'You Do You' and Other Lessons from Meryl Streep and Michelle Obama's Sitdown

"What you do in your family and in your community is as powerful as what Meryl does on the screen and what I do around the world," the First Lady says in an inspiring new interview

Photo: David Slijper/MORE Magazine

Can we just get this picture on the new $10 bill?

Meryl Streep visited the White House for an intimate chat with Michelle Obama, and yes, the interaction between these two powerful women is every bit as amazing as you dare dream.

In their momentous sitdown for the July/August issue of MORE magazine (which Obama is guest editing), the Oscar winner and the First Lady talked about their mentors growing up; raising their daughters to become strong women; the legacies they want to leave behind – and somehow, Sting. Here’s what we learned from the interview.

1. Behind every great woman is another great woman.
Streep: “My mentor was my mother [Mary Streep]. [She] walked into a room and lit it up, and people were sad when she left. That, to me, is what really matters: who you touch and how. She was a mentor because she said to me, ‘Meryl, you’re capable. You’re so great.’ ”

“I’m not like my mother, so that’s why her legacy sustains me. I’m much more of an introvert … When I have to be in the spotlight, I think to myself, ‘Mary could do it.’ It’s a good thing, to imagine yourself doing something you think you can’t. I do that every day, because basically, if I had it my way, I’d just stay home and think about what I’m having for supper.”

Obama: “It’s so interesting, because what you say about your mom is a mirror image of what I think about mine. If I point to anything that makes me who I am, it’s that I have a whole lot of common sense. I’ve got a good mind and a good ability to read people and situations. A lot of that is because that’s who my mother is.”

2. Never tell Streep she’s played “so many strong women.”
Streep: “People will say to me, ‘You’ve played so many strong women’ and I’ll say, ‘Have you ever said to a man, ‘You’ve played so many strong men?’ No! Because the expectation is [men] are varied. Why can’t we have that expectation about women? My girls [Mamie, 32; Grace, 29; and Louisa, 24] came into the world strong – which was terrifying.”

3. Education is the “coolest.”
Obama: [The biggest obstacle facing girls today is] “education, education, education. There are too many kids who think high school is a pit stop to fame and fortune. I want girls in this country to think education is the coolest, most important thing they could ever do in their lives.”

4. Women may be perceived as having achieved equality to men – “but we’re still not there yet.”
Streep: “There’s another specific challenge facing women and girls right now: We’re viewed as equals – but we’re still not there yet. For the first time, we have the expectation that we can have a broad array of choices, that we could lead in almost any part of society. And yet we face resistance. We see that here at home in our government – in the House and the Senate. We see that in our boardrooms. We see that in Hollywood. The challenge for our girls, I think, is dealing with that resistance. How can we lift and defuse it, how do we make it so our equality is not so threatening? Our girls are going to have to contend with that. I content with it right now in every realm I operate in.”

“Did you hear Patricia Arquette’s Oscar speech [about pay inequality between men and women]? She wasn’t talking off the top of her head. It’s absolutely true.”

RELATED VIDEO: Meryl Streep Reacts to Patricia Arquette’s Call for Women’s Equality.

5. The simplest gesture can make a major impact.
Obama: “I want to feel like the things I did made a difference. That’s one of the reasons I spend time [greeting people] on rope lines, because I’m always thinking, ‘Maybe this interaction, particularly if I’m meeting kids, will change someone’s life. Maybe if I stay one second longer and ask this little girl what she wants to be, if I tell her that I’m proud of her, if I give her a hug, maybe that one moment will make her go off and be great.’ That’s how I think about the work I do [as First Lady]. It’s a rare spotlight. I want to make sure I don’t waste it.”

Streep: “What you’re saying reminded me of something Sting once told me. Look at me dropping names! He told me when he was a little bitty boy living in the part of working-class England where they built ships, Queen Elizabeth came to town for the Queen’s jubilee. He had been excited for weeks about her visit; his family had a picture of the Queen in their house. He stood with his mum in the crowd, and as the Queen passed by in an open car doing the royal wave, she stopped waving for an instant and looked directly into his eyes. He said it was at that moment that he thought, ‘Someday I want to be in a car like that’ It’s interesting, that a little encounter like that could have such a big impact.”

6. You do you.
Obama: “Be passionate about something and lean to that strength. I think that’s what I’ve done. And I see that in women like Meryl. As Meryl says, it’s those little conversations that you have with your kids, it’s the small gestures, that can make the greatest impact. What you do in your family and in your community is as powerful as what Meryl does on the screen and what I do around the world. It’s like my kids say: ‘You do you.’ That’s where great things can happen.”

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