The Stunning Transformation Of Michelle Obama

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Michelle Obama is both the former first lady of the United States of America, and someone you imagine should definitely be your BFF. Whether she's speaking to students, the military, or celebrity attendees of a White House gala, she somehow appears to be talking specifically to each of us. She inexplicably reaches into our own experiences by sharing hers. She inspires us to be better. To give it all we've got, whatever it may be.

She once said, "Nothing in my life's path would have predicted that I'd be standing here as the first African-American First Lady of the United States of America. There is nothing in my story that would land me here." Born into a middle-class family on the south side of Chicago, she carved her extraordinary success through hard work and relentless dedication, boldly challenging the status quo throughout her life.

A former lawyer and Ivy-league graduate, she is an advocate for women's rights, accessible education, LGBTQ equality, gun control, wellness, marriage and family. We're celebrating how far Obama has come — and where she's headed next.

She wasn't born wearing Gucci

Long before she redecorated the White House, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama shared a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with her parents and older brother on the South Side of Chicago. Her dad was a city-pump operator, and her mom was a homemaker. The family of four occupied their tight quarters within a bungalow, shared with relatives. Obama remembered, "Everything that I think about and do is shaped around the life that I lived in that little apartment in the bungalow my father worked so hard to provide for us."

PRI reported, Sunday drives were the event of the week, and Friday nights would involve board games and gathering around the TV to watch The Brady Bunch — a show which, Peter Slevin wrote in his book Michelle Obama: A Life, the future First Lady had "encyclopedic knowledge."

She worked hard for her education

As kids, Michelle Obama's parents pushed her and brother Craig to do well in school. They excelled immediately, skipping second grade, with Obama being chosen for a gifted program in her elementary school. She later attended Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, Chicago's "first public high school for high achievers," according to the New York Times, which she had to travel an hour on the bus to attend.

She was an 11-year-old student when Chicago began to desegregate schools in 1975. Valerie Jarrett, senior White House advisor, told the New York Times "her education was enriched by listening to people who had different life experiences and differences of opinion."

She set goals and slayed them

Michelle Obama shared with a group of Washington high school students the story of how she once informed her high school teachers she wanted to apply to Princeton: "Get this," she told the kids, "[I was told that] I was setting my sights too high." Not only did the National Honors Society student get in to Princeton University, she graduated cum laude in 1985. And then went on to earn her law degree from Harvard University in 1988.

This is a woman whose parents never went to college, yet instilled in her the desire to keep learning. In a 2009 TED Talk for an audience of students, Obama rallied, "I never cut class. I loved getting A's. I liked being smart. With these same values... you too, can pave the way. You too can realize your dreams. And then your job is to reach back, and to help someone just like you do the same thing."

She used to be Barack's boss

Fresh out of Harvard, Michelle Obama landed a job at Chicago's Sidley Austin law firm, as a 24-year-old junior associate. In 1988, she was put in charge of mentoring a summer intern: 26-year-old Barack Obama. 

Barack told Oprah about his first impression, "I remember being struck by how tall and beautiful she was. She, I have since learned, was pleasantly surprised to see that my nose and ears weren't quite as enormous as they looked in the photo I'd submitted for the firm directory." 

He asked multiple times before she ever agreed to a date. He continued, "On our first date, I treated her to the finest ice cream Baskin-Robbins had to offer, our dinner table doubling as the curb. I kissed her, and it tasted like chocolate."

They held their wedding reception at a previously segregated country club

After dating for three years, the Obamas wed in 1992, holding their reception at the South Shore Cultural Center in Chicago. But back when the bride was growing up in the same neighborhood 20 years prior, the then-South Shore Country Club was decisively exclusive. A Chicago Park District official told the Chicago Tribune in 1984, just as the club had received a renovation in structure and inclusiveness: "Remember that this was a private club in its time and if you were black or Jewish, forget about it."

At her wedding, Michelle Obama stunned in an of-the-moment off-the-shoulder gown, drop pearl and crystal earrings, with a groom who couldn't stop smiling. She revealed their vows to InStyle, "Barack didn't pledge riches, only a life that would be interesting. On that promise he delivered."

She juggled motherhood and career

Before she moved into the White House, Michelle Obama was still working as an attorney, and made a point to negotiate fair work flexibility for raising her two young girls — all while her husband was running for the U.S. Senate.

She shared her tough negotiating strategy with Parade, "I took my last job [before my husband entered the White House] because of my boss's reaction to my family situation. I didn't have a babysitter, so I took Sasha right in there with me in her crib and her rocker. I was still nursing, so I was wearing my nursing shirt. I told my boss, 'This is what I have: two small kids. My husband is running for the U.S. Senate. I will not work part time. I need flexibility. I need a good salary. I need to be able to afford babysitting. And if you can do all that, and you're willing to be flexible with me because I will get the job done, I can work hard on a flexible schedule.' I was very clear. And he said yes to everything." 

She became the first African-American First Lady

"I wake up in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters — two beautiful, black young women — head off to school, waving goodbye to their father, the President of the United States..." Michelle Obama shared in a commencement address at City College of New York in 2016.

