The Power of First Lady Michelle Obama

The Power of First Lady Michelle Obama
ESSENCE.COM Apr, 27, 2009

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Mother, wife, daughter, attorney, philanthropist and now First Lady. Never before have Black women looked at the President’s wife as someone approachable and yet so powerful in her own right. In fact, just like Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama seems to have this mystical embrace on many women. As she embarks upon her first 100 days, we take a look at all the ways in which the new First Lady is leaving her indelible mark.

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It’s not every woman who can make affordable clothing look like good. On our May 2009 cover, Mrs. Obaama poses with her mom, Marian Robinson, wearing a rose print silk Talbots dress ($169, Talbots.com).

POWER PLAY: Mrs. Obama gives new life to the 62-year-old clothing brand, which traditionally serviced women from 40 to 75 years old. But with Mrs. Obama sporting this dress, Talbots is seeing a surge in female buyers in their early forties.

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The First Lady’s desire to promote healthy eating habits starts literally from the ground up. With the help of students from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Obama has planted seedlings for all kinds of fruits and vegetables in the White House kitchen garden.

POWER PLAY: Her inspiring words about organic gardening have led to a significant increase in seed sales across the country.

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That’s right, Mrs. Obama has her very own 22-page bio-comic. This is the third in Bluewater Production’s new “Female Force” series which aims to show women as strong, independent characters who are indeed able to conquer the world. The Michelle Obama comic, which will be re-released on April 29, will be available for $3.99 at Amazon.com or your local comic book store at comicshoplocator.com.

POWER PLAY: How many other first ladies do you know have been immortalized as a super heroine?

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Mrs. Obama has visited a number of area schools in Washington, D.C., some that are even considered “at risk.” She often spends one-on-one time with groups of children, answering their questions not as the First Lady, but as a mom.

POWER PLAY: Even though Mrs. Obama lived and grew up on the gritty Southside of Chicago, she never allowed her environment to dictate her future. She skipped the second grade, attended a gifted class in the sixth grade,and graduated from Chicago’s first magnet high school, where she took AP classes and was on the honor roll all four years.

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If you’re dying to pump up on your Michelle Obama trivia, there are plenty of sources out there to help you. In addition to two unauthorized biographies, there is also a book about her style, and a few more written for children.

POWER PLAY: Not only is she an icon in the United States, but Mrs. Obama has a growing international following. Publishers for these books are getting requests from all over the world while some are already available in Dutch, Korean, French, German and Norwegian editions.

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The First Lady clearly thinks of comfort when she’s adding to her wardrobe. Her kitten heels have inspired shoe designers and women across the country. Now, there’s a choice between casual flats and back-breaking stilettos. Ahh, thank you, Mrs. O!

POWER PLAY: Even though Jimmy Choo is known for his sexy, sleek pumps, Mrs. Obama shuns tradition and goes for his “Glacier” kitten heel in a deep green.

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This two-sided limited edition custom-designed T-shirt is a take on Mrs. Obama’s look from the final Presidential debate last year, where she bravely wore a cluster of broaches pinned onto a string of pearls on top of her blue Maria Pinto dress. The Mrs. O Inspired T-shirt by Mrs. T sells for $30 at mrs-o.org.

POWER PLAY: Who else could inspire a limited-edition line of T-shirts based on just one outfit? This speaks droves about the First Lady’s signature style and growing popularity.

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Once Mrs. Obama wore this black-and-white high-waisted print Donna Ricco dress on an appearance of ABC’s “The View” last June, sales went through the roof.

POWER PLAY: Virtually overnight, the dress all but sold out at the White House/Black Market boutiques that sold it for an affordable $148.

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Who knew even the “Queen of Fabulosity” could be inspired by the First Lady. Fashion entrepreneur Kimora Lee Simmons used Michelle Obama’s hair and makeup as the ultimate inspiration for the models who walked in her Baby Phat/KLS fashion show last February.

POWER PLAY: “Michelle is so iconic and classic—she wears makeup and wears it well. We were aiming for a take on classic beauty,” said James Kaliardos to WWD.com. Kaliados worked for MAC Cosmetics at the show.

