The former First Lady talked openly about the highs and lows of dealing with her own body image — along with the challenges faced by her now college-aged daughters — while sitting down with Oprah Winfrey at the Brooklyn stop of the Oprah’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus tour.
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.”
That idea — that women should try to fight their age — is one that Obama said she sees affecting Malia, 21, now a junior at Harvard University and and Sasha, 18, a freshman at the University of Michigan.
“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.”
Still, she admitted it wasn’t always easy to accept her own body, especially as a public figure who faced constant criticism over her looks.
“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.”
Obama said that it takes work to love and accept your body, and it’s something that she’s learned how to do over time. Now she appreciates that her body is “all mine, and it’s a healthy body that works, every day.”
“I try hard not to judge it,” she said. “And it’s different. You have to get to know your body, because what this body is at 56 — I can’t do the things I did when I was 36. It’s not the same body. We are living things. We’re not machines. You know, we run out of gas. We need fuel. We need sunshine and light. We need to take care of ourselves and when you don’t, as you get older, just like any living thing it begins to fail on you. And for me, I’m trying to figure out, what is that balance that I need to make sure that this body, that God gave me, that I’m taking care of it the best that I can and that it will serve me well as I get older.”
It’s a particularly personal topic for Obama, who detailed her father’s death at 55 from multiple sclerosis in her bestselling memoir Becoming.
“As a child growing up with a father with a disability who could not walk, my father would’ve given anything to have either one of my legs,” she said. “For me to judge that, and not to just embrace that and be happy that I’m alive, moving, able to move. I have to tell myself, appreciate what God gave you and take care of that.”
Oprah’s full interview with Michelle Obama will air on Wednesday, February 12 (8 PM ET/ 7 PM CT) as part of WW’s Wellness Wednesday Series on Oprah’s Facebook Channel, and the WW Now Facebook Channel, with highlights on Instagram.