Michelle Obama In Time: "There Are Thousands Of Role Models Like Me"

Time magazine’s new interview with Michelle Obama (who also snags the cover) manages to be extremely thorough and very interesting without once asking the First Lady about designer dresses or shoes.

Actually, the dress she wore to the congressional speech is mentioned, but there’s so much more — from who walks Bo (she does in the morning; the President does the “last walk” at 10pm) — to what Michelle misses about her life “before.” (“The anonymity of just living your life and making choices and decisions, and moving through the world without sort of constant commentary. That was nice.”)

But the best parts are when Michelle is talking about her status as a role model for girls, for women, and for people. She tells the story of growing up on the South Side of Chicago and not knowing anything about the University of Chicago:”It was sort of like another world that didn’t belong to me,” she explains.

And there are so many institutions like that around the world, and so many kids like that who are living inches away from power and prestige and fame and fortune, and they don’t even know that it exists. And the White House, all these wonderful buildings, these monuments and capitols … I’m sure there are children who feel that way. I’m sure there are people in this country who feel the same way about these places that I did about the University of Chicago.

And I have probably dedicated more of my life to trying to break down those barriers for people. I think that might be one of the small themes in my professional life, is to try to be the bridge so that more people feel like they have access; that their voice, that their faces, that their worlds count in places like this, and that there is understanding across those divides. And as I grew up and came to work in those places, right, and got to know them, I realized that the misunderstanding or the disconnect goes both ways; that folks outside of these communities have no idea what goes on within these institutions, and sometimes the people in the institutions have no real understanding of the people who live outside. You know, everybody is dealing in these misperceptions about one another because there is no bridge.

Michelle also discusses how she’d like to inspire females: “How powerful would it be for young girls to come into this space and hear from other really powerful, impressive, dynamic women, and to have that conversation go on here in the White House?”

But the First Lady is emphatic about the fact that she is not that special, fairly normal, really:

My mother said this in an interview and I completely agree with her, and it’s something that, you know, I want young people to remember, is that … my mom said in this Essence article, Michelle and Barack aren’t new; there are thousands of Michelle and Barack Obamas all over this nation. And that is true … I know them, I’ve gone to school with them, I live with them.

So the truth is, is that there are thousands of role models like me. I just happen to be the First Lady. So that’s why I feel like I have a responsibility because people see me, but every single day there are people doing what I’m doing. When I visit a health care organization or a youth center or a service project, those heroes are working, they’re serving on their boards, they’re packing the boxes, they’re teaching in the schools. And again, those are the people who have the real opportunity to impact because they’ll be with those kids each and every day.

…It’s just reminding us as a nation that you don’t have to be the First Lady, you don’t have to have the title to do the work and … because it’s happening all over the place.

And of course, on one hand, she’s right. If you look, there are inspiring stories of smart, successful people — many of them people of color — all over this country. But of course, no one is as high-profile as the Obamas right now. Yet, by spinning her story as an American story, the First Lady demonstrates what is so awe-inspiring about her: The intelligence, the humility, the elegance with which she conducts herself.

Of course, the interview wouldn’t be complete without an awesome “Mom in Chief”-type anecdote: When discussing the First Dog with her daughters, Michelle proclaimed:

I said it’s on you if Bo eats Tiger or Blankie, which are two beloved characters in the household. It’s on you. [Tiger and Blankie] have been members of the family for a long time.
So I just sort of told them, I said, you’ve seen what he does to stuff. He’s a puppy, he doesn’t know the sentimental value of your things. And if you leave your stuff somewhere, it will be destroyed, and there’s nothing I can do about it. (Laughter.) So you can either close your door … and they close the doors, religiously. So he’s been good. But we try to set him up for success.

Interview with the First Lady [Time]
Related: The Meaning of Michelle Obama [Time]

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