Who is the real Michelle Obama?
By Kathryn Whitbourne
As a stylish lawyer and corporate exec from Chicago’s South Side, Michelle Obama has made it to the national stage as Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaign partner and wife. But it wasn’t long ago that he worked in her shadow. A graduate of Harvard Law, Michelle Obama (née Robinson) met Barack when she was assigned to be his mentor at the law firm of Sidley Austin. Later she became vice president for community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals. Known for sometimes being outspoken, Obama says her favorite career advice is, “Follow your heart and do what makes you happy. Don’t let other people push you into something that isn’t fundamentally you.” We caught up with her on the campaign trail as Election Day approaches.
Wakes up and checks her BlackBerry for any campaign updates. “Throughout this campaign, I’ve talked a lot about an issue very close to my heart: the notion of balancing work, family and life and our pressure as women to ‘do it all’ without losing ourselves in the process.”
Heads to the gym to work out with her trainer – usually a mix of cardio and weight training. “Exercise is really important to me for the physical and mental benefits. With all the goodies folks share with you when you’re campaigning, the gym is necessary.”
On board a plane to Michigan for a campaign stop. Her plans if she becomes first lady? Obama says the needs of women and families should be on the front burner. “Recently I’ve focused a lot on military families, who are serving right along with their spouses overseas, and I hope to continue providing a voice for them as well.”
On career vs. family, Obama says, “Even before Barack began running for president, I would go back and forth with myself about whether I should work. When I decided to stop working and campaign full time, my daughters were the biggest factor in my decision. It’s a really delicate balance, figuring out how to do what you need for yourself while simultaneously doing what’s best for your family.”
Hosts a roundtable conversation with working women. “I’ve heard from mothers struggling to make ends meet because their salaries aren’t keeping up with the cost of groceries. But if they take a second job, they can’t afford the additional cost of childcare. Then there are the women who work hard every day doing the same jobs as men, but earning less.”
When Obama is on the road, her daughters, Malia and Sasha (10 and 7, respectively), are constantly on her mind. “One of the things we’ve worked to instill in them is a sense of independence, with the confidence to pursue their dreams. So when they see us going to work at places we love each day, doing something we’re passionate about, and being passionate about each other and our family, it inspires me to keep striving to be my best.”
Does press interviews. “In the beginning, I was a bit apprehensive about them, but now I really do enjoy talking with reporters.”
Attends a fundraising event.
Obama has received a lot of notice for her fashionable outfits. “I’ve always loved clothes. I like to look and feel pretty, but I also enjoy a good bargain – which Barack appreciates too! I work with a wonderful designer in Chicago, Maria Pinto, but for everyday clothes, I’m wearing pieces from stores like H&M and The Gap.”
Heads back to Chicago. “During the flight home, my staff and I like to talk and joke about the funny stories we heard and discuss what we have coming up for tomorrow. They’ve been great about making sure I’m home in time to tuck in the two little people who have been on my mind all day long.”
Editor’s note: PINK also invited Cindy McCain, wife of Republican candidate John McCain, to be featured in addition to Michelle Obama. She graciously declined.
This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of PINK Magazine.
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