Not only did she make history as the first black FLOTUS, but she also threw open the doors of the White House to others as well. "We feel privileged, and we feel a responsibility to make it feel like the people's house," she told Oprah. "This house belongs to America." According to White House protocol, once she vacates the position, Obama's official portrait will be hung in first position, bumping all other FLOTUS portraits one position to the side, Vogue reported.

She took a massive pay-cut to be FLOTUS

Michelle Obama was "a Princeton- and Harvard-educated lawyer who was forced to give up her career as a hospital executive with a $250,000-plus salary when Mr. Obama won the presidency," according to the New York Times. While her husband has raked in $400,000 a year on the presidential salary, not including a $50,000 per year expense budget, Michelle has received no salary for her role.

Proponents for wage-equality suggest starting with the first lady, who is responsible for managing a staff and directing a wide range of programs, while carrying heavy diplomatic, business and social responsibilities. "We thought COO was the best job category to describe what the first lady does," James Pedderson of executive placement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas described. And for that, he estimates "FLOTUS, COO" should be making $287,000 a year.

She makes her kids do chores in the White House

Growing up, "Michelle's parents limited their children to one hour of television a day and made them do chores. On Saturdays, Michelle cleaned the bathroom, scrubbing the sink and toilet and mopping the floor," PRI reported. And now that she calls The White House home, she's passing on the tradition of responsibility to daughters Malia and Sasha, who were just 10 and 7 when they moved in.

Michelle Obama assured White House staff she wanted her girls to have assigned duties. She told Oprah, "If these girls don't learn how to make a bed or clean a room, what are they going to do when they go to college? I [wanted] the kids to be treated like children, not little princesses. So the girls help set the table, they help bring the food out, they work with the butler staff, and they're in the kitchen laughing and making their toast in the morning."

She's still falling in love

When Oprah asked Michelle Obama in 2009 if her love for Barack had deepened since they had begun the presidency, she replied, "Absolutely. I don't lose sight of the fact that he's the president, but first and foremost he's my husband, my friend, and the father of my children. That didn't change with his hand on the Lincoln Bible."

She continued, "But it doesn't mean I don't appreciate the gravity of what he's doing. The way I can honor that is by working by his side and adding value to what he's doing in any way that I can. That's my part in this. That's why I'm out there trying to be an aid and a support to his vision and his values. I am supporting the president of the United States."

She's super fit!

You've seen those arms! FLOTUS packs some heat and isn't afraid to show it off in those signature sleeveless looks. We know Michelle Obama works hard, but she works out like a boss, too. "Certainly one of the things we do is make sure she works her entire body so she's not only strong, she's symmetrically toned and fit," the Obamas' fitness consultant Cornell McClellan shared with Self. "We do a lot of strength, interval stuff, yoga, boxing, all kinds of stuff." When asked if she has a top secret special-event routine, McClellan replied, "Not in particular — we work extra hard all the time." FLOTUS #fitspo — done!

She inspired America to move it

In February 2010, Obama launched "Let's Move," an initiative challenging all of America to raise healthier kids. "The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake," Obama said. "This isn't the kind of problem that can be solved overnight, but with everyone working together, it can be solved."

By 2015, the program was a smash hit. "Five years ago people looked at me like I was crazy because they said [childhood obesity] wasn't an issue," Obama said, according to CNN. "Today we have seen changes, improvements in the school lunches. We've seen grocery store manufacturers putting healthy food there and keeping the prices low. Schools, classrooms are putting in salad bars. And kids are getting active during the day. It's just been a real culture shift." To celebrate, she popped on a cardigan, and got her mom-dance on with Jimmy Fallon.

She revolutionized the way we eat

As number 13 on Forbes' World's 100 Most Powerful Women, Michelle Obama leaves behind a wellness legacy with her Partnership for a Healthier America initiative, which remains in place even now after she's left the White House.

She has made it clear that health is a top priority. Though, that doesn't mean she refuses to indulge. ”Getting a pizza on a Friday was a treat,” Obama recalled of her childhood, in Peter Slevin's book Michelle Obama: A Life. And, while she has been fiercely dedicated to ending childhood obesity through school lunch programs and revamping the FDA's nutritional labeling, she is realistic about living life. "The pie in the White House is dangerously good," she confessed to Oprah.

Her garden is the first at the WH since Eleanor Roosevelt's

"We want to use it as a point of education, to talk about health and how delicious it is to eat fresh food, and how you can take that food and make it part of a healthy diet. You know, the tomato that's from your garden tastes very different from one that isn't. And peas — what is it like to eat peas in season? So we want the White House to be a place of education and awareness," Michelle Obama shared in an interview with Oprah.

The White House garden was established in 2009, and is the first since Eleanor Roosevelt's during World War II. There are even beehives on site. The "first First Bees," CNN reported, 35,000 of which populate the grounds for the first time in history.

