TIME society

Even Michelle Obama Was Awkward and Self-Conscious in Middle School

First Lady Michelle Obama Hosts Fashion Education Workshop At The White House
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama speaks during a session of a Fashion Education Workshop in the East Room of the White House Alex Wong—Getty Images

Obama admits to, "angsting about some offhand comment someone made to me in the lunchroom."

No one is immune to the awkward discomfort that is middle school. And that includes First Lady Michelle Obama, also known as the Beyoncé BFF who probably should have won “Best Arms of the Class of 1981″ in high school.

FLOTUS wrote an essay to her younger self in this week’s People that discusses her angst-ridden younger years:

If I could give my younger self just one piece of advice, it would be this: Stop being so afraid! That’s really what strikes me when I look back – the sheer amount of time I spent tangled up in fears and doubts that were entirely of my own creation. I was afraid of not knowing the answer in class and looking stupid, or worried about what some boy thought of me, or wondering whether the other girls liked my clothes or my hair, or angsting about some offhand comment someone made to me in the lunchroom.

I would love to go back in time and tell my younger self, “Michelle, these middle and high school years are just a tiny blip in your life, and all the slights and embarrassments and heartaches, all those times you got that one question wrong on that test – none of that is important in the scheme of things.”

Even though Obama still faces high school-esque antics — including news commentators discussing her weight — she has certainly risen above the lunchroom chatter.

TIME fashion

Spanx Get a Shout Out From the First Lady

Michelle Obama praised the popular undergarment at a fashion education event at the White House on Wednesday

The First Lady gave a major nod to the company that’s become a staple in women’s wardrobes: Spanx, the makers of stretchy undergarments that have been making women look smoother and slimmer for a decade now.

Lucky Magazine Editor-in-Chief Eva Chen was among many fashion-forward guests at the White House on Wednesday for a Fashion Education Workshop to connect students with professionals in the field. Vogue magazine Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, J. Crew Creative Director Jenna Lyons, and fashion designer Zac Posen were also among the afternoon’s guests. During a speech in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday, the First Lady—whose fashionable flair has hardly gone unnoticed since she moved into 1600 Pennsylvania—spoke on the importance of hard work when striving to make it in any field, particularly fashion.

TIME White House

Meet the New Boss of the President’s Protectors

From routine business on Capitol Hill to planning President Barack Obama's surprise trip to Baghdad, go behind the scenes with Joe Clancy, the new interim director of the Secret Service

Joe Clancy, the newly appointed interim director of the U.S. Secret Service, has protected three Presidents in his career, but now faces his toughest challenge yet: restoring the public’s—and the commander in chief’s—trust in the agency responsible with his life.

Even before Secret Service Director Julia Pierson submitted her resignation Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had reached out to Clancy, 58, most recently the director of corporate security at telecom-giant Comcast, about taking the job. He retired from the Secret Service in 2011 as head of the Presidential Protective Division (PDD), the corps of presidential bodyguards responsible for the president’s security around the clock.

After several high-profile security incidents, Clancy will be under intense pressure to keep the agency out of the news, as multiple congressional and Department of Homeland Security probes examine where the agency went wrong and where it must go from here. Obama is not expected to select a permanent replacement for Pierson until those reviews are completed later this year.

Clancy will be a familiar face to President Barack Obama and his family, having led the presidential detail during his first years in office.

TIME Food & Drink

Michelle Obama Thinks Pencils Are a Crummy Halloween Gift

First Lady Michelle Obama Hosts Poetry Reading In White House Blue Room
First lady Michelle Obama speaks during the Presidents Committee on the Arts and the Humanities poetry reading in the Blue Room at the White House, September 18, 2014 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

“Are they sharpened so that they can stab you with them?” the First Lady asked the ABC host who says she hands them out to kids

The First Lady visited The Chew talk show on ABC on Friday to talk about school lunch, healthy snacking, and of course, Halloween treats. ’Tis the season, after all. But given her zeal for nutrition, we might have guessed that the First Lady would pass out apples on October 31. Not so: she says they give out White House cookies instead.

When co-host Carla Hall said she gives kids pencils in lieu of a treat, Mrs. Obama reacted with shock and disgust. “Really Carla?” she asked. “Are they sharpened so that they can stab you with them?”

Three school cafeteria directors presented their best lunches, judged by the hosts of the show. The winner was a spaghetti with meat sauce, with vegetables like squash and carrots “hidden” in a puree. A video spot also featured a farm, Amber Waves in Amagansett, NY, that grows many of the ingredients for pizza. Kids can visit, pick their own peppers and tomatoes, and bake themselves an individual whole-wheat pie. These kinds of projects, said Mrs. Obama and the hosts of The Chew, are the kind of thing that get kids involved in a conversation about food and health, rather than making them think of nutrition as a chore.

