Why Michelle Obama Matters More

by Zettler Clay

michelle_obama_03 When it’s all said and done, Michelle Obama’s presence in the Oval Office may rival her husband’s. To me, right now, she surpasses him.

Many remember that day in 2008, when the country elevated the first son of an African man into the top seat. Emotional. Overdue. Progressive signs on the horizon. At the moment of acceptance, the newly-elected Commander-in-Chief beamed next to two brown children hand-in-hand, bookended by a tall dark-skinned woman clad in black-and-red.

Four and a half years later, Michelle LaVaughn Obama’s essence rings loud and true in its own right.

Her “Let’s Move” campaign is on a mission to bring physical education back to schools (only six states currently require P.E. in all grades). Her colorful sartorial selections — ranging from J. Crew to Jason Wu — clash with the muted-hued threads former first ladies embraced. She comfortably rocks bangs. She is seen paling around in dirt, dancing with children and shuttling her two girls back and forth.

The cameras can’t get enough of her. Or she can’t get enough of the camera, charges critics, who feel she overexposes herself unlike her first lady predecessors. She clamors for the spotlight. Her clothing is dreadful. Detractors also like to mention her butt. Shamelessly.

She sports a black sweater and skirt to Buckingham palace in 2009; fashion gurus panned her for being too casual. In 2012, she wore a $7,000 J. Mendel jacket to the same venue and was lambasted for gallivanting abroad in fancy gear while her home country is mired in economic recovery.

Unmoved, she is setting her own standards with the ease of a nonchalant heiress and the wiles of a seasoned veteran. For Black women, she couldn’t have come at a better time.

Daughter of African-American parents, her “Africanness” is stark. Cheekbones, full lips, form, demeanor, sass…all traits I recognize in my own mother. My grandmothers. In my sister. In my classmates from K-through-12 public schooling.

Consistent criticism of her posterior is a reminder of people’s discomfort with Black beauty becoming mainstream. The standard form of beauty eschews thickness in a woman. The European lens of beauty looks at anything above size 6 as plus sized (read: undesirable).

What does this do to a community of girls, women whose genetics lend them to have more weight density?

Other than dehumanizing and setting into motion a cycle of misplaced self-esteem, fruitless assimilation tactics and skewed identity, not much. If you want to play a (not so) fun game, google “beautiful women” and see how many pages it takes before a copper-skinned woman appears.

Michelle O. disrupts this pattern. She bares her arms. She shows her curves. She is fit and does nothing to downplay her Africanness. She isn’t the first celebrity/public figure to represent the qualities of the women in my family. She’s simply the most prominent.

This paean is less about Michelle, more about what Michelle represents.

Black women are intelligent, beautiful, animated and nurturing. If all one does is watch TV and movies and read bits from the Internets, this statement may sound outrageous. But the First Lady brings those traits to the forefront, a place where no Hollywood or television exec can banish to the bottom of the script pile.

While Barack has received criticism for being aloof to the Black community, his wife has escaped such glare. Her familial background is tinged with the horrors of slavery, a factor not insignificant in her undeniable Blackness. Though she lacks the burden of sitting on the hottest seat (she’s not confronted with questions about the country’s GDP and immigration laws on the daily), it is her of the power duo who pushes the cultural needle more forward.

She projects feminine growth, self-worth and style in a social climate that marginalizes the appeal of women who look like her, women who will bear the next children of our community.

For years, envisioning the First Lady waking up with a colorful head scarf on was absurdly comical. Now, this vision only brings forth a smile.

  • Guest1234

    Let’s not get crazy, now. FLOTUS is awesome. But her tenure as first lady surpasses the President’s? There are actually more important things going on than fashion and optics. She’s marvelous. But this presidency has been pretty great, too. The President is an easy target for anybody who’s circumstances and pet issues, etc.. have not fully been addressed. We an all see room for improvement and cast our ire at the President for failing to make the country perfect. Well, that’s not terribly intelligent. I swear a lot of the folks criticizing have never read the Constitution and thus have NO IDEA of the scope of Presidential Power. I’ll give a hint: He’s not God.

    Running this country is a very difficult endeavor. And being black while doing it has proven to make it more difficult still. Our country is not designed to run without all 3 branches of government churning, and 2 of them have decided to go all batshit. That the President has accomplished what he has under the most ridiculous of circumstances is a testament to his political skill. I don’t necessarily agree with everything the President has done (or not done). But I can appreciate how much work has gone into what he has achieved thus far.

