Oprah Winfrey took the stage in New York Saturday making the fifth stop on her national arena tour, Oprah’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus presented by WW (Weight Watchers Reimagined). Bringing a full day of wellness to nine U.S. cities, Oprah has been motivating audiences across the country to make 2020 the year of renewal and celebrate all that we are meant to be. And who better to speak about becoming all that we are meant to be than Becoming author, and former first lady, Michelle Obama? That’s right, no one.
So when Michelle walked out on stage at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn everyone went nuts (myself included). Oprah interviewing Michelle Obama? Am I dreaming? And their demeanor in front of 15,000 people… it was like we were all hanging out at their house sitting on the couch with them. From relationships to aging, kids, and health, witnessing their no holds barred conversation was truly an unforgettable experience — one deserving of sharing in its true form.
So while you may not have been there in person, this Q&A will make you feel like you were.
Oprah Winfrey: How do you not spoil children when they have access to everything?
Michelle Obama: It was easy for us [audience laughs] because we don’t think they deserve it. It wasn’t a difficult thing to do. Not the way Barack and I were raised. First of all, you have to have a mate that shares your values. It starts way back with who you pick. You have to have a good picker, because if you don’t come to parenting with the same kind of values that stuff isn’t parenting, giving kids things…parenting is a verb. It is an active and engaging thing and you have to know who your kids are, and each one of them is different. You can’t just apply the same principles to the first one that you did to the second because they come here totally different. So we didn’t just show up in The White House…I’m Michelle from the south side of Chicago. A little house, I have nice clothes now but my mamma made my clothes. We were raised with, ‘that’s enough, you be grateful for what you have,’ you don’t look at the next thing, ‘be happy with what you have,’ and that’s how we worked in The White House that didn’t change because we moved to a different house.
OW: Your husband, you’ve called him your soul-affirming partner. Is it more so now 28 years as opposed to earlier years? Does it keep getting better?
MO: Marriage is hard, raising a family together is a hard thing, it takes a toll but if you’re with the person…if you know why you’re with them and you understand there is a friendship and a foundation there…it may feel like it goes away during some of those hard times but it’s something we always come back to. And we’re coming back to that point where we see each other again because, some of the hardest times in our lives, we just escaped it, we just survived it, we went through a tough time, we did some hard things together and I can look at him and I still recognize my husband. He’s still the man I fell in love with, who I value and respect and trust. He’s been an amazing father through so much. He has shown up well in the world. He has been who he promised he would be. That has been tested for over 28 years. What I tell young couples is, ‘you have to hang in there, you can’t quit the minute it gets hard because this thing called living life, building a life together is a naturally hard thing to do so you can’t quit when it’s hard otherwise you’ll miss the good parts’.
OW: Where lows have taken new lows…how do you maintain a high and not appear to be passive and not lose your equilibrium because low is going lower.
MO: Going low is easy. It’s easy to lead by fear. It’s easy to be divisive, to make people feel afraid. That’s the easy thing. It’s also the short term thing. And for me, what I’ve learned from my husband, what I learned in eight years at The White House is that this life, this world, is our responsibility and it is so much bigger than us. And so what I have to keep in mind is that when I want to go low, it’s all about my own ego. It’s not about solving anything. It’s not about fixing anything, it’s about seeking revenge on the thing that happened to you. And Oprah, you talk about purpose…my purpose on this planet is not to just take care of my little ego. There is a bigger purpose for me out there so when I respond to something I have to think about that light I’m trying to shine, what role model am I trying to be.
OW: What is your vision for 2020?
MO: The next phase of my journey, of becoming, is really continuing to make sure that what I do has meaning and purpose is to somebody outside of myself. So my vision is, in particular, is to keep helping young people to help them understand a broader sense of values that they can operate with because I do think we are short on that. That our leaders are not paving a good path for what we want our kids to be. I’m sorry to say that. I think young people are hungry for something and it’s time for them to step up and to take the lead because we’re getting older and we need to move out of the way for them because they’re going to have answers that we’ve never thought of. So, my hope is that I want to empower young people. I want to empower the next generation of politicians and community activists and teachers and doctors and lawyers. And I want to be a part of laying out a set of values and principles that we can all be proud of…of this country, you know, honesty, empathy, compassion, caring for others.
OW: What does wellness mean for you?
