelle Obama was awesome. She’s a Harvard and Princeton-educated former lawyer with frankly spectacular arms, who’s as comfortable speaking out on gun control and LGBTQ rights as she is rapping along with Missy Elliot in Carpool Karaoke.

Her husband is the world’s most powerful man, but she jokes about his bad morning breath and tweaks his nose in public. She’s just as likely to turn out in a hip designer like Thakoon or Self Portrait as she is to wear something traditionally “first lady” by Michael Kors, and she’s a devastatingly good orator. When she denounced Donald Trump in the wake of his boasts about sexual assaulting women, saying that his comments had “shaken me to my core”, thee impact was felt around the world.   

But in a new magazine cover shoot, the former Ms Robinson proves, once and for all, that she’s the coolest first lady America has ever seen.

Behold: Michelle Obama.

The First Lady of the United States appears on the cover of the latest edition of T magazine, the New York Times’ style supplement. The theme of the issue is ‘Greats’ (Zadie Smith and Lady Gaga are among the luminaries appearing on alternative covers) – and ‘great’ is exactly the word we’d use to describe Obama’s spaghetti strap dress/statement earring combination.

Inside the magazine is a series of ‘thank you letters’ to Obama for what she has achieved and represented during her time in the White House. The first, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, praises Obama’s fashion sense and authenticity, her “common sense and mordant humor”, and her “ease in her skin”.

“She had the air of a woman who could balance a checkbook, and who knew a good deal when she saw it, and who would tell off whomever needed telling off,” writes Adichie, the bestselling author of books including Half of a Yellow Sun and the essay We Should All be Feminists, which was famously sampled by Beyoncé.  

“She made ‘first lady’ mean a person warmly accessible, a person both normal and inspirational and a person many degrees of cool.”

Iconic feminist activist and writer Gloria Steinem also praises Obama in T magazine – particularly for refusing to play the submissive wife to Barack Obama while in the White House.

“She made him both more human and effective as a president by being his interpreter and defender, but also someone we knew was capable of being his critic,” Steinem writes.

She adds: “In addition, she has always been the best kind of mother, which means insisting that fathers be equal parents. All of this she has done with honesty, humor and, most important, kindness.”

Steinem, 82, says she is “old enough to remember Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House [from 1933-45]”, yet “I have never seen such balance and equal parenting, such love, respect, mutuality and pleasure in each other’s company”. 

In another letter, actress and producer Rashida Jones thanks Obama for exhibiting the traditional qualities expected of a First Lady without being “afraid to remind us she is a proud African-American woman, which is, in itself, revolutionary”.

To Jones, Obama represents “the modern, American woman”. “My female friends and I often talk about feeling like we’re ‘too much’,” she writes. “We’re complicated; we want to be so many things… All women struggle to reconcile the different people that we are at all times”.

But if feminism is about choice, Jones writes, Obama makes her feel like “every choice is available. You can go to Princeton and Harvard, you can rap with Missy Elliott, you can be a mother and a lawyer and a powerful orator.”

Ultimately, Obama “was the first first lady to show women that they don’t have to choose,” Jones concludes. “That it’s okay to be everything.” 

Image: Rex Features