Michelle Obama is the First Lady who has brought glamour, smarts and determination back to Washington. As Ireland prepares for the Obamas’ visit in May, Alan Corr presents an A to Z of Michelle. Here’s everything you need to know about the Mom-in-Chief and the wife of The Big O – her style, her causes, her background and her family life.
A is for Activism
Michelle was never going to be a Hillary but she has always been hugely socially active. As First Lady, she’s promoting a Healthier US School Challenge and a children’s anti-obesity drive, Let’s Move. As a result, US food companies have ‘promised’ to remove 1.5 trillion calories from their products.
B is for Barack
In the summer of 1988, a summer intern two years her elder came to work at Sidley & Austin, the Chicago law firm where Michelle was employed in marketing and intellectual property. His name was Barack Obama and she was assigned as his mentor. Michelle’s first impression of her future husband wasn’t great; after seeing a photo of him in the law firm directory she decided he had a big nose. She declined his first invitations to go out on a date, saying it would be inappropriate. Her father and brother had always told her you could tell a lot about someone’s character on the basketball court, so before agreeing to date Barack, she asked her brother to take him out for a spot of hoop shooting. They married four years later and she still makes him do the dishes.
C is for Chicago
Michelle LaVaughn Robinson was born in Chicago in 1964 and was raised on the city’s south side in a brick bungalow with her older brother, Craig, where her parents rented a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. Her father Fraser was a pump operator for the Chicago Water Department and her mother Marian stayed home to raise Michelle and Craig. Michelle’s attachment to The Second City is huge and her rise in its public and academic life was meteoric – she served as Assistant Commissioner of Planning and Development in City Hall before becoming the founding executive director of the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, a non-profit organisation encouraging young people to work on social issues in non-profit groups and government agencies.
D is for Dissertation
Michelle’s university dissertation was entitled ‘Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community’. By the way, when she first arrived at Princeton she remarked that the tutors weren’t teaching French "correctly".
E is for Education
Michelle graduated from high school second in her year and she is the third First Lady with a postgraduate degree, after her two immediate predecessors, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Laura Bush.
F is for Fashion
Michelle’s elegant and simple style follows her own elegant and simple credo – "Be happy with what you’re in. Feel comfortable, feel confident." On the night that Barack Obama swept into power, she wore a red and black ‘lava lamp’ dress by Narciso Rodriguez and she’s also worn Cuban designer Isabel Toledo and Jason Wu. But despite her image as the best-dressed First Lady since Jackie O, she’s also worn Gap and J crew.
G is for Gardening
In 2009, Michelle and her team created a garden at the White House to promote healthy eating options and alternative food sources in urban areas. She’s also invited schoolchildren to the White House to help tend the garden and take part in other activities. Now there’s a book about the project in the pipeline.
H is for Height
Michelle is not just a towering intellect but at five feet 11 inches tall, she is the loftiest First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt. Oh and by the way, Michelle works out in the gym ‘like a gladiator’, according to her friends.
I is for Icon
Is it too early to call Michelle Obama an icon? Well, the US media don’t think so. The word ‘icon’ seems to feature in every mention of Michelle, whether it’s in connection with motherhood, activism or fashion.
J is for "Just don’t screw it up buddy"
Those were the words Michelle said to her husband moments before he went on stage at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, the event that began his relatively short road to the White House.
K is for Kenwood
The Obamas’ private residence is in Kenwood on the south side of Chicago. It’s relatively modest abode but its historical features have made it a stop off on the Chicago Architecture Foundation bus tour.
L is for Linguini
Michelle cooks a mean shrimp linguini, her husband’s favourite meal.
M is for Malia
The official Michelle Obama biography on the White House website says it straight: "When people ask First Lady Michelle Obama to describe herself, she doesn’t hesitate to say that first and foremost, she is Malia and Sasha’s mom." Malia is the Obama’s nine-year-old daughter and she lists ‘soccer, dance and drama’ as her interests. Like their mother, both Malia and Sasha are keen piano players.
N is for Non-profit organisation
When she worked for the Chicago Office of Public Allies her fundraising efforts set records. Twelve years later and nobody has since raised as much money for the non-profit organisation as Michelle has.
O is for Obama
She’s been an Obama since 1992 but Michelle’s maiden name is Robinson and she can trace her roots all the way back to her great-great-grandfather, Jim Robinson, who was a slave in South Carolina before the US Civil War.
P is for Presidential visit
The First Family make their first visit to Ireland in May and wherever Barack goes, Michelle will be there by his side.
Q is for Quitting
Long used to seeing the wives of politicians coming second to their careers, Michelle made some strict demands on Barack when he first entered politics. She also made him promise to quit smoking when he told her he was running for the Presidency. Recently Obama announced he has been tobacco-free for a whole year.
R is for Race
So-called ‘birthers’ have questioned the validity of Obama’s US nationality and thus his right to hold the highest office in the land. Michelle hasn’t dignified the charges with a response but she herself has been the subject of racist caricature.
S is for Sasha
The Obamas’ oldest daughter was born on July 4, 1998. She lists ‘gymnastics and tap’ as her interests but the media is taking a huge interest in something else – her height. At a mere 12 years of age, Sasha is variously reported to be between five-foot-nine and five-foot-eleven inches tall, which is at least nine inches taller than the average height for a girl her age.
T is for Toned arms
Michelle’s Amazonian figure has made her the perfect clothes horse but the world did a double take when she revealed what a great set of arms she has when she began wearing sleeveless dresses at official engagements.
U is for Unforgettable
Michelle and Obama’s first dance at their wedding was to Unforgettable by Nat King Cole. Their first date was a trip to the cinema to see Do The Right Thing, the Spike Lee movie set in Harlem.
V is for Vendetta
The vendettas waged against Michelle range from the very serious to the plain silly. Death threats against her husband are an obvious example but she has also been accused of ‘killing’ Captain Crunch, the sugary cereal beloved of American kids, with her anti-obesity campaign.
W is for Warmth rating
This particularly American-sounding barometer of popularity recently rated Michelle at 60.1 degrees out of 100. Her husband was fourth at 56.5 and over-baked Alaskan Sarah Palin was at 38.2.
X is for well, X
Displays of public affection between President and First Lady are a relatively rare thing but the Obamas can often be seen kissing and canoodling.
Y is for Yes she can!
Z is for Z As in Jay Z.
Michelle and Barack are the political power couple in the US and Beyoncé and Jay Z are very much the pop power couple. Jay Z and Beyoncé both played at Obama’s inauguration and have been known to drop into the White House on visits. Beyoncé is also involved in Michelle’s Let’s Move anti-obesity programme.