Several public figures and politicians threw their support behind US gymnastics champion Simone Biles after she decided to pull out from a team Olympics event on Tuesday.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama tagged Biles in a tweet on Tuesday evening and wrote: “Am I good enough? Yes, I am. The mantra I practice daily.”
“We are proud of you and we are rooting for you,” she added.
GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah similarly commended the superstar gymnast, writing in a tweet: “I love and admire Simone Biles and our Olympians.”
“Beyond their determination and sacrifice, they evidence the greatness of the human spirit, in victory and in defeat,” he continued. “I take pride in them, not so much for the medals they win as for the grace, humanity & character of their hearts.”
Biles sent shockwaves through the Olympic Games on Tuesday when she unexpectedly withdrew from Team USA’s group competition in Tokyo, Japan, after she scored low marks on her opening vault routine. USA went on to earn silver in the women’s gymnastics team final.
The 24-year-old athlete later revealed that she dropped out due to mental health concerns.
“I have to put my pride aside. I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being,” she told reporters. “That’s why I decided to take a step back.”
Biles also cited the stress of the global sporting competition and the pressure to perform well for others as reasons for her exit. She announced on Wednesday that she will also not participate in the individual all-around final at the Olympics, set to take place Thursday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged the move in a press briefing on Wednesday.
“God bless our athletes. We admire them for their skill, and their discipline, and their focus, and their talent,” the top Democrat said. “And we admire them as athletes, but we admire them as people for having the strength to walk away from all that.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called Biles’ withdrawal “courageous” and congratulated the rest of the women’s gymnastics team on Twitter on Tuesday evening.
The world has plenty of dreamers, she said. “And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing.” She pushed grads to be those people.
“Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer,” she advised — whether or not you know what your “passion” might be. “The truth is, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new. It doesn’t have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life. Perfect is boring and dreams are not real,” she said.
“Empathy and kindness are the true signs of emotional intelligence.” – Will Ferrell’s 2017 speech at the University of Southern California
Comedian Will Ferrell, best known for lead roles in films like “Anchorman,” “Elf,” and “Talledega Nights,” delivered a thoughtful speech to USC’s graduating class of 2018.
“No matter how cliché it may sound, you will never truly be successful until you learn to give beyond yourself,” he said. “Empathy and kindness are the true signs of emotional intelligence, and that’s what Viv and I try to teach our boys. Hey Matthias, get your hands of Axel right now! Stop it. I can see you. Okay? Dr. Ferrell’s watching you.”
He also offered some words of encouragement: “For many of you who maybe don’t have it all figured out, it’s okay. That’s the same chair that I sat in. Enjoy the process of your search without succumbing to the pressure of the result.”
He even finished off with a stirring rendition of the Whitney Houston classic, “I Will Always Love You.” He was, of course, referring to the graduates.
“As you leave this room don’t forget to ask yourself what you can offer to make the ‘club of life’ go up? How can you make this place better, in spite of your circumstances?” – Issa Rae’s 2021 speech at Stanford University
In the speech, Rae pulled lyrics from Boosie Badazz, Foxx, and Webbie’s “Wipe Me Down,” which she said she and her friends played on a boombox during the “Wacky Walk” portion of their own 2007 graduation ceremony at Stanford, to illustrate the importance of seeing “every opportunity as a VIP — as someone who belongs and deserves to be here.”
Rae particularly drew attention to one line from the song that reads, “I pull up at the club, VIP, gas tank on E, but all dranks on me. Wipe me down.”
“To honor the classic song that has guided my own life — as you leave this room, don’t forget to ask yourself what you can offer to make the ‘club of life’ go up. How can you make this place better, in spite of your circumstances?” she said. “And as you figure those things out, don’t forget to step back and wipe yourselves down, wipe each other down and go claim what’s yours like the VIPs that you are.”
· Personalization: Whether you believe an event is your fault. · Pervasiveness: Whether you believe an event will affect all areas of your life. · Permanence: How long you think the negative feelings will last.
“This is the lesson that not everything that happens to us happens because of us,” Sandberg said about personalization. It took understanding this for Sandberg to accept that she couldn’t have prevented her husband’s death. “His doctors had not identified his coronary artery disease. I was an economics major; how could I have?”
