In Michelle Obama, Women See Their Best Selves Reflected

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Women in the D.C. area share their thoughts on the soon-to-be first lady, Michelle Obama. Video by DeNeen Brown/The Washington Post, Edited by washingtonpost.com

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By DeNeen L. Brown and Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 21, 2008

Michelle Obama emerged, long and lean, from a black limousine that pulled up at the White House the other day. She stood in a bold red dress that followed her lines. She smoothed her hair and moved between her man -- the president-elect -- and the first lady. Tall in shiny red pumps, Michelle seemed to tower over them all.

As she stood there, many black women on this side of the White House gate saw something else in Michelle Obama that sunny afternoon: bits and pieces of themselves.

They saw their family in hers, or the family they dreamed of having. Saw a woman whose husband seemed to adore her, giving her hugs and pecks on the lips as if the whole world were not watching.

Women watched Michelle Obama until she disappeared into the White House. Then they began talking.

"I like the way she carries herself," says Liz Nolan, 65.

"I like the fact that she walks with him," says Shenee McRae, 31, "not behind him or in front of him."

"For black women, she is visible proof that you can be anything you want to be," says Greer Jones, 37.

These particular women were at A Natural Motion, Nolan's beauty salon on Georgia Avenue NW. Elsewhere, in offices, in kitchens, on the radio, over the telephone, in churches, on blogs, women are talking and whispering a chorus of amens. Not just black women -- all women. They comment on what they see, or don't see. They opine about Michelle Obama's intellect, her style. Fascinated by Michelle. That's what they call her, Michelle -- first-name basis already.

They noticed the way Michelle, 44, wore her hair pulled back in a ponytail to vote, as normal black women would on the way to the hairdresser the morning before a big event. Two daughters in tow in plaits. They liked the way she wore J.Crew on Jay Leno. And noticed that she told her husband he needed to be home for Valentine's Day.

It would be too trivial to say that she is smashing stereotypes of black women, because the stereotypes are so flat, so one-sided, so unreal, that smashing them would be like punching a cloud.

"There's the stereotype of the powerful black woman, the aggressive black woman; there is the stereotype of the over-sexualized, overly sexed black woman; there is the stereotype of the mammy," says Aziza Gibson-Hunter, 54, a conceptual artist and mother of four who lives in Northwest Washington.

What she sees in Michelle Obama is strength: "I saw it in my mother. When I was a kid, I saw it in the women in the church, this dignified strength. I think that is real.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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