First lady Michelle Obama took the stage in Argentina on Wednesday with Argentinian vice president Juliana Awada to talk to young girls about getting an education and becoming leaders—despite the obstacles that might face them along the way.
“[I’ve dealt with] teachers who didn’t think I was smart enough and would call on the boys instead of the girls, even though the girls had better grades,” she said in the speech, which is part of her “Let Girls Learn” initiative. “People who thought a girl shouldn’t have ambition—and they would ask my brother what career he planned to have but would ask me what kind of man I wanted to marry.”
She has even been catcalled. “As I got older, I found that men would whistle or make comments about how I looked as I walked down the street, as if my body were their property, as if I were an object to be commented on instead of a full human being with thoughts and feelings of my own. I began to realize that the hopes I had for myself were in conflict with the messages I was receiving from people around me. Messages that said that, as a girl, my voice was somehow less important. That how my body looked was more important than how my mind worked. That being strong and powerful and outspoken just wasn’t appropriate or attractive for a girl.”
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Obama says she wasn’t always impervious to this type of messaging—and that it made her doubt herself for years.
“I started to question myself: Was I too loud? Too much? Was I too bossy? Was I dreaming too big? And for years, I would lie awake at night and those doubts would eat away at my heart. But eventually, I just got tired of always worrying about what everyone else thought of me. So I decided not to listen to the voices of those who doubted or dismissed me. Instead, I decided to listen to my own voice and to rely on the support of the people in my life who believed in my ability to achieve my own dreams.”
Watch the first lady’s moving speech in its entirety: