I am not a political person. That is not to say I don’t know politics or don’t have an opinion about it, it’s just that it doesn’t consume me. I listen, a watch, and I vote.
Being Canadian, my political knowledge goes beyond our borders – the recent “road to the White House” win for Donald Trump, and his recent inauguration, seemed to be all over the news. You couldn’t get a break from it, as much as you wanted to.
So while I seem to know a lot about Trump, sadly, I know less about former U.S. president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. Although, I certainly know more the couple now than in the eight years previous as people – both the media and the public – were remembering the Obamas’ time in office, and showing the differences between the old president and the new.
I learned even more about Michelle when Raincoast Books sent me a copy of The Meaning of Michelle, 15 Writers on the Iconic First Lady and How Her Journey Inspires Own Own, edited by Veronica Chambers (St. Martin’s Press, $36.99) on the day Michelle was no longer the first lady.
This is not usually a book I would pick up, but I was intrigued by all the information about the couple in the days leading up to the new president being sworn in.
The front cover of the book also pulled me in; I would love to know what Michelle was thinking when that picture was taken.
I didn’t like the book. I didn’t finish it. I didn’t even finish some of the essays I started, skipping paragraphs and sometimes entire sections, as I was left wondering when I would find out about what Michelle Obama means to “our (American) culture”.
The essay writer who held my attention talked about Michelle as a “wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend.” Tiffany Dufu wrote: “She is a career woman, civic volunteer, gardener, rapper, dancer, pet owner and fitness ambassador. She is funny, honest, and down to earth. She has managed to pull of a nearly impossible feminine feat: she is both liked and respected…Managing the details of her life must be exhausting, but she makes it look so easy…The irony is that Michelle Obama makes it look easy precisely because she is complicated. Simultaneously flawless and imperfect, she brilliantly navigates opposing forces. And in the tension we can all see ourselves.”
I cared more about that essay than the ones about Michelle’s friendship with Beyonce (don’t care) or how she became a style icon (still don’t care) or how she showed the world black is beautiful (I didn’t realize the world needed to be shown this. I feel it’s obvious).
The book claims that from the first time Michelle stepped on the public stage, she “challenged traditional American notions what it means to be beautiful, to be strong, to be fashion-conscious, to be healthy, to be First Mom, to be a caretaker and hostess, and to be partner to the most powerful man in the world.”
But I feel many first ladies of the past did the same in their own way. Perhaps what I think is more important then exemplifying “the ideal concept of American womanhood” is the fact, as Dufu wrote, that Michelle has presence, and that presence comes from the fact she is comfortable about who she is, and her past. And that self-confidence, in part, seems to come from her parents who instilled her sense of self and encouraged their children to do what is right without worrying what other people thought of them.
Now that is a person to be respected and admired – and a cultural icon.