“If you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options.” – David Foster Wallace’s 2005 speech at Kenyon College
In his now-legendary “This Is Water” speech, the author urged grads to be a little less arrogant and a little less certain about their beliefs.
“This is not a matter of virtue,” Wallace said. “It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.”
Doing that will be hard, he said. “It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat won’t want to.”
But breaking free of that lens can allow you to truly experience life, to consider possibilities beyond your default reactions.
“If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable,” he said. “But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.”
“Be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” – Nora Ephron’s 1996 speech at Wellesley College
Addressing her fellow alums with trademark wit, Ephron reflected on all the things that had changed since her days at Wellesley — and all the things that hadn’t.
“My class went to college in the era when you got a master’s degrees in teaching because it was ‘something to fall back on’ in the worst case scenario, the worst case scenario being that no one married you and you actually had to go to work,” she said. But while things had changed drastically by 1996, Ephron warned grads not to “delude yourself that the powerful cultural values that wrecked the lives of so many of my classmates have vanished from the earth.”
“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim,” she said. “Maybe young women don’t wonder whether they can have it all any longer, but in case any of you are wondering, of course you can have it all. What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications.”
“Our problems are manmade – therefore, they can be solved by man.” – John F. Kennedy’s 1963 speech at American University
Against the tumult of the early ’60s, Kennedy inspired graduates to strive for what may be the biggest goal of them all: world peace.
“Too many of us think it is impossible,” he said. “Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable — that mankind is doomed — that we are gripped by forces we cannot control.”
Our job is not to accept that, he urged. “Our problems are manmade — therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants.”
“Err in the direction of kindness.” – George Saunders’ 2013 speech at Syracuse University
Saunders stressed what turns out to be a deceptively simple idea: the importance of kindness. “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness,” he said. “Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.”
But kindness is hard, the writer said. It’s not necessarily our default. In part, he explained, kindness comes with age. “It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish — how illogical, really.” The challenge he laid out: Don’t wait. “Speed it along,” he urged. “Start right now.”
“There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness,” Saunders said. “But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf — seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.”
“Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.”
“Life is an improvisation. You have no idea what’s going to happen next and you are mostly just making things up as you go along.” – Stephen Colbert’s 2011 speech at Northwestern University
The comedian and host of the “Late Show” told grads they should never feel like they have it all figured out.
“[W]hatever your dream is right now, if you don’t achieve it, you haven’t failed, and you’re not some loser. But just as importantly — and this is the part I may not get right and you may not listen to — if you do get your dream, you are not a winner,” Colbert said.
It’s a lesson he learned from his improv days. When actors are working together properly, he explained, they’re all serving each other, playing off each other on a common idea. “And life is an improvisation. You have no idea what’s going to happen next and you are mostly just making things up as you go along. And like improv, you cannot win your life,” he said.
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.” – Steve Jobs’ 2005 speech at Stanford University
In a remarkably personal address, the Apple founder and CEO advised graduates to live each day as if it were their last.
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life,” he said. He’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year earlier.
“Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important,” he continued. “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Jobs said this mindset will make you understand the importance of your work. “And the only way to do great work is to love what you do,” he said. “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
Settling means giving in to someone else’s vision of your life — a temptation Jobs warned against. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
“We can learn to live without the sick excitement, without the kick of having scores to settle.” – Kurt Vonnegut’s 1999 speech at Agnes Scott College
The famed author became one of the most sought-after commencement speakers in the United States for many years, thanks to his insights on morality and cooperation. At Agnes Scott, he asked graduates to make the world a better place by respecting humanity — and living without hate. Hammurabi lived 4,000 years ago, he pointed out. We can stop living by his code.
“We may never dissuade leaders of our nation or any other nation from responding vengefully, violently, to every insult or injury. In this, the Age of Television, they will continue to find irresistible the temptation to become entertainers, to compete with movies by blowing up bridges and police stations and factories and so on,” he said.
