“Malia and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances, you have become two amazing young women, smart and beautiful, but more importantly, kind and thoughtful and full of passion,” he said. “You wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily. Of all that I’ve done in my life, I’m most proud to be your dad.” As for how Sasha and Malia were able to weather their father’s eight years in the White House so well, the former first lady recently opened up about it in conversation with poet and friend Elizabeth Alexander at the Obama Foundation summit in Chicago.
She says that she was able to raise “independent, well-meaning, kind, compassionate people” largely because she taught them those traits from a young age, while giving them the space to learn life’s hard lessons without being too overprotective. “Sometimes we treat our children too preciously because of the issues they’ve dealt with,” she said, according to InStyle. “Barack and I, we thought about with Malia and Sasha, OK, we could’ve spent eight years feeling sorry for them that they were living in a bubble that every misstep for them would be on YouTube, that their privacy, they didn’t have access to their father in a way…We could’ve felt bad for them, and there would’ve been a truth there. But our view was this is their life, and we can’t apologize for the life they have because a whole lot of it is good.”
That’s certainly true. As of this moment, 19-year-old Malia Obama is currently attending Harvard University as a freshman. Meanwhile Sasha Obama is finishing high school at Sidwell Friends School, where Chelsea Clinton attended as a first daughter, as the former president revealed to People last year. When talking about how she raised such well-adjusted daughters, Michelle Obama added of her approach, “I can’t cherish you to death. We have to raise our children to be the adults that we want them to be, and that starts young. You can’t be so afraid that life will break them that you don’t prepare them for life. Sometimes our fear keeps us from pushing our kids out into the cold cruel world. And then they’re not ready and we wonder why.”
Parenting also has much to do with why so many men grow up to abuse their privilege, as Obama explained. “The problem in the world today is that we love our boys and we raise our girls,” she said, according to Vanity Fair. “We raise them strong and sometimes we take care not to hurt men. And I think we pay for that a little bit and that’s a we thing because we are raising them, and it’s powerful to have strong men but what does that strength mean? Does it mean respect? Does it mean responsibility? Does it mean compassion? Or are we protecting our men too much, so they feel a little entitled? And a little, you know, a little self-righteous sometimes, but that’s kind of on us, too as women and mothers as we nurture men and push girls to be perfect.”
Another gender difference she sees is that women often find more support and self-reflection in their friendships than men, according to Obama. “Women, we do it better than men,” she said. “I’m, you know, sad for you guys. Y’all should get you some friends. Get you some friends and talk to each other, ‘cause that’s the other thing we do; we straighten each other out on some things, our girlfriends…Sometimes I’m like, ‘Barack, who you talking to? And it can’t just be Marty [Nesbitt].’ Ya’ll need to go talk to each other about your stuff because there’s so much of it. It’s so messy.”
Michelle Obama Has a Long History of Supporting Emerging Fashion Designers, from Teija to Jason Wu
Today, Jason Wu is the creative director of Hugo Boss and his eponymous label, but 8 years ago, the then-26-year-old Taiwanese-Canadian designer had only been running his namesake label for two years when Obama first wore one of his designs—to Barack Obama’s 2008 inauguration, no less. The gown has since ended up in the National Museum of American History, and Wu is now long past his days interning for Narciso Rodriguez, another favorite of Obama’s, having outfitted the former first lady in plenty more looks throughout her time in the white house, up to Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Thakoon Panchigul‘s eponymous label may now once again be on hiatus, but the Thai-American designer got quite the boost when Obama wore a printed dress of his on the night that Barack Obama accepted the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. “It was like watching a scary movie—wanting to look but not wanting to look,” he said of fitting the former first lady for the occasion. Clearly, the pair worked it out: Obama has been a known admirer of his floral dresses, even—gasp—wearing the same one three times in as many years.
In a move that inspired bloggers to follow her style for the next eight years, Obama wore a teal dress by Maria Pinto (studded with a brooch by Erickson Beamon) to the Democratic National Convention in 2008, paving the way for the designer to develop something of an empire in her home base of Chicago, where, with the help of a wildly successful Kickstarter, she’s launching her latest ready-to-wear foray, M2057.
Three years after the Detroit-born, New York-based designer Tracy Reese called Michelle Obama’s 2009 People magazine cover in her lacy sleeveless dress “the moment we’ve been waiting for,” Obama turned to Reese once again for an equally pink frock at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, making the designer “flattered” and “a little mystified.” Since then, Reese’s dresses have become one of Obama’s go-to’s, as seen here in 2016 at the White House in ‘70s-esque florals.
Long before Sophie Theallet became one of the first designers to take a stance against dressing Melania Trump, the French, New York-based designer was busy organizing welcomely diverse runway shows, which attracted much more of a spotlight once Obama wore a striped dress of hers to unveil a bust of Sojourner Truth in 2008—a look so popular that Theallet recreated it (for a much more affordable $80) five years later, in 2013.
Many designers are taken by surprise when Obama shows up in one of their creations, but the Korean-American designer Doo-Ri Chung worked with Obama herself to alter one of her purple gowns so that it had a belt and more modest slit—alterations that were definitely worth the sacrifice when Obama wore it to a 2011 state dinner for South Korea.
Justin Bieber, Cee Lo Green, and Conan O’Brien were all there when Obama transformed the brand Cushnie et Ochs, which designers Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs had already found some niche acclaim for, from a favorite of critics to a profit-turning company with an agenda full of appointments. Since Obama wore a green dress of theirs on-screen of a 2011 White House Christmas special, the brand has since found a home in New York Fashion Week, worked its way into the red carpet looks of Sarah Paulson and Gigi Hadid, and even launched its own activewear line.
Though she blended into the background in cobalt blue, Obama still definitely stood out at the 2016 National Democatic Convention when she wore a silk cap sleeve dress by Christian Siriano, the Annapolis-born designer and Project Runway alum. He may have been planning on dressing Hillary Clinton next, but in the meantime, he’s been working with names like Leslie Jones, whom he stood by after other designers turned away from working with plus sizes—a message Obama would no doubt get behind.
Like Lady Gaga, who once employed him as his stylist, Obama has fallen for Brandon Maxwell, the small-town Texan designer who’s proven himself as adapt at streamlined evening ensembles as Gaga’s picks of more out-there designs. Obama first wore a dress of his on the cover of InStyle last year, and it was clear just a few weeks later that she was hooked: Soon after, she wore an ivory, floor-length number of his to a state dinner for Singapore. “She really is the embodiment of the women that I love and adore and create for,” Maxwell, who also won 2016’s CFDA Swarovski Award, has since said.
Teija Eilola had already been planning to party in honor the five-year anniversary of her eponymous brand Teija this month when Obama brought another cause for celebration: She wore an eye-catching, one-shouldered top by Teija while sampling gelato and otherwise wandering around the small town of Montalcino, Italy with her husband Barack. Before that, Eilola, who trained under Christopher Bailey at Burberry, had no idea Obama owned one of her pieces, but she’s definitely embracing the attention—and already referring to it as her “Michelle Obama moment.”
Watch: Willow Smith Spent Her Birthday Chilling on the Beach with Friends
Willow Smith Spent Her Birthday Chilling on the Beach with Friends