FLOTUS said that her own passion for nutrition came after realizing the “mistakes [she] made as a working mom,” being busy and ordering out too much. The family’s motto is now “finish your vegetables,” and she noted that she has trained Sasha and Malia to only indulge in desserts on the weekend.

“The president isn’t a big sweets eater,” she said. “I love it, but I’m always watching my weight, so that’s the first thing I pass on.” Hopefully all this conscientious eating won’t put the White House pastry chef out of business anytime soon.

TIME fashion

From Eleanor to Michelle: The Inside Scoop on First Lady Fashion

Tim Gunn and other fashion experts weigh in on First Ladies from Dolley Madison to Michelle Obama

It’s hard to imagine a job in which the clothes you wear to work are more closely scrutinized than that of the First Lady of the United States. Not even the President is so meticulously judged. And in any event, choosing between a dark suit or a tan suit (gasp!) doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for error.

The First Lady’s fashion choices are — and always have been — imbued with political power and laden with controversy, as I learned the National Archives’ event “Style and Influence: First Ladies’ Fashions,” a raucous panel discussion—not an oxymoron, turns out—moderated by Project Runway’s Tim Gunn. Fashionistas present included Valerie Steele, museum curator at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Lisa Kathleen Graddy, curator at the Smithsonian’s First Ladies Collection and designer Tracy Reese.

Admirers have praised Michelle Obama’s elegance — Gunn called her “divine” — while her critics have lambasted her informality (remember Shortsgate?). But striking the delicate balance between the need of the First Lady to meet high fashion standards while appealing to America’s populist inclinations has always preoccupied the women who’ve held the office.

Dolley Madison (in the White House 1809 to 1817) was derided for being too flashy for American tastes, even though her most well-known dress, a red, high-waisted, no-corset, “empire style” gown, evokes the republican values of ancient Rome. Dolley’s famous red dress is rumored to have been made out of White House curtains she rescued from British arsonists during the War of 1812 — a legend that is, tragically, almost certainly just that.

By the latter half of the century, Dolley’s sleek gowns were old news and American men were all about that bass, no treble. That fuller look was reflected in the wardrobe of the Harriet Lane, the niece of lifelong bachelor President James Buchanan and the first person to be called “First Lady” by the press (they simply didn’t know what else to call her).

According to one writer in the 1880s, “No man would stay long with a woman whose skinny buttocks he could hold in the palm of one hand,” said FIT’s Valerie Steele. And as Tracy Reese noted, we may have come full circle on the big-bottomed style of the era. “Sounds like Nicki Minaj,” she said.

Through the end of the turn of the century, the Roaring Twenties and into the Depression, some First Ladies wore the fashions of their era better than others. Edith Wilson, wife to President Woodrow Wilson, liked to do her own alterations to her clothes with mixed success—Gunn guessed she’d be the first jettisoned from Project Runway. And the image of Eleanor Roosevelt as intrepid if somewhat unfashionable is not altogether true. The Smithsonian’s Lisa Graddy told of a dress that looks conservative on a mannequin but that Mrs. Roosevelt wore with the sleeves removed and unclasped, giving the gown a “nice, draped, low back.”

“She was a bit of a minx,” added Gunn.

The First Lady’s fashion decisions have always had political impact but never more so than in the era of mass visual media, beginning roughly with Jackie Kennedy’s gilded tenure. Jackie’s famously expensive, quasi-aristocratic taste in clothes was such that GOP politicos deliberately tailored the styles of the next Republican woman to inhabit the White House, Pat Nixon, to strike an everywoman note meant to appeal to the supposedly average Americans in President Nixon’s “silent majority.”

Then in the 1980’s, Valerie Steele from FIT notes that Nancy Reagan “almost single handedly, transformed red from the color of Communist revolution to the color of Republicans.” Not a bad scalp for the better half of Mr. “tear down that wall.”

Not all First Ladies are particularly interested in fashion. Hillary Clinton was surprised by the amount of attention her clothes attracted, Steele said. And Laura Bush was largely uninterested in the kind of high-concept fashion thinking that preoccupied someone like Nancy Reagan, who, we’re told, meticulously labeled every dress with the last occasion on which it was worn.

The fashion pendulum has swung back again with Michelle Obama, who, notwithstanding her taste for affordable middle-brow threads (she’s a J. Crew fan), seems to have a personal stake in the statements she makes with her formal wear. Tracy Reese designed the dress Obama wore to the 2012 Democratic National Convention, a dress that was delivered with sleeves attached, Reese said. Obama, who has a well-known fondness for going sleeveless, personally had the sleeves removed.

