Michelle Obama Mother-in-Chief, Graces Vogue Cover

Michelle Obama Mother-in-Chief, Graces Vogue Cover

by Kai EL’ Zabar

Michelle Obama, "Mother-in-Chief graces the Cover of Vogue for the 3rd time.
     Michelle Obama, “Mother-in-Chief graces the cover of Vogue/November 2016 for the 3rd time.

It’s an understatement to say that First Lady Michelle Obama has become a favorite of the American People and she will be missed. According to Vogue Magazine she will be affectionately remembered as America’s “Mother-in-Chief.” Her life on display as First Lady was  different from most. Upon becoming First Lady, opinions had been formed prior to as she stomped the grounds for her hubby, Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama. Intelligent, educated and possessing a mind of her own, she wrote her own stump speeches for her husband’s presidential campaign and generally spoke without notes.

For instance, speaking at a rally in Milwaukee, she said: “Hope is making a comeback and, let me tell you, for the first time in my adult life I am really proud of my country. Not just because Barack is doing well, but I think people are hungry for change.”
Michelle was  a 44-year-old Harvard-trained lawyer with two children, married to an Harvard trained lawyer.  This was all too familiar to the Bill and Hillary partnership.  Republicans abhorred the idea of a  woman with her own mind who was an effective advocate for her husband on the campaign trail. They pushed the negative side of her reputation for speaking her mind, which occasionally raised eyebrows. From their perspective, they did not need another head strong First Lady in the White house.
Galmorus, Sexy, youthful, but always classy First Lady Obama poses on the White House grounds, for vogue 2016
Galmorus, Sexy, youthful, but always classy First Lady Obama poses on the White House grounds, for vogue 2016

Following her Milwaukee speech conservatives seized on the remarks, which  were trending on the internet  with comments criticizing her loyalty to the United States and lack of gratitude for the opportunities it had provided her.

Consequently the some media reported that Michelle Obama was  an “Angry Black Woman,”  and some web sites attempted to propagate this image, saying that she was unamerican, prompting her to respond: “Barack and I have been in the public eye for many years now, and we’ve developed a thick skin along the way. When you’re out campaigning, there will always be criticism. I just take it in stride, and at the end of the day, I know that it comes with the territory.” 

Michelle Obama graced the cover of Vogue twice before and was the first of the First Ladies since Hillary to do so.
Michelle Obama graced the cover of Vogue twice before and was the first of the First Ladies since Hillary to do so.  L-R: 2009  and 2012

Her style and firm confidence earned a no-nonsense, and unapologetic sense of self as an intelligent woman, a Black woman, and leader that pushed her through the scrutiny of her public and allowed the world to get a greater glimpse into who this formidable woman was. It was clear early on that neither Michelle or Barack Obama were ordinary  people. Both were attorneys who had attended Ivy League schools but most distinct was the fact that they were Black with humble beginnings, who had the support of none other than Ms. Oprah Winfrey, who also hit the campaign trail. And for the first time she endorsed a candidate for president.

By the time of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in August, media outlets observed that her persona on the campaign trail had grown softer than at the start when the gun went off and the race began. Her  focus honed in on soliciting concerns and empathizing with the audience rather than throwing down challenges to them, and giving interviews to shows like The View and publications like Ladies’ Home Journal rather than appearing on news programs. This change observed seemed intentional and calculated with definite intended  projected outcome.  

Michelle Obama at her elegant best, Vogue 2009
Michelle Obama at her elegant best, Vogue 2009

Clearly the up and coming First Lady was interviewing for the position.  Clearly it was a comprehensive plan.  The change clearly was  reflected in her fashion choices, wearing more relatable clothes in place of her more upscale  designer pieces. She appeared less formal and more like the woman next door instead of the powerful woman in the board room.  The View appearance was partly intended to help soften her public image, and it was widely covered in the press. The public was beginning to see her as a woman, a potential First  Lady, the woman behind the man.

The presidential campaign was Michelle Obama’s first exposure to the national political scene; even before the field of Democratic candidates was narrowed to two, she was considered the least known of the candidates’ spouses.  Early in the campaign, she told anecdotes about the Obama family life; however, as the press began to emphasize her sarcasm, she toned it down. The New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd wrote:

“I wince a bit when Michelle Obama chides her husband as a mere mortal – a comic routine that rests on the presumption that we see him as a god … But it may not be smart politics to mock him in a way that turns him from the glam JFK into the mundane Gerald Ford, toasting his own English muffin. If all Senator Obama is peddling is the Camelot mystique, why debunk this mystique?”


But on the first night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Craig Robinson introduced his younger sister. Michelle  Obama delivered her speech, which  she conveyed  herself and her family as the embodiment of the American Dream. Obama said both she and her husband believed “that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond, and you do what you say you’re going to do, that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.

From the causes she supports to her democratic fashion choices, which have elevated White House style, First Lady Michelle Obama sets an example in the national spotlight. Vogue 2012
From the causes she supports to her democratic fashion choices, which have elevated White House style, First Lady Michelle Obama sets an example in the national spotlight. Vogue 2012

She told the cheering delegates that her husband would be “an extraordinary president.” “Barack will finally bring the change we need,” she said. Dismissing questions about her patriotism, Obama said, “I love this country” — a rebuttal to criticism after remarks earlier this year when she said she,  ‘felt proud of America for the first time.’ where the original statement was seen as a gaffe. That keynote address was largely well received and drew mostly positive reviews.  It was a turning point a major  poll found that her favorability among Americans reached 55%.  The plan was working.

Michelle Obama made a definite fashion statement when she sorted J. Crew on Her The view debut
Michelle Obama made a definite fashion statement when she sorted J. Crew on her The Tonight Show, debut

Once in the office, Michelle Obama’s fashion choices became the talk of the town. Her original upscale designer apparel had long been forgotten and her middle class wardrobe made her more acceptable and reachable. She  did not insult or intimidate the average American. She appeared to really be one of them. She had gone to school and achieved much  but she remained down to earth. On the campaign trail she had dropped the formality, and appeared in slacks, sweaters and casual skirts and tops. As first lady, who can forget when the First Lady walked onto The Tonight Show with Jay Leno’ stage in a Michael Kors gold crew neck and a J. Crew skirt accessorized with a House of Lavande jeweled belt and blush pumps. Wow! That was an outfit that all women could relate and most could actually afford.

 And that’s who Michelle Obama  the 44th First Lady became.  She was within reach. She was not the First lady whose style you  could only hope to acquire. Like Jackie Kennedy she was a trend setter and everyone wanted to imitate her however few could afford  Channel. But Michelle Obama wore J. Crew. The American  woman could go buy that.  And instantly Michelle won over the average American woman as well as those sophisticated working women and the high-powered female achievers.
And so it was that  the love affair with Michell Obama came into being. We loved that she brought her mother to the White House to be there for her daughters. We were happy that she took on education and the importance of health with her Move project encouraging our youth, our families to just keep moving for the sake of their over all well-being. We loved seeing her style evolve yet remain consistent showcasing her bold choice of color and prints, her shift  and shirt-waisted dresses, the skirt, top and sweater combinations and not to forget her choice of formal evening wear.
We also saw her comfort level strengthen when speaking to graduation classes and crowds on the campaign trail in 2012 and again in 2016 when she campaigned for Hillary Clinton during which she delivered some of her most memorable speeches. Amongst them we will always remember her line, ” . . . when they go low, we go high,” delivered at the DNC in Philadelphia.
Though Hillary failed to get the electoral College votes needed to win the presidency, she  did get the popular vote still leaving most devastated And Michelle Obama right where she began in 2007 when she looked at  country’s whose past was one of a great divide. Her belief was that her husband’s election signaled change in the hearts of most Americans.
However with the election of Donal Trump, who ran a campaign of divisive rhetoric and who recently as  President elect has proven by his choices for his executive staff  that it is more than just rhetoric  but  rather  an ideology.

So as she prepares to leave the White House it’s perfect that  she graces the November cover of Vogue Magazine looking ethereal in a white Carolina Herrera gown. As Jamie Feldman of the Huffington Post describes, ” she is, as usual, the epitome of elegance and grace. Aptly calling her America’s “Mother-in-Chief,” the story followed Obama in the months leading up to Election Day.”

Of course now, the story, cover and Obama’s words, which went to print before the election, hold a completely new meaning post-election. Read the article if you haven’t and consider the way she describes her role as first lady described by  Vogue as “surprisingly malleable, shaped by the personality, style and interests (or lack thereof) of the person occupying it.”
I will reiterate what a fellow canvasser said to me on the bus on our way to Iowa to register voters for Hillary, “We’re going to miss Obama when he’s gone,”   Yes but we will also miss our  First “Mother-in-Chief.”
The president says, “Who you see is who she is. The brilliant, funny, generous woman who, for whatever reason, agreed to marry me. I think people gravitate to her because they see themselves in her—a dedicated mom, a good friend, and someone who’s not afraid to poke a little fun at herself from time to time.”
Perhaps as a Black woman I find it apropos. Her being referred to as the Mother-in-Chief,  that is because as Black folks our mothers have always been that person as she was to the white children, she nurtured, loved and raised as well. Black women have always been  Mama, Mama Marie, Mama Smith, Big mama or Li’lmama. Perhaps it’s in our genes, the African gene–Mother Africa, mother of all mankind.
Melania Trump, as the line goes in The Devil Wears Prada, “I hope you realize that you have some big shoes to fill.”
And let me dare say, it will take more than plagiarizing  a speech.


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