First Lady Michelle Obama on Style, Social Media, and the Biggest Challenges Facing Girls Today

First Lady Michelle Obama on Style, Social Media, and the Biggest Challenges Facing Girls Today
Thomas Whiteside
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I had been invited to the White House to chat with Michelle Obama as she rounded out the final months of her second four-year run as our nation’s ever-popular, ever- inspiring First Lady. It was a very hot, very humid summer morning in Washington, D.C. I arrived at the East Wing gate and was escorted to the Map Room, a venerable space filled with history and gravitas. (President Obama had welcomed the Dalai Lama there only a month prior.) Here I would wait with some of the First Lady’s communications team while she was being photographed in the East Colonnade for our cover feature. This was the first time a shoot like this was taking place in this corridor, one whose windows look out onto the five-decade-old Jacqueline Kennedy Garden. I was told Mrs. Obama might want a few minutes for herself between the shoot and our interview. An intern brought over a glass of water. It was covered with a paper cap printed with the presidential seal and placed on a coaster next to my recorder. Moments later we got the signal that FLOTUS was on her way. Suddenly, in she walked, buoyant and exuberant. Absolutely stunning in a Brandon Maxwell dress, the First Lady had come directly from set— no break necessary— to talk with InStyle about her Let Girls Learn initiative, her legacy, what the future might hold for her and the First Family, and, naturally, a little bit about the significance of fashion.

On her Let Girls Learn initiative and why we should pay attention

“Sixty-two million girls around the world aren’t in school, and the first thing that comes to my mind is, 'That could’ve been me.' [I think about] how I would have felt at the age of 10 or 11 or 12 if somebody walked up and said, 'That’s it. Your dreams are over! You’re going to have to leave school and get married to somebody twice your age and start having kids.'"

On the obstacles young women face around the world

“…there are places in the world where families don’t believe that girls are worthy of an education. They’ll save money and send their sons to school, but they believe that it’s more important for their girls to stay home, get married early, care for the chickens, cook, and clean.”

On the strategy behind her social media use

“We can fool ourselves into thinking that everybody is still watching the evening news, but I live with Generation Z, and I know that their habits, the way they take in information in, is so different. And they’ve changed… We’ve got to meet our constituents where they are, and they’re on Snapchat.”

On following the trends

“I tend not to worry about the trends, because what works for an 18-year-old selfie queen may not for a 52-year-old First Lady who is a mom of teenagers she is trying to be a good role model for.”

On her personal style

“Very casual. No makeup, a T-shirt, and a pair of ripped jean shorts or workout pants because I’m always on the verge of going to or coming from [working out]. I love color and pieces that make me feel good, but it’s much more informal.”

On what she’s looking forward to after leaving the White House

“My hopes are to recapture some of the everydayness, some anonymity. And we know that will take some time. But I always joke that I dream of opening up my front door and walking out without any notification, without any security."

“….and it will be nice to open up the paper, look at the front page, and know that you’re not responsible for every headline… It’s sort of like, It’s not my job.”

For more from the First Lady, pick up the October issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download Friday, September 16. Visit Shop.InStyle.com for InStyle’s super-chic designer tote collection to benefit the Peace Corps Let Girls Learn Fund.

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