What You Never Knew About Michelle Obama

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When a relatively unknown senator walked out onto the stage at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 to deliver a keynote address, the world took notice. Barack Obama was in the early days of his political career, but just four years later, he'd deliver the inaugural address in front of thousands of people. 

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Obama's rise to political power was only befitting of a once-in-a-generation candidate, who beat out decades-long insiders and galvanized a voting coalition that hadn't been seen since the likes of FDR. And alongside him, at every step of the way, was his powerful, no-holding-back spouse, Michelle Obama.

If Barack was liked, Michelle was beloved. In fact, she was ranked as the most admired woman in 2020, for the third year in a row (via Gallup). Educated, ambitious, and dedicated, she made it clear early on in her husband's campaign that she was his biggest cheerleader — but unlike other more traditional political spouses, she was candid about their marriage, their roles as parents, and the challenges they had overcome while on their path to the White House. As time went on, Michelle became a bonafide celebrity in her own right, and many of us would attest to knowing quite a bit about her these days. But there are still some lesser-known facts about the former first lady that may take you by surprise.

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Michelle Obama is a supporter of IVF for a very specific reason

As noted by USA Today, the former first lady opened up about her pregnancy experience in her memoir, "Becoming," revealing that she had endured a miscarriage.

"I felt like I failed, because I didn't know how common miscarriages were because we don't talk about them," Michelle later told Robin Roberts of the experience. "We sit in our own pain, thinking that somehow we're broken. So, that's one of the reasons why I think it's important to talk to young mothers about the fact that miscarriages happen, and the biological clock is real."

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Acknowledging at the time that being in her mid-30s meant she required professional intervention, Michelle and Barack went through the IVF process for both daughters, Malia and Sasha. Since releasing her book, the former first lady has been open about how important it is for women to share their own stories about fertility.

"I think it's the worst thing that we do to each other as women, not share the truth about our bodies and how they work, and how they don't work," Michelle said of her fertility journey (via USA Today).

Michelle and Barack Obama had a very sweet, and impactful, first date

For his first date with his future wife, Michelle Robinson, Barack Obama chose the classic lunch and movie combo (via Today). When she finally agreed to go, the duo ate lunch and then went to see Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing."

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On the anniversary of the film's 25th year, Michelle and Barack released a short video of them talking about that very first date (via Vanity Fair). "We had eaten lunch at the Art Institute of Chicago, gone for a little walk, and then I took her to this new movie everybody was talking about, directed by a guy that not that many people had heard of," the former president said, before Michelle chimed in, "He was trying to show me his sophisticated side by selecting an independent filmmaker." 

But it was Lee's impactful film — and the couple's ideals, per Slate — that sparked a romance that has lasted all these years.

Michelle has never looked at celebrities as role models

This might come as a shock, given that Michelle Obama rubs shoulders with celebrities on a regular basis, but the former first lady has never looked up to the likes of singers or movie stars. In a sit-down interview with Katie Couric for Glamour, Michelle shared that when she was a child, it was important for her to source inspiration from role models with whom she could interact on a daily basis, as those interactions had a far more profound impact on her.

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"My mom, for sure. My dad. The teachers. For me, role-modeling was immediate, it was touchable. It was rare for me to idolize a movie star or a singer ... because, truly, children connect with who is in their lives, present and accounted for," Michelle shared. "When I was little, I wanted to be a mother, because that's who I saw. I saw my mom caring for me. I didn't play doctor. I didn't play lawyer. I didn't have those visions until I was in college, meeting people who were doing those things."

Michelle went on to note how important it is to encourage parents, teachers, and guardians to be involved in their kids' lives. "It really makes a difference," she said.

The former first lady founded a youth organization in Chicago

While many of us know Michelle Obama for her initiatives surrounding healthy eating and exercise among children, many may not realize that the former first lady has been supporting youth initiatives for decades. In fact, when she left the corporate legal world, Michelle turned her attention to AmeriCorps and founded Public Allies Chicago, a program that helps young people in their journey toward public service (via the White House Archives).