    Wearing pretty dresses and being fly don’t exactly compare. Apples and oranges.

  • Keshia

    Yes to everything you said, although Michelle is my fave First Lady lol.

  • D.T.

    Was this satire? Way too much gushing and delusion going on. Did you really just say her presence in the White House surpasses her husband’s? This mystical adoration of the Obamas is weird to me. I hate to break it to you guys but Obama was going to be president regardless of who was his wife. Michelle did not sprinkle magical fairy dust on Barack and make him into the president (a crappy one at that).

    Men like the president don’t need a woman to be his backbone to be powerful. Mrs. O was smart enough to see where he was going and hopped on board.

  • Bells&Whistles

    Well, Ms. Clay, I for one understand and completely agree with your article. When you consider the fact that majority of the famous female black celebs are rather light and love to rock blond weaves/wigs, it’s refreshing and does make a statement to young girls of color that other tones of black can be idolized as well. I also think it’s great to see a famous, attractive black woman who didn’t need to be half naked to get on a cover of a magazine. Kudos to you Mrs. Obama.

  • TR

    This is insane. I love Mrs. Obama and what she represents. But people need to get out their philosophical bubbles and see the big picture. The entire world has a vested interest in the actions of the US president. Mr. Obama will be talked about in political, cultural and economic circles around the world for the next century due to who he is and what he represents. What Americans say about him is only a small part of his legacy. There is an entire global narrative on US presidents that takes their influence and ideas far beyond American shores. As great as she is, Mrs. Obama’s influence will NEVER come close to the size and scale of her husband’s.

    To even attempt to say otherwise shows a gross lack of perspective on world affairs. Someone in Asia, Africa, Europe, or Latin America wouldn’t even take this seriously.

  • Emy

    While I don’t agree that Michelle matters more, President Obama would not be who he is without her. Every person who knows their story can agree on that. She sacrificed a lot for him to accomplish his dreams. Of course President Obama will be talked about for years and years but you know what they say: “behind every great man, there’s a great woman.”

  • LadyP

    YES! Nodding my head to every word you have written in this article. Great job, Zettler Clay.

    Besides the First Lady’s style and obvious intellect, I love how she accepts who she is and I love her energy.

  • TR

    The same can be said for Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, FDR, JFK and just about every other president. That goes without saying. But to say she is more important is wrong in so many levels.

    As Sasha and Malia grow and travel the world they will always be seen as Barak Obama’s daughters. He is the reason the world knows who they are. Even more so, he is the reason the world knows who Michelle is. It’s not the other way around.

  • Cocochanel31

    I think you all are missing the point of the article. The author is not saying the President is not great in his own right, because he is. Women are the life bearers of the world, and truth be told there are more women than men worldwide. The author is simply stating that the FLOTUS legacy along with her husbands will go down thru generations of little black girls everywhere who can aspire to be like her ..smart – with clothes on!

  • KGA25

    There wouldn’t be a President Barack Obama without Michelle Obama. She sacrificed a lot for his political career.

  • omfg

    @D.T.

    “Mrs. O was smart enough to see where he was going and hopped on board.”

    Really?

    Both graduated from Ivy League universities. Michelle was the one who was actually working when they met. I believe Barack was an interviewing to be an intern at the firm she worked at.

    What she saw was a young black man who came from an educational background like hers and who was ambitious and had a future and probably showed her some respect.

    So, she agreed to be with him.

    She didn’t hop on board anything. She had her own thing. Her last job was as a VP at a Chicago hospital, a position she left to become flotus. in fact, she was earning more than barack when he was a u.s. senator.

    There was no gravy train. In fact, I’ll bet Michelle made more money than barack, or as much money, for a good chunk of their courtship and marriage. she has financially carried that family at different times which enabled him to pursue his goals.

    get off of that dumb male fantasy argument that implies women contribute nothing to a marriage or a man’s life.

    have a seat.

  • KGA25

    Don’t piss your pants. I was talking about in terms of his political career, not his mother or his grandparents who raised him. The president himself as said that as well, so all that tough typing was for no reason.

  • Bells&Whistles

    “Try again”? You can have a difference in opinion without being snippy or rude. I don’t watch reality tv so I don’t even know who it is that you’re referring to. The women that I was thinking of are those who are a household name (e.g., Beyonce, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj etc.) Nia Long and Gabrielle Union are staples in black entertainment yes, but they do not have power in mainstream (white) media. I’ll give you Oprah because many women follow her regardless of race, but as for Washington and Good, prior to their current tv series the same could be said for them as well.

