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Michelle Obama, the one and only

'First Ladies' recap: Michelle Obama, the one and only

 

"Sometimes you can only be what you know exists in the world. And no one like me was ever the first lady of the United States."

 
Those are some of the first words you hear Michelle Obama say in the opening scenes of "First Ladies," CNN's new series profiling six women who've held the position. And as with so many Obama quotes, this one works on multiple levels.
 
Obama, of course, is a singular FLOTUS: She's made history as the country's first African American first lady. She's also faced and overcome more criticism, and has had to walk a narrower tightrope, as a result.
 
And as we see in the "First Ladies" premiere, Obama brought something truly distinct to this role: Her unfailing ability to be unapologetically herself. This pushed all of us to look at the position of first lady in a new way, and four years after she departed the White House we're still learning about her impact.
 
Below, we're breaking down some of our favorite moments and key takeaways from this episode (and maybe even sharing a little dirt along the way). Let's dig in!
 
Kate Andersen Brower: My first thought: There's been so much stunning news coming from the East Wing in the last few days, this feels like another lifetime.
 
 
 
Kate Bennett: That Isabel Toledo yellow Michelle wore is still such a great look. I love that Toledo had no idea she was even going to wear her design. A lot of the clothes Michelle wore reflected diversity; she always thought, "They're going to talk about my clothes anyway, might as well use them for good."
 
Brower: 🤣
I like this early video of Michelle campaigning before she was carefully styled. How would you describe her style before the days of Meredith Koop?
 
Bennett: I think she was teetering on that line of, "Am I dressing as a professional woman? Or am I dressing in a way that reflects my personality?" And when Meredith started working for her in 2010 I think she helped Michelle see how she could be both.
 
I think it was smart -- and a huge gamble in a way -- for Michelle to pluck Meredith from the Ikram Goldman boutique in Chicago. Meredith was a sales associate, and when Ikram couldn't be on call for Michelle it was Meredith who would step in. Meredith had a vibe Michelle liked, and more than a decade later she's still styling her.
 
It's also amazing to see in this early footage how good Michelle was at the mic right off the bat as a novice to presidential politics. A natural, really.
 
Brower: Absolutely. And her willingness to be vulnerable, to tell strangers about her father's multiple sclerosis and about growing up without much money -- it's so endearing that it's easy to forget how much pressure she must have been feeling every single day.
 
 
 
Like this scene when David Axelrod recalls asking her to watch a video of herself from the 2008 campaign trail so she could see how she was being perceived as "angry." And I remember when she said this in Wisconsin in 2008: "For the first time in my adult lifetime I'm really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change."
 
It was really her first misstep, because some people took it as her saying she didn't value America -- though I never understood why people were so critical. Of course it's incredibly difficult to be Black in this country; Barack Obama had to have a security detail earlier than any other candidate in presidential history because there was concern for his safety.
 
I wonder if we've made enough progress that Kamala Harris could say what Michelle did without anyone batting an eye. I hope so.
 
Bennett: It's amazing that was even a controversy. Michelle's ability to allow people to see and understand how she feels is always very clear to me.
 
Like when she says, "I felt like our family got launched out of a cannon and into some strange underwater universe" after they won the 2008 election -- that is such a good description.
Ah! And the great Jason Wu inaugural gown with the white flowers! Launched his entire career!
 

"FAKE 45 #illegitimate" read a sign at the Woman's March in DC, 1/27/2017
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