Michelle Obama jokes: White House ‘a really nice prison’

Speaking at a summit of the wives of African leaders in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday, Michelle Obama and Laura Bush commiserated on the constrictions of being first lady and how hard it is to talk about substantive issues when people are focused on your hairstyle.

"There are prison-like elements, but it's a really nice prison," Michelle Obama said. "You can't complain. There are confining elements."

At one point Obama observed that she and other first ladies do their best to bring the public's attention to meaningful topics “while people are sort of sorting through our shoes and our hair, whether we cut it or not ...” at which point Bush interrupted, saying, “Whether we have bangs."

The audience responded with laughter.

Obama told the audience that she was taken aback by all the press coverage of her decision to adopt bangs

"Who would have thought? I didn’t call that," she said. “But,” she added, “we take our bangs and we stand in front of important things that the world needs to see. And eventually people stop looking at the bangs and they start looking at what we’re standing in front of.”

“We hope,” Bush interjected.

“They do, and that’s the power of our roles," Obama responded.

The two women, speaking a panel moderated by journalist Cokie Roberts, urged the spouses of African leaders to trumpet the issues they think the continent's citizens need to hear. Obama and Bush engaged in friendly banter throughout the event, with the first lady saying at one point she agreed to serve on a panel with Laura Bush because “I like this woman” and it helps to discuss their common experience.

“It’s sort of a club, a sorority, I guess,” Bush explained.

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.
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