TIME Opinion

Fox News Contributor Can’t Stop Telling Michelle Obama to Lose Weight

Oh, and he's a psychiatrist

Regular Fox News contributor, Dr. Keith Ablow, a board-certified psychiatrist, took the metaphorical cake Tuesday when he assured the hosts of Outnumbered they need not heed Michelle Obama’s suggestions to pack kale and blueberries in their kids’ lunch boxes. No, not because ketchup is produce. Because of the even more ludicrous argument that FLOTUS is out of shape.

“How well could she be eating? She needs to drop a few,” said Ablow, literally provoking an “OOOOOO” response from shocked FOX hosts.

Try as the women of FOX might to extricate themselves (“I am at a loss for words,” “Oh you did not just say that”), Ablow preserved: “Let’s be honest, there’s no french fries ever, that’s all kale and carrots? I don’t buy it…She’s up at night in the White House kitchen.”

And he’s still fighting the good fight, defending his initial claims to Politico on Wednesday, “It happens to be the case that the First Lady during her tenure has not been consistently a picture of fitness. That’s all, it is just a fact.”

It’s unclear as to whether Ablow spoke to Obama’s doctors about things like her resting heart rate, her blood pressure and cholesterol level, or if he was just doing an evaluation of her fitness and late-night eating habits from afar based how he thought her clothes fit. (The fit is impeccable, I might add).

But should he want to share any more “facts” about Mrs. Obama, here are some things he might want to consider beforehand:

-You can be skinny and unhealthy

-The occasional french fry does not negate a generally healthy diet

-Even if we lived in a hypothetical world in which Michelle Obama didn’t look like she could bench press Ablow, her body should have absolutely no bearing on her platform against childhood obesity. And it’s worrisome that a medical professional sees no problem making judgments about this, or any woman’s body in service of a political argument.

-Also, Michelle Obama is a fitness goddess. People even do specialized workouts specifically to emulate her body.

President Obama Makes Statement To The Press On Iraq
First lady Michelle Obama and U.S. President Barack Obama wave Win McNamee—Getty Images

Maybe Albus should stick with his side job of writing crime thrillers. One of which so happens to be titled Projection.

TIME politics

Michelle Obama Jokes That ‘Women Are Smarter Than Men,’ Men Don’t Get It

You can tell she's joking because she rolls her eyes and laughs

Michelle Obama jokingly said Wednesday that “women are smarter than men” during a conversation about girls’ education with former First Lady Laura Bush and journalist Cokie Roberts at the U.S-Africa’s Leader’s Summit Wednesday.

The comment comes around the 2:00 mark, when she and Bush are discussing how countries that oppress women are often countries that are struggling economically. “We can’t waste this spotlight,” Obama said, on the experience of being First Lady. “It is temporary, and life is short, and change is needed, and women are smarter than men.” You can tell she’s joking because of the eye roll, the eyebrow raise, and the fact that the audience laughed after she said it. “And the men can’t complain because you’re outnumbered today,” she continued.

There’s a moment after she says it where she’s probably thinking “oh crap, I’m going to hear about this later.”

And hear about it she did. Men of the internet did not seem to get that Obama was joking:

https://twitter.com/InGodIDoTrust/status/497051386572713984

Which might have just proved her point.

TIME White House

Michelle Obama’s Pro-Water (Soda Silent) Campaign Makes Waves

Michelle Obama
First lady Michelle Obama, a longtime supporter of healthier eating and physical fitness, is surrounded by children as she expands her push for America to drink more water, at a "Drink Up" event at the White House. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

“I’m confident that in the coming months and years we will see people across the country drinking more and more water."

First Lady Michelle Obama devoted Tuesday afternoon to telling Americans to drink less sugary soda, without actually saying anything bad about sugary soda.

It’s been nearly a year since the First Lady launched the “Drink Up” campaign, a subset of the signature effort to promote healthy choices for kids that focuses on water. But instead of attacking the sugary, carbonated drinks and juices that contribute to the widening waistlines of our nation’s kids, “Drink Up” attempted to flood the market with positive, pro-water messaging.

At an event in the White House State Dining Room, the first lady said those who have been involved in promoting “Drink Up”—from the American Beverage Association to the Obama’s Portuguese water dog Sunny —have succeeded in making water “cool.” “I’m confident that in the coming months and years we will see people across the country drinking more and more water,” Obama said.

