It’s hard to put into words how I feel about Michelle Obama. Reading this essay collection has reminded me of all the amazing moments I witnessed throughout her reign as FLOTUS. The first Black First Lady of the United States went through a transformation between 2008 and 2017 which was, at times, difficult to watch. Yet, throughout the entire ride, she has stood tall with grace, dignity, compassion, intelligence, and unwavering loyalty to her beliefs and her family. Reading The Meaning of Michelle: 16 Writers on the Iconic First Lady and How Her Journey Inspires Our Own reminded me of all those moments. Each of these 16 essays (plus the prologue and introduction) reflects on a different way in which Michelle Obama touched an individual. And through this, how she managed to influence, infect, and inspire a country.
She was a level-lifter. An aspiration. An ambition. The woman you’d want to meet if you planned on taking over the world, together.
From 2008 through 2017 Michelle Obama became an American icon. Not only by being FLOTUS but because she somehow redefined womanhood for American women of all races and colors. The essays between these pages discuss how Michelle Obama affected the collective American and international consciousness on American women. Particularly American women of color. All these essays deliver a unique view of how Michelle’s position has affected the writer. Essays on race, class, marriage, art, food, fashion, fitness, education, womanhood, citizenship, and being true to yourself all lay between these covers. My own personal journey in relationship to Michelle Obama is reflected within fragments of these texts here and there. I can relate to all the words being said here on some level. But what astounds me the most is the differing perspectives and viewpoints which I am finding I can relate to!
As Mom-in-Chief, Michelle Obama could correct decades-long stereotypes of Black women as neglectful parents and money-grubbing welfare queens.
The authors of these essays are almost exclusively African-American women who are unabashedly in love with Michelle Obama. Reading their reflections on witnessing the rise of the Obama family to the White House is nothing short of remarkable. As a white woman, I know I can see who I am and what I believe in the fore of my country’s politics in almost every situation. For many of these authors, this was their first time having any sort of representation in this particular spot. The opening essay Michelle in High Cotton by Benilde Little describes how important this reflection is:
A dark-skinned, working-class Black girl marries a biracial, Black-identified intellectual equal who ends up becoming the leader of the free world.
This is the first of many comments about the physical and intellectual characteristics of Michelle Obama which opened doors and brought in the light for many. Little points out that Michelle Obama represents blackness and urban backgrounds while still being a pillar of strength not only as an individual but as a partner in marriage. Talk about a solid role model!
Black women know full well that our lives are nothing without the sisters who inspire us, pull our cards, make us laugh uproariously, and show up for every manner of celebration or rescue mission, depending on what is required.
With this strong start, our essayists cover the gamut. There is so much to learn from these pages, both about Michelle Obama and the affections and reflections she directly or indirectly caused in the essayists’ lives. We are treated to personal stories about the postponement of ambitions and dreams women often give to support their spouses. We better understand what it means to be a black woman and why Michelle Obama’s “flawlessly imperfect” ability to be herself was so critical to women of all colors. We are treated to the emotional anxiety and exactness required to prepare a state dinner. We begin to understand the hope the Obama presidency and first family gave our country, particularly towards a potential future where racial injustices are rare. The feelings of hope, pride, and empowerment radiate through these pages in an addicting pattern.
She has amanged to pull off a nearly impossible feminie feat: She is both liked and respected.
My favorite essays in this collection are:
- Michelle in High Cotton by Benilde Little
- Crushing on Michelle: Or the Unapologetic Power of Blackness by Damon Young
- Lady O and King Bey by Brittney Cooper
- On Being Flawlessly Imperfect by Tiffany Dufu
- Cooking with Narrative by Marcus Samuelson
Not all these essays are perfect. A few felt… well, out of place. A bit less about Michelle Obama and more about the reflections Michelle Obama’s work, image, and presence affected in others. Many times the essays spoke more about the writer than the subject. But, that is to be expected in a collection such as this. I don’t want all the essays to speak to me– after all, I’m not the only voice in the room.
When you think about what she represents, it’s almost Mandela-esque.
Reading The Meaning of Michelle now, as we near the end of Donald Trump’s first year in office as President of the United States, is a bit bittersweet. This is certainly a walk down memory lane for me. There are so many ways in which Michelle Obama affected and inspired me personally! I loved getting lost in the hope and nostalgia during a time where I rarely can find such tied together, particularly when it comes to politics. But, closing these pages also remind me of the current state of my country. There is no one I currently feel is a role model for me in our political leadership. No one I even remotely look up to, let alone in the fashion I look up to Michelle Obama. But I have hope. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? Michelle Obama’s journey is hardly over. I cannot wait to see what she does next.
I received a copy of this collection from NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review. Check out more about Veronica Chambers, St. Martin’s Press, and The Meaning of Michelle on their respective websites.
What Do You Think?
- Have you read The Meaning of Michelle? What are your thoughts on this collection?
- How has Michelle Obama impacted your own life? In what ways?
- Do you enjoy reading essay collections? What are some of your favorites?
- Who are your political role models? Why do you look up to them?