“But in our personal lives, our inner lives, at least, we can learn to live without the sick excitement, without the kick of having scores to settle with this particular person, or that bunch of people, or that particular institution or race or nation. And we can then reasonably ask forgiveness for our trespasses, since we forgive those who trespass against us.”
The result, he said, would be a happier, more peaceful, and more complete existence.
“If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.” – Oprah Winfrey’s 2008 speech at Stanford University
The media mogul told Stanford’s class of 2008 that they can’t sacrifice happiness for money. “When you’re doing the work you’re meant to do, it feels right and every day is a bonus, regardless of what you’re getting paid,” she said.
She said you can feel when you’re doing the right thing in your gut. “What I know now is that feelings are really your GPS system for life. When you’re supposed to do something or not supposed to do something, your emotional guidance system lets you know,” she said.
She explained that doing what your instincts tells you to do will make you more successful because it will drive you to work harder and will save you from debilitating stress.
“If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. That’s the lesson. And that lesson alone will save you, my friends, a lot of grief,” Winfrey said. “Even doubt means don’t. This is what I’ve learned. There are many times when you don’t know what to do. When you don’t know what to do, get still, get very still, until you do know what to do.”
“The difference between triumph and defeat, you’ll find, isn’t about willingness to take risks – it’s about mastery of rescue.” – Atul Gawande’s 2012 speech at Williams College
Pushing beyond the tired “take risks!” commencement cliché, the surgeon, writer, and activist took a more nuanced approach: what matters isn’t just that you take risks; it’s how you take them.
To explain, he turned to medicine.”Scientists have given a new name to the deaths that occur in surgery after something goes wrong — whether it is an infection or some bizarre twist of the stomach,” said Gawande. “They call them a ‘Failure to Rescue.’ More than anything, this is what distinguished the great from the mediocre. They didn’t fail less. They rescued more.”
What matters, he said, isn’t the failure — that’s inevitable — but what happens next. “A failure often does not have to be a failure at all. However, you have to be ready for it. Will you admit when things go wrong? Will you take steps to set them right? — because the difference between triumph and defeat, you’ll find, isn’t about willingness to take risks. It’s about mastery of rescue.”
“There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.” – Conan O’Brien’s 2011 speech at Dartmouth College
In his hilarious 2011 address to Dartmouth College, the late-night host spoke about his brief run on “The Tonight Show” before being replaced by Jay Leno. O’Brien described the fallout as the lowest point in his life, feeling very publicly humiliated and defeated. But once he got back on his feet and went on a comedy tour across the country, he discovered something important.
“There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized,” he said.
He explained that for decades the ultimate goal of every comedian was to host “The Tonight Show,” and like many comedians, he thought achieving that goal would define his success. “But that is not true. No specific job or career goal defines me, and it should not define you,” he said.
He noted that disappointment is a part of life, and the beauty of it is that it can help you gain clarity and conviction.
“It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique,” O’Brien said. “It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can be a catalyst for profound re-invention.”
O’Brien said that dreams constantly evolve, and your ideal career path at 22 years old will not necessarily be the same at 32 or 42 years old.
“I am here to tell you that whatever you think your dream is now, it will probably change. And that’s okay,” he said.
“You are your own stories.” – Toni Morrison’s 2004 speech at Wellesley College
Instead of the usual commencement platitudes — none of which, Morrison argued, are true anyway — the Nobel Prize-winning writer asked grads to create their own narratives.
“What is now known is not all what you are capable of knowing,” she said. “You are your own stories and therefore free to imagine and experience what it means to be human without wealth. What it feels like to be human without domination over others, without reckless arrogance, without fear of others unlike you, without rotating, rehearsing and reinventing the hatreds you learned in the sandbox.”
In your own story, you can’t control all the characters, Morrison said. “The theme you choose may change or simply elude you. But being your own story means you can always choose the tone. It also means that you can invent the language to say who you are and what you mean.” Being a storyteller reflects a deep optimism, she said — and as a storyteller herself, “I see your life as already artful, waiting, just waiting and ready for you to make it art.”
“I wake up in a house that was built by slaves.” – Michelle Obama’s 2016 speech at the City College of New York
In her 23rd and final commencement speech as First Lady, Michelle Obama urged the Class of 2016 to pursue happiness and live out whatever version of the American Dream is right for them.