She wants every girl to get out there and kick some butt

"Education is a very personal thing for me," Michelle bama shared at Glamour Magazine's event: A Brighter Future: A Global Conversation on Girls' Education. "As I tell girls whenever I meet them, I wouldn't be here, sitting here not just in this chair but in the life that I have, if it weren't for my education. I know that when you hear the phrase 'knowledge is power,' it's true." She launched Let Girls Learn, an initiative to "address the range of challenges preventing adolescent girls from attaining a quality education that empowers them to reach their full potential" in 2015.

The First Lady even dropped a hot single "This is for My Girls", featuring Kelly Clarkson, Missy Elliott, Janelle Monae, and more, in support of her #62MillionGirls campaign, to help girls around the world finish their education. Catch FLOTUS rocking it with James Cordon and Missy Elliott on Carpool Karaoke.

Her clothes do the talking

Perhaps a symptom of a position held exclusively by women thus far, or a sign of the power of style, is that every first lady's wardrobe has been adored, trashed, or scrutinized for decades. "Despite a strict policy against commenting on her clothes, Mrs. Obama has become her generation's most impactful fashion muse," WSJ reported. In the article, fashion industry investment consultant Robert Burke assessed, "Kate Middleton has global influence, but she's not as fashionable. Unlike Lady Gaga, women can relate to [Obama]."

Showcasing her fearlessly sartorial spirit, Obama rocked a breathtaking custom green silk Gucci gown for the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in December 2016. Even now, having left the White House, Michelle Obama continues to be a pinnacle of fashion. The woman is an icon.

She tells it like it is — or should be

In arguably her greatest rallying speech as first lady, Michelle Obama took the mic and nailed it, while campaigning for Hillary Clinton in October 2016. "This is not something that we can ignore," she said, referencing the recent, now infamous lewd remarks Donald Trump made about women.

Uncharacteristically centering herself in the political spotlight, she spoke confidently, imploring, "I can tell you that the men in my life do not talk about women this way. To dismiss this as everyday locker-room talk is an insult to decent men everywhere." She continued, "This is disgraceful, it is intolerable, and it doesn't matter what party you belong to. No woman deserves to be treated this way — none of us deserves this kind of abuse," thus proving she is a First Lady with a voice that will be heard — and go down in history.

She won hearts around the world

In an interview with Michelle Obama, Oprah shared, "People feel an affection for you that I find so touching." To that, the first lady replied, "I've always thought that what I owe the American people is to let them see who I am so there are no surprises. I don't want to be anyone but Michelle Obama. And I want people to know what they're getting."

She's also made several television and media appearances over the years, according to Variety, including The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, NCIS, Parks & Recreation, iCarly, Ellen and YouTube, using these platforms to promote her initiatives. "I have never been afraid to be a little silly, and you can engage people that way. My view is, first you get them to laugh, then you get them to listen. So I'm always game for a good joke," she said in the article.

She could be the president

"The Internet Really, Really Wants Michelle Obama to Run for President in 2020," a TIME headline relayed in 2016. While even her husband has denied the possibility of Obama running for office, ever, this crowd-sourced passion only confirms her ability to reach the hearts — and souls — of a great many diverse people, worldwide.

"In a poll of first ladies, certain women are invariably cited by historians as the most noteworthy: Abigail Adams, Lady Bird Johnson and Eleanor Roosevelt, who is widely considered to be the most influential first lady," according to CNN. In the article, Autumn Stevens, author of Feisty First Ladies reviews Obama: "She's got the whole package. She's in a class by herself."

She is missed

As Obamalot came to a close, Michelle Obama's staff felt the bittersweet pangs of the end of a legacy. Senior presidential advisor and close friend Valerie Jarrett told Vogue, "I cry a lot. It takes very little to set me off." Obama agreed, "You know, there are little... moments. Looking out on the South Lawn and the Washington Monument and it had just rained and the grass was really green and everything popped a little bit more. It's soooo beautiful. And for that moment I thought, I'm going to miss waking up to this, having access to this anytime I want."

Rashida Jones contributed to a piece in the New York Times called "To the First Lady, With Love", writing, "Michelle Obama embodies the modern, American woman... [She is] the best thing for feminism. Her individual choices force us to accept that being a woman isn't just one thing. Or two things. Or three things. [She will] have her own legacy... the first First Lady to show women that they don't have to choose. That it's OK to be everything."

She's still using her platform for good

While the Obamas made plans to stay in Washington while Sasha finishes high school, we weren't exactly sure what Michelle Obama would do as her term as FLOTUS came to end, before re-entering civilian life. As she told Vogue, "I will take the same approach leaving as I did coming in. I won't know until I'm there. I've never been the former First Lady of the United States of America before."

Feminist activist Gloria Steinem predicted, in the New York Times, "[It's] up to her. She could do anything, from becoming a U.S. Senator from Illinois to campaigning for the safety and education of girls globally. She could also choose to lead a private life. Whatever she decides, I trust her judgement." And after getting to know her as First Lady since 2008, so do we.

As of December 2017, the former FLOTUS and POTUS 44 have continued to live their lives as we pretty much expected: they took a nice vacation, they still focus on family, she continues to stay fit and encourage others to live a healthy lifestyle, and they still give back to the community. Her Instagram post on November 2017 says it all: "I'll be fighting for girls' education for the rest of my life."