WASHINGTON (AP) — Every once in a while Michelle Obama checks in with old friends.
“Do you still recognize me?” she’ll ask. “Do I still feel like Michelle?”
In the past year, the first lady’s name has popped up on Forbes’ “most powerful women” list, People’s “most beautiful” list, Time’s “most influential” list, Vanity Fair’s “international best-dressed” list, Barbara Walters’ “most fascinating” list. And so on.
Her every word, move, bite, gesture, dress and shoe has been analyzed and second-guessed.
Is she taking on too much? Why isn’t she doing more? Did she touch the queen first? Should her arms be bare? Are her shorts too short? Are her sneakers too expensive? Is she putting on weight?
“It wasn’t something that I was prepared for,” she said last week as she looked back on her first year as first lady.
“Our goal was to do everything that was done before, so that we’d know what it was, and uphold those traditions, but try to tweak it,” she told reporters. “And now that we’ve gone through a year, we can really think about really what works for this administration, what works for me as a first lady, what resonates with where America is today.”
Looking back, then, here are a few moments that help to sketch the portrait of a first lady who calls herself a “110-percenter,” always looking to do more.
There she is, this Harvard-educated lawyer and former executive, digging up sweet potatoes on the back lawn of the White House.
Michelle Obama, gardener?
The first lady took her “pipe dream” of a modest kitchen garden and transformed it into a platform that she hopes will improve the lives of millions of young people.
The garden gave her a gentle way to start up a conversation about healthy eating that will get more pointed this year as she presses a campaign against childhood obesity.
They could have been two girlfriends headed out to lunch: Michelle Obama and Queen Elizabeth, arm in arm, strolling in to a reception at Buckingham Palace in April.
It may have been the most closely watched touchy-feely gesture of the first lady’s first year, but it was hardly the only one.
Obama, whose husband is seen as a rather cool character, emerged as the nation’s nurturer-in-chief. She hugs with reckless abandon, enveloping schoolchildren, young women, ordinary Americans.
It fits with her larger mission of mentoring young people, giving them the confidence to rise, as she says, “from mediocrity to fabulousness.”
The fascination with Michelle Obama’s fashion choices started with her inaugural twirl in a white, one-shoulder Jason Wu gown and hasn’t let up.
The first lady’s wardrobe — mixing trendsetting designs and off-the-rack cardigans — won her accolades from the fashion world.
She even held her own in a fashion face-off with French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a former model, at the NATO summit in April.
Still, it must be said, there was the occasional howler. And it’s a fair bet the first lady never meant to be photographed walking dog Bo in those less-than-flattering Bermuda shorts.
Hours before the Obamas’ first state dinner, the first lady stood before young women participating in the White House mentoring program and made a confession of sorts.
“It’s sort of like a swan, where we’re kind of calm and serene above water — but we’re paddling like mad, going crazy underneath, trying to look smooth,” she said.
Everything did seem perfectly in order that afternoon. The first lady’s strapless, cream-colored evening gown was sure to be a knockout. A celebrity chef was trolling the garden for just the right herbs for the evening’s feast. A chandeliered tent on the South Lawn stood ready to receive 340 A-list guests.
Enter the party-crashing Salahis, who talked their way past security without an invitation. The episode was emblematic of the outside forces that can upend things for a first lady who works from a carefully crafted script.
THE GOOD WIFE
It’s where she started as first lady and where it all will end: Michelle Obama is a wife and mother. Even the smallest choices go under the microscope.
When Sasha and Malia got their swine flu vaccinations last fall, the first family was trying to set an example for the country.
Instead, instantly there were howls that the girls had gotten preferential treatment, that they had somehow jumped the line — even though the first family waited until the vaccine was broadly available to schoolchildren in Washington.
When she sat for an interview about marriage with her husband last fall — something of a novelty in itself — she insisted that bumps are inevitable in any relationship.
“The last thing we want to project,” she said, is the image of a perfect marriage.
Ask her what she’s most proud of in the past year, and she doesn’t hesitate: “That my kids are sane,” she says.