“It’s the story that I witness every single day when I wake up in a house that was built by slaves,” she said, “and I watch my daughters — two beautiful, black young women — head off to school waving goodbye to their father, the President of the United States, the son of a man from Kenya who came here to America for the same reasons as many of you: To get an education and improve his prospects in life.”
“So, graduates, while I think it’s fair to say that our Founding Fathers never could have imagined this day,” she continued, “all of you are very much the fruits of their vision. Their legacy is very much your legacy and your inheritance. And don’t let anybody tell you differently. You are the living, breathing proof that the American Dream endures in our time. It’s you.”
“Call upon your grit. Try something.” – Tim Cook’s 2019 speech at Tulane University
Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered the 2019 commencement speech for the graduates of Tulane University, offering valuable advice on success.
“We forget sometimes that our preexisting beliefs have their own force of gravity,” Cook said. “Today, certain algorithms pull toward you the things you already know, believe, or like, and they push away everything else. Push back.”
“You may succeed. You may fail. But make it your life’s work to remake the world because there is nothing more beautiful or more worthwhile than working to leave something better for humanity.”
Former first lady Michelle Obama in a new interview discussed the fear that Black Americans often experience in their everyday lives and opened up about her worries for her own daughters.
Obama told “CBS This Morning” that many Black people “still live in fear” while doing ordinary activities, such as grocery shopping, walking a dog, and driving.
CBS host Gayle King asked Obama whether her daughters, 19-year-old Sasha and 22-year-old Malia, have their driver’s licenses.
“They’re driving. But every time they get in a car by themselves, I worry about what assumption is being made by somebody who doesn’t know everything about them,” Obama said in a clip of the interview, which airs Monday. “The fact that they are good students and polite girls. But maybe they’re playing their music a little loud. Maybe somebody sees the back of their head and makes an assumption.”
“The innocent act of getting a license puts fear in our hearts,” Obama added.
During the interview, Obama said she felt compelled to speak out after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict in the death of George Floyd, a Black man. The police killing last May sparked national outrage, with millions of people participating in Black Lives Matter protests over the summer.
The Obamas issued a statement reacting to the verdict, saying it “may have been a necessary step on the road to progress” but that “we will need to follow through with the concrete reforms that will reduce and ultimately eliminate racial bias in our criminal justice system.”
Obama reiterated that position to CBS and stressed that concerns Black people face need to be talked about more, and “we have to ask our fellow citizens to listen a bit more, and to believe us.”
“We don’t wanna be out there marching. I mean, all those Black Lives Matters kids, they’d rather not have to worry about this,” Obama said. “They’re taking to the streets because they have to. They’re trying to have people understand that that we’re real folks, and the fear that many have of so many of us is irrational. And it’s based on a history that is just, it’s sad and it’s dark. And it’s time for us to move beyond that.”
Former President Barack Obama on Tuesday expressed relief after ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.
In a statement, Obama praised the verdict, while also voicing the thoughts of many who want to see criminal justice reforms in the US.
“Today, a jury did the right thing,” he said on Twitter. “For almost a year, George Floyd’s death under the knee of a police officer has reverberated around the world – inspiring murals and marches, sparking conversations in living rooms and new legislation. But a more basic question has always remained: would justice be done?”
He added: “In this case, at least, we have our answer. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that true justice is about much more than a single verdict in a single trial.”
Obama went on to describe the tense experiences and prejudices that Black Americans endure when dealing with law enforcement.
“True justice requires that we come to terms with the fact that Black Americans are treated differently, every day,” he wrote. “It requires us to recognize that millions of our friends, family, and fellow citizens live in fear that their next encounter with law enforcement could be their last. And it requires us to do the sometimes thankless, often difficult, but always necessary work of making the America we know more like the America we believe in.”
He also reaffirmed that the push for justice would not end with the conviction in Floyd’s case.
“While today’s verdict may have been a necessary step on the road to progress, it was far from a sufficient one,” he wrote. “We cannot rest. We will need to follow through with the concrete reforms that will reduce and ultimately eliminate racial bias in our criminal justice system.”
