“Everyone is just very, very excited — and relieved,” Constance White, editor-in-cheif of Essence magazine said about the prospect of having four more years of Michelle Obama as America’s first lady. There was elation in the offices of the black women’s style bible and among its readers online after President Obama secured the White House for a second term. This solidified the hope that Mrs. Obama would continue to positively represent black women, while inspiring all women.
Yet, in her self-described role as “Mom-in-Chief,” first lady Michelle Obama has spawned as much rapturous admiration as scathing criticism. After the success of her husband’s 2008 presidential campaign, the former executive chose to focus on quality of life issues like nutrition, which led detractors to decry her attempt at improving American’s eating habits as invasive.
Despite such barbs, Mrs. Obama has seen her popularity rating soar beyond the president’s. A style leader, role model, and powerful Democratic fundraiser, her social potency is indisputable. Yet, until now, she has refrained from interacting too directly in politics, expressing herself instead through subtle means.
Will Mrs. Obama cultivate a more direct leadership style during her second four years in the White House? What’s next for the first lady?
“I doubt she would do anything that shocked the public,” Jodi Kantor, author of The Obamas, told theGrio. “We are talking about a first lady that has played it very safe and seems to have very little interest in pushing any kind of envelope. Merely being Michelle Obama was pushing the envelope. Being the first black first lady, the first descendent of slaves to be an occupant of the White House — that’s a radical shift for the nation unto itself.”
Yet, Kantor, who has followed the Obamas since the president first hit the national campaign trail, believes there is an opportunity for Mrs. Obama to take her projects into deeper territory. “The first thing I would watch is the direction she takes her Let’s Move and Joining Forces initiatives. The thing about those initiatives is that they can each be done in a more muted, sedate, vanilla, non-controversial way or they can be done in a more aggressive way.”
The New York Times reporter believes that Joining Forces may provide the first lady with an opportunity to spotlight the issue of mental illness among veterans.
“With the military families initiative, one of the things she’s talked about maybe addressing, but has never really gotten into, is the very serious mental health issues among veterans, particularly the [high] suicide rates you see[.] That’s not something you see spoken up a ton about yet,” Kantor said. “I know it’s a real interest of hers, her aides have said. It’s not so much that it would be controversial. It’s tough. It’s dark. It’s difficult. It’s in the area of mental illness and psychological problems, which is not usually where we see first ladies go.”
Mrs. Obama may also intensify her campaign against childhood obesity.
“Another question is about Let’s Move,” the author related. “Was it going to be more of a feel-good initiative that said, ‘Gee, we all really need to eat better and exercise more’? Or was Michelle Obama really going to take on some of the corporate interests that make up the structure of the food industry?”
Discerning new latitude for the first lady to press such matters, Kantor questioned: “How tough will she be? How far will she try to push these initiatives in a substantive way?”
As White peered into Michelle Obama’s future, she saw her remaining a pillar of inspiration.
“I think that African-American women — our audience especially — are really inspired by her professional accomplishment, her story,” the head of Essence told theGrio. “She’s a wife, she’s a daughter, she’s a mother. She is a black woman who has overcome everything that our readers can relate to. I think the idea that you can be optimistic, you can accomplish, is really what she means to black women… They are so inspired by her.”
Her reign as a fashion force has impacted women worldwide. White expects the first lady’s example of graceful living to continue to uplift women in their daily lives.
“I believe that we will continue to see what we have seen in the past,” White explained, “which is her being very individual in her style, and in doing so she really encourages other women to be that way, too — to really express your personality, not be a slave to trends or fashion, [and] work with your body and your personality.”
And of course, Michelle Obama will keep boosting the fashion industry’s bottom line. “[W]e will continue to see her supporting American design,” White elaborated. “She’s really been a boon to the American fashion industry, and I don’t think that’s going to change.
“I think what’s wonderful about the way she dresses is how empowering it is for all women,” White continued. “She’s not a size two. She really seems to enjoy wearing her clothes and dresses high and low, and all those things have really made her a style icon[.]”
Maintaining the tactics that made her first four years a success is Michelle Obama’s likely formula, as these processes have endeared her to black women and beyond.