In honor of Black History Month, we are spending the month celebrating the fabulous black women who are making a difference in our nation and around the world. Today, we share with you our profile (first published here) of the First Lady of the United States, Mrs. Michelle Obama, and her commitment women’s work. We were moved by your comments to Emily Bernard’s brilliant article. You told us how much you admired Mrs. Obama not just for the grace under pressure she has exhibited these past eight years, but for the ways in which she has reinvented and re-imagined the role of First Lady of the United States. —Eds.

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8505341403_f0faa20f8d_zLive from the Diplomatic Room of the White House, on Feb. 24, 2013, First Lady Michelle Obama announces that the Best Picture Oscar would go to “Argo.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Earlier this year, Oscar viewers were shocked when Michelle Obama appeared via satellite to announce the winner in the Best Picture category. In a post-Oscars interview, Ben Affleck, director of Best Picture winner Argo, confessed that he had wondered if Mrs. Obama’s appearance was a hallucination. Maybe part of Affleck’s confusion had to do with the fact that there were so few visible brown bodies at the Oscars this year, in general.

1363263724_michelle-obama-vogue-cover-467But Michelle Obama’s ubiquity is not imaginary. It is really she: at the Oscars, dancing and racing with Jimmy Fallon, on the cover of April’s Vogue, and, very recently, gushing over Harrison Ford during a visit he paid to the White House. On the heels of these appearances, commentators on both ends of the political spectrum have wondered at the wisdom of so much exposure. At the same time, the public appetite for Mrs. Obama has gone unabated since 2008. Some say it has actually increased; Forbes lists her as No. 7 on its roll of the world’s most influential women.

Americans admire and adore Michelle Obama; we delight in her seeming authenticity and accessibility. The creators of the blog “Mrs. O” mull over the fashion choices of the first lady as if they were neighbors peering over a fence. Like so many other people, I myself enjoy imagining that I somehow know the “real” Michelle Obama, particularly after I published, with Deborah Willis, Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs in 2009. The more photographs of Mrs. Obama that we examined, the more available to her public she appeared to be. Today, it seems as if Mrs. Obama is everywhere, even our living rooms.

51eXaV6NzNL._SX225_Michelle Obama faces criticism that she is overexposed in a world where everyone is overexposed. Our public (and some we thought were private) deeds and misdeeds are available for view at any time; the line between past and present seems no longer to exist. Mrs. Obama’s college thesis, for example, nearly 30 years old, is available online. A simple Internet search pulls up childhood photos of Mrs. Obama and wedding photographs of the first couple, the kind of artifacts that used to be reserved for the enjoyment of family and friends. As Mrs. Obama has herself said, “Everybody’s kitchen-table conversation is now accessible to everybody else.” Perhaps it’s not the quantity of coverage that some people find objectionable, it’s the quality. Read More »

Next Page: Michelle Obama and the Joining Forces Initiative

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