Obama expressed that he and former first lady Michelle Obama were thinking of the Floyd family, along with those who have never received justice.
“Michelle and I send our prayers to the Floyd family, and we stand with all those who are committed to guaranteeing every American the full measure of justice that George and so many others have been denied.”
“Barack and I never want to experience winter again,” Obama, a native of Chicago, Illinois, told the magazine. “We’re building the foundation for somebody else to continue the work so we can retire and be with each other – and Barack can golf too much, and I can tease him about golfing too much because he’s got nothing else to do.”
After leaving the White House, the Obamas relocated to the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, DC, purchased another home on Martha’s Vineyard, and kept busy with numerous advocacy, literary, and entertainment ventures.
The former first lady also has a new Netflix children’s show, “Waffles and Mochi,” that will debut soon and a special edition of her wildly successful 2018 memoir “Becoming” is being released for young readers.
In the near future, the Obamas will also celebrate the opening of the Obama Presidential Library in Chicago, which is currently under construction.
They most recently made an appearance at the January 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden, who previously served as Obama’s vice president.
Obama told People that during the pandemic, she struggled with “low-grade depression” compounded by the civil unrest over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans over the summer. Jury selection in the trial of one of the Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd’s death, Derek Chauvin, is currently underway.
She said she coped with 2020 by getting into knitting and swimming while being home with her two daughters Malia and Sasha, students at Harvard University and the University of Michigan, respectively, who spent months doing remote learning.
“Knitting is a forever proposition You don’t master knitting, because once you make a scarf, there’s the blanket. And once you do the blanket, you’ve got to do the hat, the socks … I could go on about knitting!” Obama told People.
Daniella Carter said if she’s learned one thing from Michelle Obama’s style, it’s what an unapologetic Black successful woman looks like “even when there are people in the world spewing hate.”
Carter is a Black trans activist and founder of the eponymous “Guest Book” which highlights creators of color.
She grew up in foster care but said seeing Obama “suited-and-booted” made her always remember that though she may not have had a mother who looked like her, she would learn to carry herself so that she and her future daughter could both grow up to be unapologetic Black, successful women.
She’s not the only one who feels this way.
After Obama’s 2021 inauguration look that left the internet in a daze, Insider reached out to her stylist, Meredith Koop, as well as ten Black professionals to talk about how Obama’s style has influenced them. Koop helped craft the image of how a Black woman looks co-hosting a state dinner, visiting the Queen of England, going on a book tour, and, most recently, at President Biden’s inauguration.
“She’s incredible at what she says, what she does, how much she cares. We all know this, and most of us agree,” Koop told Insider about Obama. “The legacy is her. The clothing is that extra element that is transcendent in nonverbal communication.”
What a powerful Black woman looks like
“When I saw Mrs. Obama show up to the inauguration for President Biden, I was in awe – her hair was laid and her dress slayed – even in a mask,” DeShuna Spencer, founder and CEO of the Black media streaming service KweliTV, told Insider.
Spencer said Obama has come to exemplify what a “powerful Black woman looks like.”
Sandrine Charles, a consultant, and cofounder of the Black in Fashion Council, told Insider the inauguration look was also one of her all-time favorites. “She always has had a presence of royalty,” Charles said of Mrs. Obama.
Eric Darnell Pritchard, fashion historian and Brown Chair in English literacy at the University of Arkansas, told Insider that Obama’s style is inextricably linked with her accomplishments, and “many Black people appreciate that self-authorship.”
“The ‘Forever First Lady‘ designation people bestow upon her is more than a term of endearment,” Pritchard continued. “It is a testament to how valuable her representation has been to the Black community.”
Koop styled Obama with tactical precision
There was no blueprint for how a Black First Lady should look. There had never been one before.
Styling the former First Lady was – and still is – a tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon. A delicate balance between looking good, but not too good. Obama’s outfit can never overpower her voice, Koop said.
Even with Obama long out of the White House, Koop still anticipates what people will say – how a dress was too loose-fitting, or how a color scheme didn’t match. Koop figures she probably wouldn’t have to incorporate such styling precision if Obama was white.
