Story at a glance

  • Michelle Obama talked about body positivity with Oprah Winfrey at a recent event in Brooklyn.
  • The former first lady discussed her own experiences with body image, ageing and societal expectations.
  • Obama also shared conversations she has with her daughters about accepting their own bodies.

Even Michelle Obama struggles to feel good about her body sometimes. In a recent discussion with Oprah Winfrey, the former first lady talked about fighting societal expectations as she gets older. 

“We are so ridiculous as women,” she told Winfrey at the Brooklyn stop of Oprah's "2020 Vision" tour in partnership with Weight Watchers Reimagined, according to People. “We don’t want to talk about our age, and then we want to act like we should look like we did when we were 20, you know? When, I’m sorry, men you can look any kind of way. And it seems to be okay.”

It’s not the first time Obama has publicly discussed the issue of body image. The mother of two daughters herself, she recalled hearing them complain about not fitting into old clothes. 

“I said, ‘But you’re a whole other year older. You’re now becoming a woman. You don’t have a child’s body,’ she said. “That’s like saying at 20, I’m really upset that I couldn’t wear my favorite overalls anymore from when I was 10. That’s as ridiculous as it is at 56 to think that I should look like I did when I was 36, or for anyone to judge me like that, or to judge a woman like that.”

As the first black first lady, Obama felt heavy scrutiny on the campaign trail and even in the White House. From her bare arms to her butt, every part of her image has been picked over publicly. 

“People called me all kinds of things when I was campaigning for Barack, like it was a competition,” she said. “They called me un-American, and this stuff sticks with you. Men talked about the size of my butt. There are people who were telling me I was angry. That stuff hurts, and it makes you sort of wonder, what are people seeing? That stuff is there. And look, I’m a black woman in America. And you know, we’re not always made to feel beautiful. So there’s still that baggage that we carry, and not everyone can relate to that.”

Her husband, President Barack Obama, has praised the example Michelle sets for their daughters Sasha and Malia, who are 18 and 20. 

"When I was a kid I didn’t realize as much, or maybe it was even a part of which is the enormous pressure that young women are placed under in terms of looking a certain way," Obama said in an interview with Time. “And that pressure I think is historically always been harder on African American women than just about any other women. But it’s part and parcel of a broader way in which we socialize and press women to constantly doubt themselves or define themselves in terms of a certain appearance."

The first lady, who launched the Let’s Move campaign as first last in 2010, has championed the importance of fitness and self-care. Part of her motivation comes from her father, Obama said, who lost the ability to walk when she was younger due to multiple sclerosis (MS). Her father died at 55 in 1991 and Obama shared how his MS taught her to appreciate her health.  

“We need to take care of ourselves and when you don’t, as you get older, just like any living thing it begins to fail on you. And for me, I’m trying to figure out, what is that balance that I need to make sure that this body, that God gave me, that I’m taking care of it the best that I can and that it will serve me well as I get older,” she said. 

Published on Feb 13, 2020