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As it happened, Michelle was not a fan of the corporate legal life, with Law.com noting that the three years she worked at law firm Sidley Austin were "dismal." Michelle shared that she "realized right away that [she] had made the right decision" to leave, recounting in a speech at TIME's 100 Most Influential People Awards that the work at Public Allies Chicago was incredibly rewarding.

"There are few things more rewarding than watching young people recognize that they have the power to enrich not only their lives, but the lives of others as well," the former first lady said, adding that encouraging young people's passions is just as vital as highlighting markers such as degree, title, and pay. 

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Michelle didn't want to put Barack on a pedestal when he ran for office

Many first ladies have been naturally and unequivocally supportive of their husbands — but Michelle Obama didn't fall so easily in line with offering unbridled support. During the 2008 campaign, as some may not recall or even know, she shared more personal — and unflattering — details about Barack Obama, such as his dirty habits and (gasp!) not putting the butter back in the fridge after breakfast. As it turns out, Michelle was not so much airing his dirty laundry as showing the world that he was imperfect, just like the rest of us.

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"People think I'm trashing him," Michelle Obama explained to friend Susan Sher, as noted by Slate. "I was trying to make a larger point, that we want to put our president on a pedestal, when not only can no one fulfill all our fantasies, but we're all in this together and we can't leave it up to any one decider."

She has a very specific workout schedule

It's widely known that Michelle Obama is a fitness enthusiast, but the former first lady's workouts serve a bigger purpose than just keeping her physically fit. As noted by Ebony, Michelle's very specific workout schedule spans every single day of the week, with the "Becoming" author hitting the gym for an hour and a half Monday through Sunday. Why is she so obsessed with staying active? As she explained it, Michelle Obama's mental health hugely benefits from the practice. 

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"If I don't exercise, I won't feel good," the former first lady shared. "I'll get depressed." Elaborating on her own mental health struggles, Michelle shared with People, "I needed to acknowledge what I was going through, because a lot of times we feel like we have to cover that part of ourselves up, that we always have to rise above and look as if we're not paddling hard underneath the water."

So what do you need to do to get Michelle-like arms, all while prioritizing your own mental health? Ebony broke down her workout routine: Start with 15 minutes of cardio, followed by 15 minutes of bodyweight exercises, and then wrap it up with 15 minutes of strength training. 

Barack had to survive a game of basketball with Michelle's brother in order to date her

Although Barack and Michelle Obama brought their love and support for one another onto the national stage, there are still some stories about their early years together that are relatively unknown. For instance, Michelle's brother, Craig Robinson, was skeptical about Barack at first. "He was just another one who wasn't going to make it," he said, sharing that Michelle's standards were so high that "it was hard to pass muster" (via Slate). But Barack persevered, and his fate with Michelle was hanging in the balance when Robinson challenged him to a basketball game at his sister's request.

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"[Michelle] asked me to play basketball with him. Not to see [how good a] player he was, but because she'd grown up hearing my dad and I say you can tell a lot about a guy on the basketball court," Robinson said, as noted by Slate. So did Barack pass the test? "No personality flaws with respect to the basketball evaluation, so they started dating," the former first lady's older brother shared.

Even as first lady, Michelle made time for girls' nights

When juggling work, families, and other obligations, having a social life can sometimes seem untenable. But next time you go to cancel girls' night, remember: Michelle Obama makes time for it, and she is busier than all of us combined.

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Some of Michelle's closest friends include Dr. Sharon Malone, Denielle Pemberton-Heard, and Kelly Dibble, according to Glamour. As the former first lady shared in an episode of her podcast, "We can talk about the important stuff: what's going on in the world, in our families, whatever we're thinking about, really. We're just there for each other when it counts — for a laugh, for a hug, for whatever we need."

She added that "there's just a certain relief that comes when you don't have to walk into your friend group and explain yourself. My group of female friends isn't calling me to say, 'What can I do?' They're .... calling me to say, 'How you doin' girl? You know, let's talk.'"