  • Kam

    WHOOSH!
    Some would do well to read the article again.

  • D.T.

    “get off of that dumb male fantasy argument that implies women contribute nothing to a marriage or a man’s life.”

    Not once did I imply that women contribute nothing to a marriage or a man’s life. That was completely asinine of you to make that conclusion and shows just how irrational many of you are.

    Keep things in context. I’m not talking about Michelle’s financial contributions to the marriage. What does how much money Michelle make or made have to do with Obama being president? I don’t care if he was with Tasha that worked at McDonald’s, he would have become President. You actually believe if it wasn’t for Michelle, Barack would not be where he is today? Without a doubt I believe she has greatly enriched his life, however the President was not some down on luck traveling through the wind lost soul that needed Michelle’s guidance. He already had a plan. And yes she saw that he had a plan in action and hopped on board with his plan and dreams.

    She did not make him the President but he DID in fact make her the first lady. If we are going to credit any woman for making him president that person should be his mother.

  • Dalili

    You can say that again!

  • Dalili

    Great piece! I love that she’s unapologetically herself! She brings grace, humour and style to the office of the FLOTUS! Love her!

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    Great article! Something about Michelle just radiates that makes you want to know more about her and draw you near. A good man knows the power of a good woman…so these two know the power of each other which is why I respect the Obamas. Even President Obama gushes over Michelle like he still can’t believe he landed someone like her…lol. Though you can’t compare being the first lady with the president but both positions/representations are important. The first lady may not have the total burden of the presidency but she is toting a load too. Despite what the show Scandal says being a first lady (or a wife to a powerful man) is more than being ornamental but very strategic. And Michelle is the perfect Ace for President Obama whether folks want to deny it.

  • angel

    Wonderful!!!

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  • eve-audrey

    how did his mother make a president of him?

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  • Elise

    You and DT and all the other anti-Michelle Obama crowd amuse beyond words!

    Simply put, without Michelle Obama by his side, Barack Obama would just be another Cory Booker, or worse still, a flailing Cory Booker.

    How insulting and deranged are you people now trying to denigrate and diminish Michelle Obama after she’s sacrificed more than any other person, successfully powered and greatly aided and supremely enriched her husband ‘s run for and ascent to the White House.

    It’s insane but oh so predictably convenient to now flippantly dismiss her by suggesting that Barack Obama could have become president without Michelle, and anyone who tries would be lying and deluding themselves.

    Michelle Obama besides giving Barack Obama the family, structure, focus, order and emotional/physical stability he needed to thrive, also provided him with most of his valuable political connections and friendships in Chicago. Without which he couldn’t even have begun to make a dent politically. To this day, most of his enduring and valuable ties, specifically those nurtured in Chicago, are mostly directly and indirectly courtesy of Michelle.

    Michelle completely re-oriented Barack Obama and gave him some of the most invaluable assets that continue to define, validate and elevate him today as a man and president, but most importantly as the stable and impeccable family man (the most compelling image of all) that has seen him propelled him to great heights in the eyes of people around the globe.

    Before Michelle and the kids were formally introduced to America and the world, Barack was running at least 30 points behind. Everything changed for the better when America met Michelle Obama and their daughters.

    And no, it wouldn’t have happened with just any woman.

    Michelle Obama is powerfully compelling and authentically phenomenal in her own right. Which is why so many people took notice, sat up and paid attention once she was introduced. Michelle bought a lot of skeptics over. She brought so many people on board and rallied so passionately and so honestly for her husband that so many including Kathleen Sebellius confessed that she came on board only because her adult sons met, listened to and were completely blown away by Michelle Obama.

    Michelle Obama vouches for and validates Barack Obama in a way nobody else ever could.

    Even now that Barack Obama has had 5 years to convince America and the world of his greatness – and with enough time now passed to have some of his amnesiac fans and foes alike to begin to pretend that Michelle has not been indispensable and intrinsic to and played a major part in this final product and the Barack Obama “greatness” that is now on display;

    Michelle Obama remains central to and a huge and key part of, and an equal partner in the Barack Obama story, presidency and legacy.

    Michelle Obama has sacrificed far too much for her husband’s ambitions and for his historic ascent for anyone to even begin to diminish her or try to deny her her rightful and significant place in this great story that is also very importantly as much hers as it is his.

