Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Gloria Steinem, And More Pen Letters To Michelle Obama

“To the first lady, with love”

Photographed by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.

Barack Obama might have been at the forefront for the past eight years, but it’s Michelle who has been silently propping him up during his term. She’s been a permanent fixture in the White House, but over the past couple of months, she’s made headlines for her classy takedowns and eloquent speeches—a piercing reminder of what the country will be losing come November. To help honor the First Lady and the past two terms, T: The New York Times Style Magazine tapped Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Gloria Steinem, Jon Meacham, and Rashida Jones to reflect on her time through thank you notes.

Adichie compares Michelle’s first speech at the Democratic Convention back in 2008 to her public speaking of today, noting her shift in aura, presence, and confidence. Today, she's no longer concerned about “flattening herself” to meet societies expectations or being cast as the Angry Black Woman.

It was the 2016 Democratic Convention. Michelle Obama was speaking. She said “black boy” and “slaves,” words she would not have said eight years ago because eight years ago any concrete gesturing to blackness would have had real consequences. She was relaxed, emotional, sentimental. Her uncertainties laid to rest. Her rhythm was subtler, because she no longer needed it as her armor, because she had conquered.

Steinem reflects on the FLOTUS’s resilience and how she’s evolved into one of the most effective public speakers of our time (perhaps, dare we say, better than her husband?). “After a decade under a public microscope, she has managed what no other first lady—and few people in any public position—have succeeded in doing: She has lived a public life without sacrificing her privacy and authenticity,” Steinem writes.

Meacham touches on how she managed to overcome public criticism by maintaining balance. “The important thing is that Mrs. Obama, a clear-eyed lawyer, found a way to withstand the scrutiny of the spotlight,” he writes. “In point of fact, she did more than withstand it. To borrow a phrase from William Faulkner, she not only endured it; she prevailed over it.” 

And Jones highlights how Michelle has managed to tick all of the boxes required of a First Lady (“loving wife, protective mother, health and fitness advocate, garden enthusiast and, yes, style icon”), while managing to squeeze activist on that list, also. 

“Michelle Obama will have her own legacy, separate from her husband’s,” she writes. “And it will be that she was the first first lady to show women that they don’t have to choose. That it’s okay to be everything.” 

Read the full write-ups on The New York Times website, here