Michelle grew up in a one-bedroom apartment

Michelle and Barack Obama have certainly lived in some amazing places — after all, the White House is just about as historic as it gets in the United States. And the former first lady's story is even more inspiring when taking her humble beginnings into account. 

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As the third first lady to be born in Chicago, Illinois, Michelle lived in the South Side of the city for her entire childhood. She grew up in a one-bedroom apartment — as opposed to the 132 rooms the White House boasts — with her parents and brother. As noted by Hello! Magazine, Michelle's great aunt and uncle lived on the bottom floor, while her family lived on the second floor. Michelle and her brother, Craig Robinson, used the living room as their shared bedroom, using a divider to separate the space.

Robinson and Michelle chatted about their living arrangements during an event with the Aspen Institute, joking that they started the "tiny house" trend.

She has a weakness for a certain fast food item

Even the most health-conscious people have a treat they can't resist, and despite her commitment to health and wellness, even Michelle Obama has a food weakness. As noted by CBS News, close family friend Valerie Jarrett shared that when she and Michelle were on the move and needed a bite to eat, they always hunted for french fries.

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"Whenever we're on the road and we've had a long day, we're looking for a way to have french fries — and if we've been really good, then we get to have a cheeseburger to go along with our french fries," Jarrett said.

The topic of Michelle's love of french fries made headlines when husband Barack Obama let it slip to a crowd of kids that the salty snack was his wife's favorite (via The Hill). After the public admission, Michelle vowed that she'd "take a break" from the unhealthy snack.

The former first lady skipped the second grade

We all know that Michelle Obama is extremely intelligent — after all, she is a Harvard-educated lawyer who has commanded the respect of her peers — but many people might not know that her academic journey started off with a high achievement. As noted by the New Zealand Herald, Michelle attended Bryn Mawr Elementary School in Chicago. As she explained in her book, "Becoming," second grade was marked by "unruly kids and flying erasers," and her teacher was clearly in over her head. To make matters worse, Michelle picked up on the fact that her teacher "didn't seem to like children."

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Michelle went to her mother with her concerns. "[Her efforts] led to me and a couple of other high-performing kids getting quietly pulled out of class [and] given a battery of tests, and about a week later, [we were] reinstalled permanently into a bright and orderly third-grade class upstairs, governed by a smiling, no-nonsense teacher who knew her stuff," she shared.

Michelle has never let criticism about her appearance get to her

The former first lady has been photographed for decades now, and her fashion choices have been met with a chorus of criticism (as well as praise, but it's far easier to listen to negativity). You may wonder whether Michelle Obama has been upset by the naysayers and critics — especially when it comes to her looks — but she claims that she doesn't let the negative comments bother her.

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In an interview for Glamour, Katie Couric asked the former first lady if the criticism ever gets to her, saying, "Do you ever want to tell people, 'Get a life?'" Michelle answered, "Oh, no. It's part of the job."

"All we can do as women is make the best decisions for us. And that includes everything from how you look to how you dress to whether you choose to stay at home or work when you have kids," Michelle told Couric. "People are always going to have opinions, and people have a right to their opinions, particularly when you're the first lady; you're representing the nation. So I can't be surprised that people are interested. But I've tried to be at peace with the choices that I make first, and then be open to everyone else's reflection."

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Michelle and Barack Obama went to couples therapy

Our society is finally embracing therapy and shunning the dated taboo that comes along with it — and that includes Michelle and Barack Obama, who have enjoyed the benefits of couples therapy. As noted by USA Today, Michelle shared with Robin Roberts that their relationship has been strengthened by periodic therapy sessions, and that the outlet has given them a chance to share their true feelings.

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"Marriage counseling for us was one of those ways where we learned how to talk out our differences," Michelle explained in the interview. "I know too many young couples who struggle and think that somehow there's something wrong with them. And I want them to know that Michelle and Barack Obama, who have a phenomenal marriage and who love each other, we work on our marriage. And we get help with our marriage when we need it."

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