Michelle Obama isn't trying to be anyone but Michelle Obama
Just like the rest of us, Michelle Obama is still figuring it out.
Her two books, the memoir Becoming (one of the top-selling books of all time) and the newly released The Light We Carry, have solidified that after the White House, there's a deep need for her words and wisdom. But the former First Lady and two-time author is still considering the meaning of her influence in this world.
The Light We Carry is a manifesto of sorts about the time we take for granted. Across the 336 pages, it often feels as if Obama is speaking to you directly, offering hand-selected guidance for all of life's challenges: anxiety, change, and the struggle to recognise and maintain our inner power. She doesn't claim to have all the answers, but she does know how to give damn good assurance.
Obama writes that for the first time in a long time, she can focus on the ways she manifests her truest, most authentic self—whether it's through her personal style, her parenting tactics, or the community of women and friends she keeps close. Her new sense of personal understanding is what she's now so eager to share with us all.
Below, we spoke with Obama about her new book and her emotional journey.
You’ve become a person whom women worldwide look to for guidance, advice and wisdom — especially following the release of Becoming and now The Light We Carry. It’s clear you inspire the world, but especially coming out of a turbulent last few years, who or what continues to inspire you? What keeps you centred amid the chaos?
This is a great question—and it still feels a little odd when someone tells me that I’m an inspiration. Because mostly, I’m just trying to be myself and live a life that feels aligned with my values.
As for who I am inspired by? I would say, young people. Everywhere I’ve travelled across the country and around the world, I’ve met incredibly talented young folks who are eager and excited about creating a more fair and just world for us all. We should never sell them short. Whether we’re talking politics, social issues, or technology, the younger you are, the more likely you are to come up with a fresh idea or see things in a new way. And we should all be embracing that rather than trying to temper it.
As for what keeps me centred, first and foremost, it’s people. Barack, my girls, my mom, my brother, my friends—when life feels all wobbly, I lean on them. Hard. I’m not sure what I’d do without them.
But it’s not just people; there are also actions I take to keep myself centred. I get into this in my book and my podcast, but I really believe in this idea that I refer to as the power of the small, which is about how concentrating on accomplishing little tasks can do so much for us. It can remind us of our capacity to build, create, and add value to our world. These days, my small task is knitting—jumpers, shirts, scarves, you name it. And while it might sound insignificant, knitting helps me to slow down and ground myself in something concrete.
You also talk in the book about the importance of having a “kitchen table” community of girlfriends. Female friendship doesn’t always endure through the decades, but of course, when it does, it’s something to hold onto. What lessons have you learned from your closest confidantes over the years?
The beautiful part about having a kitchen table of friends is the variety of experiences there are across the table. Some of my friends are older than me, some are younger—by a few decades. Some have kids; some have chosen not to. Some are married, some aren’t. They’ve taught me how to deal with children and parenting. They’ve taught me how TikTok works and what “sliding into the DMs” means and what the dating culture is really like these days. One of my friends is an obstetrician gynecologist, and she helped a lot of us deal with menopause and hot flashes and hormonal changes—you know, the things that no one really tells you about ageing.
More than any specific lesson, though, my friends have helped remind me that I’m never, ever alone in what I’m feeling. We all have our own individual stories and experiences, but we share so much about how we relate to the world. And I am just so grateful to have a group of friends to pump me up when I need it or to simply tell me that everything’s going to be OK—because they’ve been there, too.
Would you say your approach to parenting has evolved since leaving the White House and as your two girls have gone on to college? As they become independent, evolved women, what have they taught you?
I think as your kids get older, your parenting style naturally evolves. Of course, no longer living under a spotlight at the most famous address in the world makes a difference, too.
I miss my girls now that they are away from home, but I am so proud of them. There were plenty of times in the eight years we were at the White House when I wondered if my kids would be messed up. But when I look at them today and see how strong and powerful and wonderful they are, I am proud of the way they kindled their own light despite it all. Sasha is actually graduating college this year, and Malia is out there in the workforce already. They’re renting a place in L.A. together—let me tell you, as a mom, it means a lot to know they are by each other’s side. They really found a way to thrive, find themselves, and it’s really beautiful to see.
You dedicate a chapter of The Light We Carry to the concept of “being seen”—and there are few women who have been seen as much as you. At a time in your life when you’re understandably and purposely more private, how do you want the world to continue to see you? And how do you continue to control that narrative?
You know, I never really sought out or wanted the spotlight, but I understand that having it comes with responsibility. I hope when people look at me, they see someone who tried to be her authentic self and tell her story in a way that allows others to also share theirs. That’s what the book and podcast have been about for me—passing along my story and the lessons I’ve learned along the way so that others can reflect on it and share their own.
And one of the big things I’ve learned after all these years is that there’s not much I can do to control the narrative. People are going to think what they want to think. I just know as long as I am satisfied with how I am putting myself out there, that’s all that matters.
We have to ask one fashion question because your press looks for The Light We Carry were so impeccable. What has it been like to experiment with fashion and beauty now that you're in a freer space than when you were First Lady? What story are you aiming to tell through your clothes?
It has been so much fun experimenting with all of these new different looks. I have an incredible stylist—Meredith Koop—who helped me put together the outfits I wore on my tour. She helps me channel that energy that you’re alluding to.
As for the story I’m trying to tell with my clothes, this feels like a new era of self-discovery for me. These days, my fashion is about embracing who I am without feeling like I have anyone to answer to. It’s funny because now, at 58, I finally feel like I can be my truest self and explore and experiment with my hair and clothes. I’m glad people are enjoying it—I’m definitely going to keep having fun with it.
Between your professional career before entering the White House, your time as First Lady, and now being present in the years after that, has your perception of your personal legacy changed? Is it ever weird to think about? And is there anything you don’t want to be defined by in the years to come?
Oh, it’s definitely weird to think about. Because like I said, I’m just trying to be myself.
My understanding of my personal legacy has grown in a lot of ways. From the moment I pivoted from corporate law to a career of public service, my hope has been to do something that can make a real difference in people’s lives. At the White House, of course, the scale of what I could accomplish exploded—but I was still trying to use my time to lift up other people, whether that’s kids trying to be healthy, military families, or high schoolers working to get to and through college.
Since I’ve left the White House, the way I think about change hasn’t really changed much. It might be slightly less rooted in policy since I’m no longer First Lady. But I still believe that I can use my voice—and my time—to connect with and lift up other people.
So when people look at me and Barack, I want them to see two people who tried their hardest to live up to the responsibilities of the highest office in the land; and then when they look at our time after the White House, I hope they see two people who did the best they could to empower others who were interested in making a difference. I also hope they see the way we continue to work on ourselves and seek out new avenues to create change. Because Barack and I are not done—and we don't want our legacy to be about one cause or one issue. I want people to know that they can be dynamic; that they don’t have to be defined in just one way; and that all of us can benefit from stepping outside the box and allowing ourselves to learn and experiment and explore—even a former First Lady.
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