Michelle Obama Talks Activism, Being a Role Model, and Leaving the White House With 'Vogue'

This December, Michelle Obama will again be on the cover of 'Vogue' magazine.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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First Lady Michelle Obama will be on the cover of Vogue magazine for her third time in seven years. Like before, FLOTUS was photographed by Annie Leibovitz for the December cover and did an in-depth interview for the magazine, touching on a variety of different issues. She was also interviewed by multi-hyphenate Zendaya, excerpts of which can be read at the bottom of this post.

The Vogue cover story by Jonathan Van Meter notes how active the First Lady has been in all walks of life. The Harvard-educated lawyer who describes herself as "Mom in Chief" has addressed issues like healthy lifestyles and support for military families. On top of that, she's started two education initiatives, Reach Higher and Let Girls Learn. But it's not all seriousness: The "First Lady of Popular Culture" has been on shows like NCIS and Parks and Recreation. And of course, she's a fashion icon in her own right.

Below, a few of the most memorable quotes from her interview, which you can read in full right here.

On being proud of the work she's done as First Lady:

"I could have spent eight years doing anything, and at some level, it would have been fine. I could have focused on flowers. I could have focused on decor. I could have focused on entertainment. Because any First Lady, rightfully, gets to define her role. There’s no legislative authority; you’re not elected. And that’s a wonderful gift of freedom."

On her time in the White House coming to an end:

"You know, there are little . . . moments. Even today I was looking out at this view here. Looking out on the South Lawn and the Washington Monument and it had just rained and the grass was really green and everything popped a little bit more. It’s soooo beautiful. And for that moment I thought, I’m going to miss waking up to this, having access to this anytime I want. But on the flip side . . . it’s time. I think our democracy has it exactly right: two terms, eight years. It’s enough. Because it’s important to have one foot in reality when you have access to this kind of power. The nature of living in the White House is isolating. And I think Barack and I—because we’re kind of stubborn—we’ve maintained some normalcy, mostly because of the age of our kids. I go out to dinner with my girlfriends; I go to Sasha’s games; Barack has coached a little basketball with Sasha’s team. But at the same time, when you can’t walk into CVS? ...When you’re not engaged in the day-to-day struggles that everybody feels, you slowly start losing touch. And I think it’s important for the people in the White House to have a finger on the pulse."

On being told in regard to her Harvard education that she was "was reaching too high":

"I’m just as smart as these people! What were they thinkin’? So there are a lot of people who will try to step on your confidence based on their assumptions about who they think you are. For all of you sitting here, with those doubts in your head—because those whispers of doubt, they stay with you for a very long time—ignore them. . . . I still carry that with me today, as First Lady of the United States, because there are people who don’t think I should be doing that either."

On being a role model:

"Kids are watching us. I experience it every single day. They hang on my every word, what I wear, what I say. And it’s not just kids at Howard; it’s not just African-American kids. They are writing papers about us. They come to us and they’re like, 'I dressed like you for Halloween.' True story. Little blonde white girl. I’m like, 'Really, sweetie?' And she said, 'Yes! And I looked just like you!' And I’m like, 'Of course you did! And you did such a great job!' But that means something to me. Maybe because I still have kids and I know that they’re influenced by people they look up to, but it makes us want to live right and do right and be right—Every. Single. Day—so that we don’t ever disappoint these kids and they have something to hold on to, and so that they know—as I say all the time—I can do this. You can do this."

On skipping the presidential debates:

"I can’t. That’s part of staying hopeful and positive—be able to go high. . . . Sometimes that means just not engaging. And that’s not just with these debates. If I didn’t have to be at my husband’s debates, I wouldn’t have watched those, either."

On leaving the White House:

"I will take the same approach leaving as I did coming in. I won’t know until I’m there. I’ve never been the former First Lady of the United States of America before. But I will always be engaged in some way in public service and public life. The minute I left my corporate-law firm to work for the city, I never looked back. I’ve always felt very alive using my gifts and talents to help other people. I sleep better at night. I’m happier. So we’ll look at the issues that I’ve been working on. The question is: How do I engage in those issues from a new platform? I can’t say right now, because we can’t spend that much time really doing the hard work of vetting offers or ideas or options because we’re still closing things out here. We’re still in full implement mode. Doesn’t it feel that way? You’ve been with me for a month. Don’t feel like anyone’s lettin' me slow down."

On what she chooses what to wear:

"It all boils down to comfort level: If I’m going to make you comfortable, then I have to be comfortable first. So my first reaction isn’t 'Who made this?' But 'Let’s try it on. What does it look like? Oooh, that’s cute. Oh, wow. I never thought of wearing something like this. Let’s put a belt on it. I feel gooood in this.'"

For Teen Vogue, Michelle Obama was interviewed by Zendaya Coleman about worldwide education for women, and the First Lady's Let Girls Learn program.

On the First Lady's biggest obstacles for girls getting an education:

"Sometimes the issue is resources: Parents can’t afford to pay for tuition, uniforms, or school supplies; or the nearest school is too far away and there’s no safe transportation; or there is a school nearby, but it doesn’t have adequate bathrooms for girls, so they have to stay home when they have their periods, and they wind up falling behind and dropping out. But often the problem is attitude. It’s about whether families and communities think girls are even worthy of an education in the first place. It’s about whether girls are valued only for their labor and reproductive capacities or for their minds as well. And it’s about whether women are viewed as second-class citizens or as full human beings entitled to the same rights and opportunities as men."

On how the program will continue after she leaves the White House:

"I see myself — and my daughters — in these girls. Once you get to know them, you can’t just walk away. I plan on working on this issue for the rest of my life."

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