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Vogue magazine has photographed every first lady since Lou Hoover in 1929 (except for Harry Truman’s wife, Bess) but Mrs. Obama, who wore a magenta silk sheath dress by Jason Wu, is only the second first lady and the seventeenth Black woman to have landed a cover.

POWER PLAY: After her Vogue cover, some people were calling her the First Lady of American fashion

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Mrs. Obama has helped to promote her husband’s policies such as the Pay Equity law for women’s rights and the economic stimulus bill by hosting events and visiting various government agencies to say thank you for their service. In fact, according to her staff, she intends to visit all Cabinet-level agencies in order to get better acquainted with Washington.

POWER PLAY: Whether the Obamas want to admit it or not, no one else has the President’s ear like the First Lady.

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One of the first issues on her list as First Lady was to support military families. Mrs. Obama has visited Fort Bragg Military base in North Carolina and the Women’s Center at Arlington National Cemetery.

POWER PLAY: She has even generated a few bipartisan good words by focusing on a non-controversial issues like military families, where both sides generally tend to agree.

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If there is any doubt that the Harvard- and Princeton-educated former Chicago hospital executive has major influence, just take a look at these numbers. A recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 76 percent of Americans view Michelle Obama favorably, up 8 points from 68 percent in January.

POWER PLAY: In the same poll, Michelle Obama is viewed favorably by 60 percent of Republicans, a whopping 14-point jump from 46 percent in January. It gets even better. Among GOP women, her popularity shot up to 67 percent from 46 percent.

A timeline of the First Lady’s first 100 days »

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Mrs. Obama is developing her own signature fashion style, including her choice of broaches, necklaces and of course belts. She’s rocked the thin look, the thick look, leather, plastic, over dresses, and under cardigans.

POWER PLAY: In a recent trip to Turkey, former First Lady and now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was seen sporting a black wide belt and large gray pearls with one of her notorious pantsuits. Someone has been taking notes.

A timeline of the First Lady’s first 100 days »

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At almost 5-feet, 11-inches tall, Michelle Obama gives tall women a new sense of victory. Instead of cowering in the corner, trying not to stand out like a sore thumb, she has become the epitome of grace and style, standing proudly in front of crowds and next to her 6-foot, 1-inch-tall husband.

POWER PLAY: Just like the kitten heel, Mrs. Obama has brought an appreciation back to the ballet flat that allows tall women to be comfortable and stylish all remarkably at the same time.

A timeline of the First Lady’s first 100 days »

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International Wig, one of the largest online wig retailers, has this Michelle Obama-inspired do for the woman who really wants to feel like a first lady. You can even choose this style in her exact hair color. The wig is available at internationalwig.com for $36.99.

POWER PLAY: The Michelle Obama wig has become one of their biggest sellers.

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If you got it, flaunt it! Mrs. Obama regularly shows off her trademark “guns of steel” by wearing sleeveless dresses and blouses, no matter what the season.

POWER PLAY: Trainers across the country are getting requests from women who are going back to the gym specifically requesting the toned “Obama arms” just in time for summer.

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Who wouldn’t want what the Obama’s have—a happy, supportive, well-balanced marriage. Michelle Obama is an example for many of a Black woman who can have a successful marriage, family and career, despite all the media messages that say it’s not in the cards for us.

POWER PLAY: We’re hoping it’s only a matter of time before the image of the Obamas as a positive, loving couple becomes the archetype for all Black couples to follow.

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Despite being First Lady of the United States, Mrs. Obama has another role that will always come first and that’s of “Mom-in-Chief” to daughters Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10.

POWER PLAY: She’s teaching other women who may have had their doubts that it’s possible to balance work and motherhood. With the help of her own mother, the First Lady and the President are raising two well-behaved, well-adjusted young women proving that there’s nothing a mom can’t do.

Now that you know all the ways she’s influenced our country, tell us how Michelle Obama has influenced you.

By Wendy L. Wilson

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