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Michelle Obama: An appreciation

Michelle Obama: Trailblazer
Michelle Obama: Trailblazer 02:43

What sort of legacy is First Lady Michelle Obama leaving behind? Thoughts on that now from Robin Givhan of the Washington Post:

Among many things, Michelle Obama was good for fashion. She was adventurous in her choices and willing to embrace Hollywood glamour, not just the staid traditions of the First Lady. 

Fashion helped her tell a complex story about the historical nature of her role, the initiatives she championed, and the legacy she would leave behind.

First lady Michelle Obama looks at a display of her inaugural gown, jewelry and shoes at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., March 9, 2010. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Mrs. Obama entered the White House bearing the weight of expectation and suspicion. She was the presidential spouse who critics called “aggrieved.” She was the Harvard lawyer from whom feminists expected groundbreaking achievements. And she was an accomplished black woman whose visibility might allow others like her to, at long last, be seen.

Over eight years, Mrs. Obama made some -- but not all -- of her opinions known with considered remarks as well as judicious silence. She used her bully pulpit to fight childhood obesity, and her signature style -- those sleeveless dresses -- served as a motivation for many woman who saw beauty, health, femininity and power in her sculpted arms.

First Lady Michelle Obama speaks with students as she joins KaBOOM!, Knight Foundation, and members of Congress on the Congressional Day of Service during an event to build a new playground at Imagine Southeast Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., June 15, 2011. JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Supporting military families was another priority. She reminded Americans that veterans aren’t just fallen heroes; they are regular folks whose daily struggles are the same as ours.

Over time, Mrs. Obama evolved from White House star into a pop culture celebrity. This was not coincidence or happenstance. Our society often puts more stock in the words of celebrities than those of politicians. Celebrities, after all, have friends, followers and fans. They are able to create intimate bonds with strangers while deftly controlling their image. And her image has been subject to few nicks or scratches along the way.

So how do you measure whether Mrs. Obama’s tenure has been successful?

Some 65% of Americans view her favorably. There’s evidence that childhood obesity is, if not declining, hitting a plateau. And fashion designers can point to discrete upticks in sales thanks to her. Many people were inspired. And she told her audience, “Being your First Lady has been the greatest honor of my life and I hope I made you proud.”

But the most memorable headline about Michelle Obama is both profound and a little bit disheartening: An African-American woman did this, she did it with dignity and heart, and for many people that came as an enormous surprise.

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