“I love your wife.”
I’ve had one chance to say one thing to the president of these whole United States and that's what I said? He was Senator Barack Obama at the time, a presidential hopeful. It was summer 2007 and the hope of Black, young and progressive America was so fresh and thick on him he left some in my palm after I shook his hand, the dew of hope in my grip.
“Well, I do too” he said, then shot me that sly spectacular smile.
We snapped a photo and that was last I saw of that Illinois senator.
That one thing I said to the President, was the truth. I did love his wife.
I loved what she symbolized, I loved her station, her stature, her style, her skin, and I loved her big, smart smile.
I remember like it was today, the moment I learned I loved her.
A small cadre of significant sisters had an event: “Women of Harlem present Michelle Obama.” It was early Spring and the uptown air held a bit of a chilly sting, so her supple kid leather gloves were so appropriate, so old school chic and new school gangster. I noticed her details. I watched as she entered the room of leading women most of whom she had never met, as if we were her besties and this was her birthday tea. She wore a light wool topcoat with a perfectly modern sheath dress beneath. She was taller than I had imagined—actually, I’d never really imagined her. I dared not imagine a First Lady like this: warm, engaging, funny and Black from a distance (a description I boosted from Melissa Harris Perry, who borrowed it from her BFF Professor Blair L.M. Kelley). I was pleased she wasn’t delicate; she had a substantial physical presence that had to be reckoned with. Nope, she was “not his little wife.” She glided her way around the room with purpose, no wasted moves. When it came time to give her campaign pep talk she got loose, giving us real talk. Though I can’t quote anything she said that day, I’ll never forget how she made me feel: relevant. She was not yet the First Lady, not restrained by the enormity and complexity of what the Obama White House would become. There were no big cameras, no official press; she was not squeezed under the global media microscope. She brought Michelle, the Black girl from Chicago to the party— sarcastic but not mean spirited, possessing a couture type swag that let’s you know she could be a boss without being bougie.
This was the day I committed to the Obama campaign; prior to, I was leaning far into Camp Hillary. I decided the man who would choose this woman as his partner might be able to be change agent the world so desperately needed America to be.
Oh yes, I love her smarts, her swag, her smile, her style, but what I truly love about Michelle Obama is her ability to help us heal. On her first Vogue Magazine cover in March 2009 (major that it was March—that's the spring fashion edition), the cover line read “Michelle Obama: The First Lady The World’s Been Waiting For.” I don’t know about the whole world, but as a Black woman in media and as an "Image Activist," Michelle Obama is what I, what we critically needed to move forward. We needed some one to point to, to say "See? We are beautiful, bold, educated, independent, loving and well loved. We are here, Black Women are here and we will not disappear, be ignored or be the objects of the Black girl pity pathology."
Michelle Obama was the New American Woman, the New American beauty. The world needed another kind of star to gaze upon. She gives women and girls a daily reprieve from the narrow and damaging images of beauty, body acceptance and behavior, and makes being a woman of dignity cool. Through her example, wild intellectual success looks attainable. She makes ample hips, full lips and rich brown skin an asset, not a fetish. Simply put, this First Lady makes us proud to be an American woman in all its glorious complexity.
And today, on her 50th birthday, after 5 years of her presence busting up tired notions of racism and sexism, she presents the possibility to disrupt another “ism”- ageism. The image of Michelle Obama at 50 is blooming with energy, sexiness and “nextness." She gives the impression that her fiercest moves are still ahead. Her girls, Malia and Sasha, are growing with the quickness like stunning sunflowers and her husband is in his last term, so that Mom-In-Chief position will soon be in transition. Her life after 50 looks promising, exciting even.
Fifty is typically the decade when many women begin the sad slide into the physical fade and decay. The time they’re supposed to hide and lie because much of the world seems to want them to just hush up. Women at 50 remind the world that people age. Women at 50 are a nuisance to the tense notions of beauty, which have only recently recognized they make it to 40. Woman at 50 are supposed to forget they were ever hot. Women at 50 make insecure 50-year-old men more insecure by association. Women at 50 are often isolated, quarantined from the youthful supple ones as if you could catch crows feet, love handles or under arm wings. Yet, Michelle Obamas’ 50-year-old arms are a metaphor, proof women can remain strong, significant, chic and sexual if we so choose.
I, too, was born in 1964 and will step into the dangerous decade in a few months and I, too, choose not to fade or apologize for surviving my youth with style. My plan is to stay fresh to death ‘till the day I rest, jack.
The most revolutionary thing Michelle Obama has ever said, in the midst of her many early criticisms was; “I own my own happiness.”
So Happy 50th damn birthday, Madame First Lady. You earned it and yes, you own it.
Michaela angela Davis is a CNN contributor and writer. On Feb. 9th, she ‘ll embark on her journey into the dangerous decade #50DaysTo50 on firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter/IG: @MichaelaangelaD