WASHINGTON — She has perfected a mean forehand, is working on her yoga poses, dishes with girlfriends over Brussels sprouts and dirty martinis (one olive) at the Mediterranean hot spot Zaytinya, pushes her two daughters to play two sports — one of her choosing and one of theirs — and said this week that the wonders of modern dermatology, like Botox, were in the realm of possibility for her.
Michelle Obama is in many ways the embodiment of the contemporary, urban, well-heeled middle-aged American woman. She likes to take “me time,” as she did during an extra vacation week this month without family in Hawaii, setting off a tabloid furor over her marriage. She frets that her older daughter, Malia, 15, hangs out with the boys a grade above her. She gardens, although unlike the rest of us, she has significant weeding help.
She toys with false eyelashes.
On Saturday night, Obama will celebrate her 50th birthday — a day late — with dancing and sweets at the White House. The invite to “Snacks & Sips & Dancing & Dessert,” obtained by the Chicago Tribune, says guests have been told to wear comfortable shoes, practice their dance moves and eat before arriving. Guests will sip fine American wines, consume delicate macaroons and be entertained; the rumor is by Beyoncé.
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The White House wouldn’t divulge details, but it tweeted a picture this week of the first lady and the president cutting the rug in the White House, along with the words “Let’s dance.”
Sometimes she moves so discreetly that a customer at a local Target store, not recognizing her, asked the first lady to reach for some highly perched toilet paper. At other times Obama is on plain view around town as a parent on the sidelines of the soccer games of her daughter Sasha, 12.
For all of her complaints about the scrutiny and isolation that comes with living in the White House, Obama has created a vibrant life in Washington and a policy agenda that at times dovetails with her husband’s, particularly on education.
But she maintains a powerful zone of privacy, aided by discreet friends and a controlling East Wing. Accounts of her life are culled from interviews with staff members, friends and parents of her daughters’ schoolmates. The accounts also draw on the first lady’s public speeches and comments, including a recent interview with People magazine.
While Obama has been careful not to define herself or her role strictly through race, she has paid steadfast attention to her role as a model and mentor to minority children from poor backgrounds like her own, and has built much of her policy agenda around them.
“She is more self-determinative than prior first ladies, because she very rarely allows herself to be drawn into distracting conversations,” said Carl Anthony, a historian of first ladies. In addition, he said: “She speaks to a demographic pretty much ignored by the White House by all first ladies except for Eleanor Roosevelt.”
The Obamas and their daughters usually eat together as a family at the White House, but the president and first lady also give small dinner parties at home. A typical menu is grilled shrimp with tomatoes and peppers, followed by lean filet of steak (the first lady’s favorite) with potatoes and a selection of pies for dessert. Guests should not expect bread.
Obama’s group frequently includes her closest friend, Sharon Malone, an obstetrician and wife of the attorney general, Eric Holder.
In hairstyle news, the bangs of 2013 are gone, replaced by a traditional first lady wave. As Obama told the TV chef Rachael Ray last year: “This is my midlife crisis, the bangs. I couldn’t get a sports car. They won’t let me bungee jump. So instead, I cut my bangs.”