Screenshot: Miller Mobley (Essence Magazine)

If you feel like you’re seeing Michelle Obama everywhere these days, get used to it. With the release of her acclaimed memoir, Becoming, plus a nine-city book tour with crowds rivaling any her friends Beyoncé and Oprah might attract, she’s successfully transitioned from former First Lady to bona fide phenomenon. Very few superstars have been able to maintain this level of attention and adoration—let alone, political figures.

But thankfully, few can get enough of Mrs. Obama. If you haven’t been lucky (or wealthy) enough to snag a seat at one of “Auntie Michelle’s” stadium stops, you can catch her next on the cover of Essence magazine’s December/January issue, which was shot by Miller Mobley, who also photographed Mrs. Obama for Elle’s December issue. The cover story also rejoined members of her longtime glam squad, including stylist Meredith Koop, makeup artist Carl Ray, and hairstylist Yene Damtew.

The most dramatic stylistic shift Essence captured on Mrs. Obama? A head full of naturally-textured ringlets, which we’ve long craved but were never seen during her years in the White House—understandably, given the intense and often racially-fueled scrutiny of her appearance during those years. While some have rejoiced at seeing her natural curls at last (White House hairstylist Johnny Wright confirmed that Mrs. Obama is, in fact, natural), she’s also recently professed an appreciation for wigs and extension pieces to protect her hair while giving her the polished and straightened look we all know so well.

Damtew, who styled Mrs. Obama’s hair for both the Elle and Essence covers, didn’t dish on whether we’re looking at the icon’s hair in all its glory. But we wouldn’t rule out a gorgeous half-cap wig to give her this lush and voluminous look with minimal damage to her natural locks.

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Details aside, what we do know is that Mrs. Obama is incredibly thoughtful about the messages she conveys, in appearance, deeds and words, as she confirms in Becoming. In Essence, she continues to use her post-White House freedom to open up about life before, during and since her husband’s history-making tenure in the Oval Office. The issue hits stands on November 23, but Essence shared a few gems with us, to whet our appetites for more from our forever First Lady:

On maintaining her equilibrium in the White House:

“Any day that I got to spend time with children was a good day. Sometimes if I was need of a pick-me-up, my staff would schedule an event with young people to give me a boost. Kids give me energy. They get me out of my own head and remind me about the things that are most important…”

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On the power of female friendships amid the challenges of “having it all.”

“When I was raising young children, I learned to lean on a group of my friends in Chicago, women who, like me, had jobs and partners and children who kept them moving every minute,” she told the magazine. “Of course, we leaned on our husbands as well … But for me, there was something special—something vital, even—about sharing this experience with other women who were going through the same kinds of stresses and challenges that I was…”

And, of course, Essence was brave enough to ask the question that many dynamic single black women like the one Mrs. Obama once was really want to know:

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How did she identify the Michelle-worthy man we all know as Barack Obama?

“I think a lot of people don’t have a clear idea of what they should look for in a mate—and for a long time, I didn’t either,” she admitted. “What drew me to Barack was that when I met him, he was already a fully formed individual. From our very first conversations, he showed me that he wasn’t afraid to express his fears and doubts, or that he might not have all the answers. He could handle someone with her own passions and goals, someone who had ideas of her own. He relished it, in fact. I liked that…”

And what’s the beloved Mrs. Obama’s next act? While she tells Essence that “public service is in [her] DNA,” right now, she’s just busy, well, Becoming a bestselling author.

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“Since we left the White House, I’ve spent most of my time focusing on finishing this book,” she said. “The book tour will keep me busy for a while, and then I’ll take some time to evaluate what’s next. I’m in no hurry.”