Their efforts have been proof that when you market and promote healthy choices as fervently as junk food, “then kids actually get excited about these products, and families actually buy them and consume them,” Mrs. Obama added. Seven organizations, including Brita, Nalgene, Haws Corporation, and S’well bottle, recently joined the campaign to promote the consumption and accessibility of water. And so far, according to a study conducted by Nielsen Catalina Solutions on the impact of the “Drink Up” campaign, online ads have helped fuel a 3% lift in sales of bottled water, worth about $1 million.

It’s good news for a campaign that came out the gate to criticism from nearly all sides. Some argued Mrs. Obama’s messaging about the benefits of water, which she called a natural “energy drink,” was inflated. Others said she should be promoting drinking tap water over bottled for the sake of the environment. While many were critical of the fact that instead of vilifying soda companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi she partnered with them, which seemed contradictory given the direct link from sugary drinks to obesity.

“It’s less a public health campaign than a campaign to encourage drinking more water. To that end, we’re being completely positive,” Lawrence Soler, president and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America, said at the time of the campaign’s launch. “Only encouraging people to drink water; not being negative about other drinks. “

A year later, however, tensions have cooled. “It’s terrific that the First Lady is working to make water more available, more cool,” said Margot Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Increasing the appeal is one part of what needs to be done to reduce the consumption of other beverages.”

And meanwhile, First Lady Obama has gotten tougher on her efforts to promote healthier lifestyles. Though Tuesday was about fun and positivity—a group of local YMCA kids on the South Lawn even “surprised” the First Lady with a 60-by-40 foot water drop made out of 2,000 “Drink Up” branded reusable bottles—the anti-junk undertones didn’t go unnoticed. She even took time to mention the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s healthy school lunch standards she championed in 2010 and has been fighting since May to protect.

On Tuesday, the general message was, “don’t give up on our kids.”

“We need to keep working together within industries and across industries to help our kids lead healthier lives,” the First Lady said. ” And if we do all that, then I am confident — I continue to be confident that we can give our kids the bright, healthy futures they deserve.”

This story was updated to clarify that the survey on Drink Up was performed by Nielsen Catalina Solutions, a joint venture between The Nielsen Company and Catalina Marketing Corporation.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

There’s A lot of Junk Food at the School Nutrition Conference

This year's annual conference run by the School Nutrition Association is not without politics

The 68th Annual National Conference of the School Nutrition Association is finishing up today in Boston, and it’s not go on without controversy.

Here’s some backstory: When the Obama administration revamped the school lunch requirements, they received a lot of praise and counted among their champions the School Nutrition Association. But now, the group, which is a national organization of school nutrition professionals, is heading up a lobbying campaign to let schools opt out of the requirements saying they are too restrictive and costly. (You can read in detail what the group is pushing for here.)

Many experts in the school-nutrition world are surprised by the stance the SNA has taken and some of its members have resigned, voicing criticism of SNA for accepting sponsorship money from food companies.

At the same time, Congress is considering legislation to delay by one year some of the school-lunch regulations, as the New York Times reported earlier this month.

Given the ongoing debate about school nutrition, it shouldn’t be surprising that this year’s convention—which brings together 6,000 school nutrition professionals and industry members—has been mired in politics. As Politico reported: Sam Kass, the Executive Director of Let’s Move! was even turned down when he asked to speak at the conference this year.

Though the conference has long allowed food companies to be involved, their new position on the school lunch standards have some nutrition groups and experts skeptical. And that makes the presence of fast food and junk food at the event all the more surprising.

Here are some tweets from public health lawyer Michele Simon:

To be sure, there were certainly booths with healthy food–even a great vending machine idea like this one:

So while the conference highlighted ways to get kids to eat more healthy food, it’s hard to take seriously when Cheetos and pizza are so heavily marketed.

TIME

Michelle Obama: ‘Nothing Is Cooler Than Having a Good Education’

ESSENCE

Read Michelle Obama’s interview with ESSENCE.

First Lady Michelle Obama discusses her family life and the importance of education in a new interview with ESSENCE.

“The people we admire in our society today are athletes, singers, reality stars. You don’t see teachers an doctors and lawyers revered in the same way,” Obama tells the magazine. “So, naturally, kids gravitate to what they think is cool. But one of the things I’ve tried to tell my girls, and try to tell all the children I talk to, is that there is nothing cooler than having a good education. Education is going to open the doors to the opportunities that are going to give you the freedom later on in life to make really cool choices-like having a good job, being able to own a home, being able to take vacations and travel the world. That’s what being cool is.”

Obama also appears on the cover of ESSENCE, a fellow Time Inc. publication. The interview with the First Lady is accompanied by a special look at education in America. Obama is promoting a new initiative encouraging post-high school education called Reach Higher.

For more from the First Lady’s interview, visit ESSENCE.

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