    This very strong and principled Princeton/Harvard trained woman who through sheer grit, focus, determination and discipline literally pulled herself up by her bootstrings and brilliantly rose above what could easily have been very limiting and paralyzing circumstances of her birth–

    This fantastic mother who single-handedly raised her beautiful, well-adjusted and well-mannered daughters while her husband was often away for extended periods chasing his political fortunes–

    This wise, perceptive, whip-smart woman who has done everything to protect her husband and her family even stepping back and down-playing herself so that he can shine.

    This marvelous and infinitely capable, talented and skilled woman with her hard-earned and very expensive ivy league education has had to pretty much stand to the sidelines – forced to do so as not to potentially trigger any whipped-up controversy that might threaten her husband’s presidency in an era marked by unprecedented hostility, animosity and hate triggered by pettiness, envy and racism. (As is obvious in your comments and DT’s.)

    Michelle Obama has been cast to the side and relegated to the trivial role of smiling, grateful wife while people less qualified and even those with less impressive educational backgrounds now surround her husband and are credited with great policy decisions and successes.

    In a lot of ways I blame Barack Obama for this attack and disrespect towards his wife.

    During both campaigns and in his first term he made sure to include Michelle in everything and gave her equal billing and credit for their successes at every turn, leaving no doubt in the minds of all just how much she’s contributed and how important she is not just as his wife and co-parents to their girls but as an equal partner in their political life as well for which she has had to bear the most brunt of it all.

    Since this second term however, Barack Obama seems to want to hog all the attention, keeping the spotlight and glory all to himself and Michelle has found herself very awkwardly trying to fit in to this new reality and trying to carve a niche for herself under these circumstances.

    Barack Obama sets the tone for how people will treat and respond to his wife and if people including his staff get the impression that she is not sacred to him or protected, and if he has not placed her on a pedestal where she rightfully belongs, they will insult and disregard her at will.

    I can’t even begin to imagine any other First Lady being cursed out by her husband’s staff, but that is exactly what Robert Gibbs did to Michelle Obama.

    Barack Obama seems more intent on having everyone pay him attention and respect him and nothing else.

    It reflects terribly on Barack Obama and shows him as not just a weak and cowardly husband and boss, but also a selfish man more intent on keeping the loyalty of his staff and mostly to the detriment of his wife.

    Laura Bush married into an already established political family and had little or no influence on her husband’s ascent to the White House.

    Yet even Laura Bush is featured prominently and positively in her husband’s story. She will also have equal billing in the George W. Bush presidential library according to her former chief of staff Anita Mcbride.

    When this is all over, Barack Obama’s legacy will not only be about health care reform and his other policies and accomplishments. It will also hinge greatly on how well he treats his wife Michelle Obama not just post presidency, but also in the books he writes and the narratives he embraces.

    I know that history will be extremely grateful, kind to and very deservedly in awe of the very amazing Michelle Obama.

    Michelle Obama is the true hero in this story. The one who’s sacrificed everything including her own life and ambitions, held fort, birth and raised the gorgeous daughters that not only help make Barack Obama look even better, but feature in his many stirring stories as he works to define his political legacy, and stood to the side without any resentment so that her man can shine.

    Watch this woman Michelle Obama. Even with all the crap that she’s had to put up with, she remains gracious and beams with great joy and pride for her husband.

    Whenever Barack Obama is praised, you can see the genuine look of pride on her face. No resentment. No jealousy. No envy.

    It’s wonderful to watch this strong, accomplished woman positively root for her husband and respond with such genuine pride when he does the right thing and when he is positively acknowledged for it.

    A lesser woman would have been very resentful.

    A lesser woman would have completely crumbled under the harsh glare and even harsher circumstances and realities of this office. And in this unique instance, the peculiar burdens and historic consequences.

    Barack Obama may be admired, but it is Michelle Obama who leaves many in awe. She is the real deal whether you guys choose to acknowledge it or not.

  • Elise

    Your very bipolar post says it all.

    You can’t decide who you hate more: Barack or Michelle so you resort to pitting them against each other in your bid to discredit them both and to tear them both down.

    Yours must be quite the miserable, envy-filled life.

  • aaliyah10

    I love this article. She is just as important as Obama. It is so nice to see a black woman like Michelle in office and in the eyes of the media. She is the black woman we see everyday that works hard, takes care of her kids, and loves her man. It’s about time the world gets to see it.

