Michelle Obama on teaching her daughters body acceptance

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Former First Lady Michelle Obama is the latest smart, thoughtful person to take up the difficult conversation around accepting and loving one’s body. Michelle was one of the special guests on Oprah’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus tour, joining her in Brooklyn. She spoke about how she wants Malia and Sasha to accept their bodies as they age and grow.

Obama first expressed her frustration over the societal expectation that women hide their age.

“We are so ridiculous as women,” she told Winfrey on Saturday. “. . . We don’t want to talk about our age, and then we want to act like we should look like we did when were 20, you know? When, I’m sorry, men you can look any kind of way. And it seems to be okay.” . . .

“I told my daughters, because as they’re getting older they start to judge themselves and it’s interesting when they talk about, ‘I can’t fit in my jeans that I had last year.’ 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 recalled.

“That’s like saying at 20, I’m really upset that I couldn’t wear my favorite overalls anymore from when I was 10,” Obama continued. “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.”

Michelle also spoke about her own struggle with body-acceptance, fueled by the terrible garbage that people said to her while President Obama was running for office:

“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. But yes, there is baggage that I carry just like anybody else.”

[From People]

People also said horrific, racist things about Michelle when she was First Lady, too. She’s pointing that out while framing that garbage in terms of how it affected her self-esteem and ability to love and accept her body, which she said requires “work.” Now, she’s grateful, saying that her body is “‘all mine, and it’s a healthy body that works, every day,’” and that she “tri[es] hard not to judge it.”

I love her perspective about recognizing that your body will inevitably change over time, and it’s the only one you have so you should recognize what it does for you. That’s obvious, but she’s right: Women are criticized for aging. I had a birthday recently, and several people told me that I wasn’t allowed to be as young as I am and have a decent amount of grey hair. I was like, “Actually, yes, I can have grey hair. It’s my hair on my head, and it looks fine.” Accepting one’s body is still hard, of course, and everyone’s journey is different. (I also still love what Sarah Hyland said about not always embracing how your body looks.) My body has been changing drastically (compared to the way that it tends to change) over the past few months, for a bunch of different reasons. Some days, I’m in Michelle’s camp, and other days, I’m in Sarah’s, though I’m going to try to be more accepting than not. I’m looking forward to warmer weather so that I can get out and move more, that’s for sure.

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29 Responses to “Michelle Obama on teaching her daughters body acceptance”

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  1. Love this woman. I miss her as our ‘First Lady’; but, love her reconnecting to the joy of life after 8 hard years of the haters trying to tell her and us who she is. The haters haven’t gone away, but she can speak her truth now. A truly smart and beautiful woman with an amazing way of engaging with the world. Team Obama forever!

  2. McMom says:

    This was timely. Last night, I was thinking to myself, “I’m pushing 50 and I am SO not feeling JLo right now.” I’m off my exercise routine and not feeling my best. I’ll try for a little more self acceptance today.

    • dofcol says:

      Okay, but have you spent as much as JLo has on plastic surgery, injectables, trainers, personal chefs, etc? Because it’s not like she got there herself. There are plenty of women who are 50 and have other types of positive achievements.

      Trying to get to “Youthfullness” is a hopeless, impossible race backwards.

  3. AmyB says:

    These are definitely important conversations to have especially in this society where women like the cosmetically enhanced Kardashians are somehow celebrated (???) and women are constantly criticized over the shape of their bodies or for aging etc. Yes, we all get older and our bodies will inevidently change but I believe the best thing we can do is to embrace self body acceptance and love ourselves inside and out!!!

  4. Anilehcim says:

    Absolutely love her.

    I had a weight problem throughout my childhood that has deeply impacted my self esteem throughout my entire life. Even now, I’m in shape, but the struggle to accept myself is still there. As I get older it gets easier to stop and remind myself that I need to be less hard on myself, but it’s always a battle. Sadly, I think for the majority of women, this is often how it is.

    Look at the Super Bowl and the take away most people had from the half time show. Yes, JLo and Shakira look amazing but it immediately turned into “Wow this is 50! Wow this is 43!” and yes, that can be inspiring, but it can also make women feel like shit if they compare themselves.

    A tad bit off topic, but for anyone who uses Instagram (it’s my fav social media platform), there are a few accounts out there that showcase social media vs reality and post side by side pics of what celebs post and what they actually look like in real life without the filters and the photoshop. It’s pretty mind blowing and it is absolutely important. It isn’t intended to tear anyone down, but just to show the average person that we need to STOP comparing ourselves all of the time, especially since 99% of what we see is bullshit. These celebs go to great lengths to seem “ageless” and it’s unrealistic. Highly recommended as a reality check because the media and the beauty industry have had average people feeling like shit about ourselves for way too long.

  5. TheOriginalMia says:

    Love her. I’ve had to adjust to my new menopausal/post-chemo body. It’s heavier, but it’s mine.

  6. adastraperaspera says:

    Good conversation. My partner and I are over 50, and we talk a lot about how our changing bodies reframe our identity. Not just what we see in the mirror, but how we are treated in public. I saw my grandmother and mother struggle as they aged, not just because of outside opinions, but also because they grieved when losing teeth, hair, and muscle tone. We don’t talk enough about the fact that radical changes happen to bodies near the end of life when people are often more vulnerable to feeling disregarded or depressed. I remember my grandmother saying, “everyone feels young inside.”

