Despite all the abuse she endured while in the White House, Michelle Obama is indisputably one of the most likable first ladies ever to inhabit the role. And in a new interview with Oprah Winfrey for Elle magazine, she gets candid about being one half of a famously political couple, doubles down on her assessment of Trump’s reckless rhetoric, and offers her opinion on why she remains so beloved and relatable.
“People always ask me, ‘Why is it that you’re so authentic?’ ‘How is it that people connect to you?’ And I think it starts because I like me,” said Mrs. Obama. “I like my story and all the bumps and bruises. That’s what makes me uniquely me.”
But as relatable as she might be, Mrs. Obama is also very aware of her responsibilities as a public figure—responsibilities that were unavoidable in her role as matriarch of the nation’s first family for eight years.
“I know that whether we like it or not, Barack and I are role models,” she said. “I hate when people who are in the public eye—and even seek the public eye—want to step back and say, ‘Well, I’m not a role model. I don’t want that responsibility.’ Too late. You are. Young people are looking at you.”
And while Mrs. Obama’s cover story sadly focuses more on her marriage than her emerging role as a singular force fighting for America’s moral compass, she drops a few gems about her seemingly enviable union, which she admits has required both counseling and a recalibration in her approach to loving a partner whose modus operandi is so different from her own.
“I always thought love was up close. Love is the dinner table, love is consistency, it is presence,” she admitted. “So I had to share my vulnerability and also learn to love differently. It was an important part of my journey of becoming. Understanding how to become us.”
“I share this because I know that people look to me and Barack as the ideal relationship. I know there’s #RelationshipGoals out there. But whoa, people, slow down—marriage is hard!”
What else was hard? Convincing America—even black Americans—that they were ready for a black president, even one as indisputably brilliant as Barack Obama.
“[B]lack people like my grandparents—they never believed this could happen,” Mrs. Obama tells Oprah. “They wanted it for us. But their lives had told them, ‘No. Never.’ Hillary was the safer bet for them, because she was known. Opening hearts up to the hope that America would put down its racism for a black man—I think that hurt too much.”
As for the harm done to her family by the baseless accusations of Donald Trump, who would continue to leverage that irrational vitriol in his own presidential campaign and subsequent presidency, Mrs. Obama maintains that his irresponsible assertions endangered her family in unforgivable ways.
“Because I don’t think he knew what he was doing. For him it was a game,” she told Oprah, citing the bullet that reached the window of the Yellow Oval Room in the private wing of the White House during their tenure there as an example of the type of danger and lunacy that the presidency can attract. “But the threats that you face as the commander in chief are real. And your children are at risk. In order for my children to have a normal life, even though they had security, they were in the world in a way that we weren’t. To think that some crazed person might be ginned up to think my husband was a threat to the country’s security; and to know that my children, every day, had to go to a school, and soccer games, parties, and travel; to think that this person would not take into account that this was not a game—that’s something that I want the country to understand. I want the country to take this in, in a way I didn’t say out loud, but I am saying now. It was reckless, it put my family in danger, and it wasn’t true. And he knew it wasn’t true.”
Now that the intensity of those years is over, Mrs. Obama is adjusting to her new normal—if you can call a multi-city stadium tour to promote her bound-to-be-bestselling memoir, Becoming, normal. But despite the challenges of her years in White House, the self-proclaimed “hugger-in-chief” reflects upon her still-growing legacy with immense pride.
“We were clear that what we were going to do was going to have impact and was going to be positive,” she said. “The West Wing had enough going on; we wanted to be the happy side of the house. And we were.”
The Glow Up tip: Michelle Obama’s Becoming will be released on Tuesday, November 13. You can preorder here.