MO: I’m trying to understand what healthy means for me not compared to the person walking next to me. Not the person in the magazine. I’m trying to understand what my blood pressure level should be and what my flexibility should be. And what cardio means for me. And when do I feel good because we can also overdo it, we can work out so hard and diet so much that we might be thin and look a certain way, but our bodies are broken inside a because we’re not walking our path but walking somebody else’s path. So I am trying to figure that out every day and it changes, because women, our bodies change drastically comparison to men. We’re going through menopause, we’ve got a lot going on and I don’t think we’ve done enough to understand what aging means for women’s bodies. Where are we supposed to look like? How are we supposed to feel? We’re not talking about that enough and I feel like we’re at a time when women our age because we do spend money. Now, we have wealth, women our age, but the market and the fitness market they don’t speak to us. They’re not catering to us. They’re catering to Malia and Sasha, ‘how this workout wear looks,’ ‘what these classes are,’ they’re catering 20- and 30-year-olds who quite frankly have no money. How is that? I want to push these industries to start thinking about us, mature women so that we are operating with good information about what we should be wanting. But for me, I have to figure out in the absence of that information I have to seek that out for myself. And stop comparing myself to the women next to me.
OW: What’s the best advice you think you’ve given your daughters?
MO: I give them so much advice, they are so sick of me. Now that they’re in college, I text, little things like, ‘did I ever tell you…or you are eating those little green things aren’t you?'”
OW: What is one thing that was a running theme in your house that you said over and over?
MO: What I try to tell them is…that they have to walk their own walk. They cannot define themselves by looking at each other or looking at me or their dad, they have to take the time to get to know themselves, give themselves a moment to figure out who they want to be in the world, not who they think I want them to be, not what the rest of the world says about them. To really think about how they want to shape their lives and how they want to move in this world. I don’t want them measuring themselves by external influences and for young girls that is hard to do.
OW: How was the drop off [Sasha & Malia at college]?
MO: For any parent, there’s the busy part of drop-off like, ‘okay, girl you cannot keep all these clothes…you brought 100 shoes…and you live in a dorm so you can pick 10’ while Barack is trying to put together a lamp. This is what I’m doing, ‘pick 10 shoes, you cannot bring all those shoes,’ but she didn’t understand what dorm life was and I’m like, ‘you have three inches of a closet so you got to figure this out,’ so there’s that business of trying to move in, pack and unpack and fold and clean…so when you’re busy with the busy stuff you’re no thinking about the emotional stuff. So usually we drop them off, get ’em in the dorm then take ’em out to lunch and that’s like our last lunch and when the emotions come is when we’re getting in our cars and getting on a plane and leaving our babies and they’re going somewhere, where they will now live…that’s when it hits you. We start choking up, ‘this is the time when I know you’re leaving,’ so we try to hold it together so they don’t start crying but then Barack and I, we start bawling like babies. Barack gets that ugly loud cry. He did that at Malia’s graduation. He had his sunglasses on and speeches are happening and we hear [Barack] and we’re like, ‘are you okay?’
OW: So this year is the first time you have been empty nesters. What’s that like?
MO: It is so good y’all.
OW: Doesn’t the energy of house change?
MO: [laughingly]Yeah. [smiling] Get your heads out of the gutter you guys! All 15,000 of you. But what I’m saying is that parenting takes up a lot of emotional space and my husband was busy being president…I put a lot of time and energy to parent these girls in The White House because we were trying to make their lives normal.
OW: What would your perfect day look like? Do you do breakfast?
MO: It would be somewhere warm. Hawaii. I’d wake up and have a workout outside. I don’t usually do breakfast. I’m not a big breakfast person. I probably wouldn’t have breakfast. I would go out on a walk alone where I can see the ocean and some mountains. I love to be outside because so much of our lives, we don’t have the freedom to just be outside because of security so both Barack and I crave a chance to be outdoors. I would take a long walk, and I would come and I would have lunch with my husband and I would sit on the beach and I read or talk to some of my girlfriends because I love living in my community. I love to have people around; our house is usually full of people.
OW: Do you still cook?
MO: No [audience laughs]. Not a stick of cooking. That is not one of the things that I need in ‘the finding myself.’ I don’t need to cook. It’s not on my personal list. I don’t ever want to. I can cook. I did it. I proved it, ‘I can cook for y’all you’ve been fed by me’.
OW: How do you look after yourself after a bad day?
MO: I tune out the world that is making me feel bad because it’s usually something external. I just take a break.
OW: What do you watch on TV?
MO: I started watching Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. I like comedies, I like Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
OW: Have you ever witnessed any weird behavior at a White House event?
MO: Oh God yeah. People are usually nervous when they come, so if there is a party, people usually overdrink because they’re nervous. And the drinks at The White House are strong. So, we have seen some people falling out. I’m not going to mention any names but…I’ve seen some Spanx, seen some stuff.
OW: What is the last thing that made you feel genuinely old?
MO: Any conversation with a young person. I have a godson who just got his permit, and his mother sent me a video of him behind the wheel and that just tripped me out because I was like, ‘no one should let that little boy drive’.
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