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Michelle Obama cover is a rare departure for Better Homes and Gardens

Michelle Obama on the August 2011 cover of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. (Better Homes and Gardens)

First lady Michelle Obama has become a go-to cover girl for glossies as varied as fashion bible Vogue and the black news monthly Ebony. This week, she hit the newsstands again in a rare coup: Obama is the face of that middle-American staple ubiquitous in doctors offices and dental clinics — Better Homes and Gardens.

The magazine, which dates to the 1920s, has not featured a public figure out front since 1963. (That was actor Cliff Robertson, in an article titled “He Cooks.”) And Obama is the first first lady to make the cover. Even Mamie Eisenhower was given an inside article.

The magazine is the nation’s third-largest glossy in paid circulation and the largest women’s magazine in the nation and typically displays well-appointed living rooms and vibrant gardens.

Kristina Schake, the first lady’s communications director, said in a statement that Obama “is thrilled to share the story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Let’s Move! with the millions of Americans who read” the magazine.

It can’t hurt that the magazine is based in the politically important state of Iowa and comes out as Obama has begun to get back on the campaign trail for her husband. She is polling 20 points higher than the president and continues to raise her profile through her campaign against childhood obesity. Better Homes and Gardens readers, 80 percent of whom are women, are in the sweet spot of voters whom the president will need to win over.

The August issue features a smiling Michelle Obama sitting at a picnic table on the White House lawn. She’s wearing a blue and white floral dress and yellow sweater.

The decision to put her out front came from an interest in her healthful-eating initiative, said Gayle Butler, editor in chief of the magazine. “Last year, research with our readers showed this really high priority moms have when it comes to healthy eating,” Butler said.

The Better Homes and Gardens story brings students from Harriet Tubman Elementary in Washington to the White House for a veggie-laden picnic lunch with the first lady. It’s complete with photos of chard and tips for helping children learn to love vegetables.

If the first lady is worried about the criticism that she has become the national nag by pressing her dietary agenda, she shook things up last week. The same day Better Homes and Gardens began mailing out copies of the issue, titled “Michelle Obama: Ideas and Inspiration to Help American Families Eat Right,” she made an excursion to Shake Shack and ordered a calorie-laden lunch: burger, fries, a shake — and a Diet Coke.

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Krissah Thompson began writing for The Washington Post in 2001. She has been a business reporter, covered presidential campaigns and written about civil rights and race. More recently, she has covered the first lady's office, politics and culture.

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