  7. tempest prognosticator says:

    The photo of the four of them… I love this family.

  8. Noodle says:

    I feel this aging debate deep within my bones. I have chronic migraines, and one of the most effective treatments is Botox. When my neurologist and I were discussing treatment, he said to me “And the great thing about Botox is that it helps your migraines AND it will help with all those lines on your forehead and around your eyes.” I wanted to punch him. I have no issues with people who get Botox for cosmetic reasons, but for him to assume I would want it too to smooth out (non-existent, at least in my eyes) lines in my forehead and that THAT would be the deciding factor for me, was a bit jarring. Of all the things I’m worried about in my body (migraines, arthritis, weight,etc) tiny lines on my forehead are not high on my list. That said, his practice is out of Hoag in Newport Beach and I’m sure he has lots of patients for whom these lines are a concern.

    • olliesmom says:

      I was in my doctor’s office yesterday and noticed some advertisement things for Botox all around the waiting room. I wanted to ask if they were doing Botox now and how much they charge but I figured I have bigger and more important fish to fry right now.

  9. Sheri Lockhart says:

    I just turned 59 and got divorced after 20 years. Yes, that man turned my hair white but in four months but I’m embracing it. After yoyo dieting, stress made me lose thirty pounds. I guess he was good for something.

    Come back, Michelle, come back to us. We need you. You are the woman we all want to be. Have you ever thought of becoming president?

  10. Scollins says:

    My Forever First Lady. Every time I see or hear her I am reminded how blessed we are to have this extraordinary woman be a part of our world.

  11. olliesmom says:

    What a gorgeous family photo! Everyone looks so happy, healthy and non-stressed. The girls are both gorgeous. I wasn’t stressed out all the time when he was President. I didn’t have to worry that I would die in a nuclear war or be rounded up and put in a camp or have my assets seized or a thousand other possibilities because I support another party and I voted for someone else like I’ve feared during the last three years. Oh, how I miss them!

  12. Aubrey. says:

    Damn i miss her/Them.
    Her girls are so gorgeous .
    Sasha is just breathtaking.

  13. Mexicalidesi says:

    It is crazy to me that Michelle Obama, who is objectively beautiful and is lucky in her genetics (really tall, great muscle mass) can be made to feel diminished by assholes.

  14. Goldie says:

    Drastic weight fluctuations? Michelle herself acknowledged that bodies change over time, but I think her size has been fairly consistent over the last decade or so. I don’t recall any major weight loss or weight gain. Unless you know her personally, I don’t see how you can know what her motivation for working out is. Many people enjoy working out and like feeling strong and healthy.
    I’m not even going to get into your comments about her hair…

  15. janey says:

    Dieting – I’ve venture to say we all do it / have done it to maintain a healthy weight. This is important for a number of reasons, the main one being our health. Never seen any drastic weight fluctuations with Mrs Obama. Exercising – again I’d venture to say most of us do this to maintain our health and well being. I personally run to keep healthy so I can enjoy my retirement unlike my unwell father. Also, she looks awesome in sleeveless tops / dresses so power to her. Finally, I’d venture most of us have straightened, curled, coloured our hair because we want to look a little different and experiment. Literally nothing you said takes away from her body positive message.
    anyway, I’ll be back later to see what everyone else makes of you.

  16. Sarah says:

    Don’t your back hurt after all that reaching you just did?

  17. Chelle says:

    They’ve covered the non-existent weight fluctuations you’ve referred to therefore I’ll tackle the issue of wigs. Michelle doesn’t wear wigs. Her hair is naturally long and its texture allows her to have a lot of versatility.

  18. aang says:

    I’m no fan of the “go high” platitude. It helped open the door for McConnell and trump. Where I’m from you kick your opponent in the balls, punch them in the nose, kick them when they go down, and then kick them again. But otherwise I’ve always found her to be a good role model. Especially when it comes to health.

  19. cmd11 says:

    Michelle has looked to me like she has put on a little bit of weight over the last few years, but I actually viewed it as a sign of mental and physical health because I assumed it was an example of a menopausal-aged woman allowing her body to do what often naturally happens to women’s bodies during menopause. It helped me think about how I will feel when my time comes, and inspired me to allow what’s going to happen to my body during menopause to happen as much as I can.

    It feels quite loaded and problematic to criticize a black woman for how she chooses to style her hair. They just cannot win – criticism if they wear a natural texture, criticism if they straighten or chemically style. No one gives us white women crap about that.

  20. LoonyTunes says:

    And that’s exactly what she’s talking about—learning to accept herself totally, despite self and outside criticism and judgment. She has been very open about it. And it’s her hair to wear as she chooses; but even there, you see her transitioning to more natural textures. Let the woman grow and be.

  21. Lama Bean says:

    Wow. You sure are mad about someone else living their life.

  22. Tiffany :) says:

    She’s not shoving ANYTHING down anyone’s throat. You’re just bitter that people listen to her and care what she has to say. Grow up and move on, dear. The love for Michelle isn’t going anywhere.

  23. schmootc says:

    HA! Nice!