“It’s just obvious,” Koop said. “The way that the press in particular, and the media and different individuals construed her appearance into something negative – that was happening right from the beginning.”
“In the public consciousness the First Lady is always either in a suit or something very conservative,” Reese said. “Mrs. Obama really broke the mold in terms of how she chose to dress.”
She wasn’t afraid to show her feminine side and wear beautiful dresses, Reese continued. There was softness, optimism, and color. “We hadn’t seen that in the White House, probably ever,” she said.
Koop’s precise execution of Obama’s style paid off. The model Shavone Charles, known as SHAVONE. and also director of communications and creative partnerships at image-sharing app VSCO, called Koop and Obama the last decade’s “most dynamic duo.”
“For me and many other Black women, we look at Mrs. Obama and we see ourselves,” she said and pointed to the white Tom Ford gown Mrs. Obama wore to the state banquet at Buckingham palace in 2011 as one of her favorites.
That inauguration look exuded power
Nearly everyone Insider spoke with had a favorite outfit. Koop loves the rose-colored Atelier Versace gown Obama wore to her last state dinner as First Lady in 2016, while Pritchard is a fan of the black Vera Wang mermaid gown she wore to the 2015 China state dinner.
Black people are always “placed in a box” and judged heavily on their appearances, Jeannot said. “That day, Mrs. Obama was power walking into the room.”
Koop broke down for Insider the wineberry plum outfit, which came from one of Hudson’s latest runway collections. Hudson did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Koop wanted dark colors, jewel tones. A monochrome look. She requested some changes to the original ensemble: pants instead of a skirt and a less-shiny coat lining. A matte lining deflected camera flashes and made the belt stand out. The sweater turned into a bodysuit with a zipper in the back, so Obama didn’t have to pull it over her head, the boots were Stuart Weitzman, the matching gloves and mask were by tailor Christy Rilling.
Producer and former stock trader Lauren Simmons knows what it’s like to occupy historically white spaces.
She was the second African American woman to become a full-time trader at the New York Stock Exchange and said the way Obama uses style to exude power inspires her and is something she seeks to emulate.
“There have been many women throughout history who have had impeccable style,” she said. “But to see a Black woman do it fearlessly, and graciously is power in itself.”
High-profile women using clothing to start conversations
Pritchard added that the latest generation of politicians has also adopted this. Women, now more than ever, are bracing authenticity.
Even during the White House years, Koop would work closely with designers to craft what a modern First Lady looks like. Some would already come with ideas in mind, but many of those ideas had to do with Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
“She was a white woman from a certain background, and Michelle is a Black woman from a different background,” Koop said. “I felt like the best thing would be to reflect the authenticity of Michelle in her own right.”
That meant Jason Wu gowns, lots of J. Crew, and, after the White House, custom Balenciaga glitter boots. In politics, there was a heavy blueprint in how women, especially, were supposed to look.
“Her influence is most pronounced as I prepare for the rare formal events that I’ve attended as a member of Congress. It’s so difficult to be modest and still stylish and Mrs. Obama always nailed it.”
Christopher Lacy, assistant professor of fashion management at Parsons, said Koop styled Obama in a way that celebrated the “female aesthetic” and felt she never sought to hide her height or athleticism, and instead, selected clothes that accentuated those attributes.
“What Meredith and Michelle have done together is show the world what millions of Black women and men have known for years,” Lacy continued. “That the Black silhouette is not confined to the borders of Eurocentric misconceptions”
Carter and Pritchard expressed similar sentiments. Carter added that before, the only Black bodies deemed to be powerful were those of entertainers, and that “it felt revolutionary to see someone not playing a character, sending a message to our communities and culture that Black chic, sexy, smart, and beautiful women are not just Hollywood roles.”
Underwood says Obama’s fashion legacy will manifest in a generation of powerful women freely expressing themselves using any colors, patterns, textures, designers, and hairstyles they want.
“No matter whether the clothing came off the clearance rack or if it’s a one-of-a-kind custom design,” she continued. “She shows us how to bring our full selves to the world stage, one incredibly accessible ensemble at a time.”