Since the inauguration, Michelle Obama has leveraged her position as first lady to work on issues she cares about, and in the process has become a new kind of role model for a new generation of women.
She’s assertive, complex and likable. She has pursued nonpartisan goals in a unifying way. She is professionally accomplished, both before and after the election. She is seriously funny, and knows when to undercut herself with a joke. Also, she can dance.
I’m 29. I grew up in the era of emerging female professional role models like Hillary Clinton, Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey. All of these women are accomplished in their own ways, but they leave no room for error. In themselves or in others. Their every appearance is well-planned and their images are created with care by a hundred sculptors. That generation – of iron women – seems successful because of an exterior and interior built on relentless commitment, extreme attention to detail and perfect execution.
I don’t want to be those women, because they scare me. It seems impossible to duplicate their success.
Michelle Obama seems balanced. She cares, she loves, she believes, and makes it all seem possible. I’m not denying the possibility that Michelle Obama is confidentially an iron woman. It’s possible. But what matters for the sake of this appreciative blog post is what kind of role model she is.
The First Lady exhibits balance, flexibility and kindness. Mrs. Obama has led efforts to make the White House a home for cultural, family and art events. She spends time with military families. Her “Let’s Move” initiative has successfully started a new kind of conversation: one about fitness, children’s health and returning our country to valuing real things and real food. From the Easter Egg Roll to the White House concert series, she has welcomed diverse families and voices into her environment.
So, I don’t just want to be her: I want to hang out with her. I want her to be my mentor. Maybe go out sometime for girls’ night.
Ultimately, Mrs. Obama stands out because she fills a hole in our saturated culture: She’s a lady. She takes old-fashioned values like respect, motherhood, good taste and excellent manners and brings them to the modern cultural context of valuing success, strength and accomplishment.
As a young professional woman, I usually don’t fit in anywhere. I’m not quite an adult: not a mommy, not an accomplished professional, not settled. But nor am I a coed anymore; I feel like I’ve grown out of some of the posts on Jezebel, and certainly all the articles in Cosmo.
It’s an awkward in-between time, where I lack a set path to follow. I’m on the cusp of being really grown-up, and I want to know that there are women who have found complex success and happiness. I want not just fashion models but serious role models who believe in a serious future for themselves, their families and our country.
Michelle Obama is a visible, reliable example of a woman with a heart and big piles of success that she’s built in her own way. Her example helps me find patience for myself.