10 Surprising Discoveries About Michelle Obama from Her New Biography

The first lady once dated the adopted son of Patti LaBelle

Photo: Nicholas Kamm/Getty

Michelle Obama may be our best-dressed FLOTUS yet, but did you know she once was denied the “Best Camper” award because she swore too much?

That’s just one of the surprising discoveries from biographer Peter Slevin’s new book about our current First Lady, Michelle Obama: A Life, out April 7.

We got an early peek at the book, which follows Michelle from her working-class beginnings all the way to the White House with husband President Barack Obama. Here are 10 things you may not have known about Mrs. Obama:

1. During law school, she once dated the son of Patti LaBelle
“At Harvard,” writes Slevin, “one beau was law student Stanley Stocker-Edwards, the adopted son of singer Patti LaBelle. Nothing lasted. [Michelle] said later, ‘My family swore I would never find a man that would put up with me.’ ”

2. She handled marketing for Coors beer and Barney the dinosaur
“Michelle’s assignments at Sidley [law firm in Chicago] ranged from the AT&T account to a series of marketing matters for Coors beer and Barney, the purple dinosaur on public television.

“One colleague said the work could be thankless and, frankly, dull – for example, reading storyboards to determine whether a beer advertisement conformed to television industry rules and standards. ‘I knew Michelle was frustrated,’ said John Levi, a senior partner who remained a friend.”

3. At 10, she was denied the ”best camper” award because of her salty tongue
“At a city-run camp [on the shores of Lake Michigan], 10-year-old Michelle missed out on the best camper award because of her salty tongue. ‘I was going through my cursing stage,’ she said. ‘I didn’t realize until my camp counselor at the end came up and said, “You know, you would have been best camper in your age group, but you curse so much.” ‘ The news floored her. ‘And I thought I was being cool.’ ”

4. Her grandmother once told a co-worker that Michelle was hardheaded and needed a spanking from time to time
“On her way to becoming grandmother in residence at the White House, Marian [Robinson] would report that Michelle’s younger daughter, Sasha, then age 7, reminded her of Michelle at the same age. ‘Just like Sash. She always had her own opinions about things and she didn’t hesitate to say so, because we allowed it.’ LaVaughn Robinson, Michelle’s paternal grandmother, told a co-worker that Michelle was ‘hardheaded’ and needed a spanking from time to time, but that she and Craig were good kids.”

5. Her mother was wary of Barack’s biracial heritage
“That didn’t concern me as much as had he been completely white,” Slevin quotes Marian Robinson as saying. “And I guess that I worry about races mixing because of the difficulty, not so much for prejudice or anything. It’s just very hard.”

6. She left a $120,000 job as a law firm associate when she moved to City Hall for public service
“Although Michelle had concluded that finances would not be the deciding factor in her professional choices, the quest for fulfillment was going to cost her. Leaving Sidley for City Hall meant cutting her salary roughly in half, to $60,000 a year, when she still had significant student loan debt. ‘It just seemed incredible at the time that she would leave,’ Angela Kennedy, her Princeton friend, said.”

7. Barack and Michelle lived upstairs from her mom before they got engaged
“Back in Chicago after graduation [from Harvard Law], Barack lived with Michelle on the top floor of the Euclid Avenue house, upstairs from Marian Robinson, as he studied for the Illinois bar exam,” writes Slevin.

8. Michelle had to nag him to marry her
“One night, at a fine dinner for two, ostensibly to celebrate his efforts on the Illinois bar exam, Michelle against raised the question of marriage and began haranguing him for his refusal to commit. Dessert came. On Michelle’s plate was a box containing an engagement ring. She was floored, and thrilled. Barack laughed, ‘That kind of shuts you up, doesn’t it?’ ”

9. As a teen, she splurged on a Coach handbag, much to the consternation of her mother
“From the time she was young, Michelle had watched her pennies even as she made calculated indulgences. One was a Coach handbag she bought with her babysitting money. Marian gasped when Michelle informed her of the cost, telling her daughter that she would never spend such a crazy amount on a purse. Right, Michelle answered, but you’ll go through ten handbags in the time I have this one.”

10. Michelle worried about Barack getting assassinated on the campaign trail
“While there would be ‘great sympathy and outpouring if something were to happen, I don’t want to be in a position one day where I am vulnerable with my children,’ she told writer David Mendell. ‘I need to be in a position for my kids where, if they lose their father, they don’t lose everything.’ ”

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