  • Cam

    Thank you!

    DT is nuts if she actually believes that Mrs Obama “-was smart enough to see where he was going and hopped on board–”.

    President Obama by his own account has said that Mrs Obama refused to date him and even tried to set him up with some of her friends. And by his and her account, she resisted his decision to enter into politics too.

    That is certainly not the action of a desperate woman “hopping on board” the train of a guy “who was always going to be president”.

    DT really ought to catch up. Mrs Obama did have plans of her own long before her future husband came along, and she was on track to do very well for herself too.

    I don’t believe a life in politics is what she ever wanted and I think that given a choice, she would still pick a normal, wildly successful life as a mother, wife and professional over one as a politician’s wife.

    I’ve always been drawn to Mrs Obama and really feel her heart when she says over and over again that all she wants at the end of the day is for her family to come out at the end of this experience whole and intact.

    That is the sentiment of a woman who has her priorities right and isn’t going to be swayed or distracted by the angst, attacks or the numerous obstacle courses and laundry-lists others have drawn up for her to prove herself worthy.

    The Obamas have always been and always will be greater together than apart, and as one of their friends who was at their wedding (an attorney who worked at the law firm where the Obamas met) put it:

    “It was one of the happier weddings that I had been to,” says MacArthur, “because people understood that putting the two of them together was like putting hydrogen and oxygen together to create this unbelievable life force. Everybody knew it. We understood that together they were going to be so much more than they would have been individually.”

    I think that quote just about sums it up for anybody who ever questioned or doubted that this enchanting couple is a true and equal partnership, one that has always been from the very start.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ron.johnson.31586526 Ron Johnson

    I bit. I Googled the phrase “beautiful women” as suggested by the aurthor and navigated to the “images” tab. For anyone who’s not familiar with a global system of white supremacy as defined by Nelly Fuller Jr, this is a perfect example of what Mr Fuller is referring to.

  • Mademoiselle

    I played the google game, but just used the images page. Rihanna’s pic was the first I saw (I almost missed her because her shading was very light) after 65 white women. Number 96 was also black.

  • noir45

    SMH, what has she done? She’s done a lot according to her husband. If you’ve ever stopped to listen to him, HE explains that Michelle has made him a better man. Now, whether you want to agree or not is your business, but it doesn’t matter because she’s married to him, not you.

  • Anon

    Can we STOP talking about Michelle Obama as some crazy anomaly? The difference is she found a black man who would MARRY HER. His own identification issues came into play. There are and have been news specials since the 1990′s about black women from good families and educational backgrounds who were having SERIOUS problems in meeting suitable husbands, and yet, folks want to act brand new. Or at least about the fact that she isn’t fat, had married parents, and went to a good school? B/c as a fit black woman (who’s slim, and had married parents and went to a good school), I’M TIRED OF IT. DONE. Has this website EVER considered the attention it places on black women who didn’t fit the “born in the projects to a teenage mother” in the past few years? Michelle Obamas’ aren’t a rarity, them being the wife of a President is. Can we have a focus on that? And the one article by the baby-mama doesn’t count. Her articles always have a “baby-mama” format as well.

  • Anon

    TL:DR
    I’m a little (WAY) over Michelle Obama praise. It is TOO rooted in black women desperate for a voice who ended up in a mouthpiece for the largest one (wife of leader of the free world) , in a time where the country is falling apart, and calling black women the lowest of the low is an income generating form of entertainment. Basically, chicks that were bypassed and discarded suddenly got a lane on the biggest world stage and went extra. She is great on her own, but the rest of BW in the USA trying to ride those coattails is… too much.

  • The Other Jess

    oops! I meant to THUMBS DOWN Anon’s idiotic comment!

  • Whiteprivilegeterminated

    “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Winston Churchill. (lmao)

    *reads through the comments*

    ok so now I understand why we’re not allowed to have democracy and are only allowed to choose whom we give unearned praise . . .

  • felicia

    Michelle means alot just like barack. If barack was married to a white women majority of black women wouldnt of voted for him. Black women make up majority of the black community. Obama would of lost. Michelle means alot because she represents are true black roots. Michelle is a postive loving black woman,that loves her kids. The kind of black woman that media ignores to focus on the loud angry black women. Just to make white feel superior. We hardly get good representation of loving black women in the media. Especially black love. So yes barack and Michelle mean alot to black people everywhere.

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