Michelle Obama's Memoir 'Becoming' Is Finally Here — 8 Takeaways From The Books
One summer, about a year into her relationship with Barack Obama, Michelle Robinson began keeping a journal for the first time in her life, as detailed in her new memoir. "I'd write a few entires in a single week and then lay the journal down for a month or sometimes more. I was not, by nature, introspective," she shares. It seems strange to hear her say so, considering her new book Becoming, out now, is an honest, raw, and exacting examination of her own journey to claim her power as a lawyer, a mother, and ultimately, as First Lady of the United States.
Becoming, the latest selection for Oprah Winfrey's Book Club and arguably the biggest book of 2018, is a behind-the-scenes look at the White House from the perspective of someone who wasn't terribly involved in the political side of things. You won't learn about the intricacies of the plan to assassinate Osama Bin Ladin, but you will learn about the immediate aftermath, when Michelle Obama learned the news from her husband. You won't hear about the lead-up to the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage, but you will read about the night of the decision, when Michelle and Malia Obama snuck out of the White House to see the facade of the building illuminated by rainbow lights. And maybe you won't read too much about how Michelle Obama really feels about the man who succeeded her husband in the Oval Office, but you learn a lot about her, and her family, and their unique purview as Americans who love their country and have hope that better days are ahead. Instead of trying to tell a full, expansive history of her husband's eight years in office, Michelle Obama instead turns the focus on herself — how she felt through it all, how she reacted to the strange, wild, and wondrous moments of their journey, and how she plans to forge forward.
Becoming is available for sale now, but here are a few of the key takeaways for women (I'd take out "for women," to make sure we include men and nonbinary individuals reading.) reading the book:
She Never Let The "Suggestion Of Failure" Stop Her
Michelle Obama is a highly accomplished woman outside of her role as First Lady. Before meeting and marrying Barack Obama, she graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. However, the road to academic success wasn't always easy, despite her intelligence and good grades.
After her brother, Craig Robinson, enrolled in Princeton, Michelle Obama decided that's where she wanted to go. She scheduled a meeting with a college counselor to discuss the application, an experience she says she "blotted... out."
"It's possible, in fact," she writes, "that during our short meeting the college counselor said things to me that might have been positive and helpful, but I recall none of it. Because rightly or wrongly, I got stuck on one single sentence the woman uttered. 'I'm not sure,' she said, giving me a perfunctory, patronizing smile, 'that you're Princeton material.'"
Later, Obama writes, "But as I've said, failure is a feeling long before it's an actual result. And for me, it felt like that's exactly what she was planting —a suggestion of failure long before I'd even tried to succeed."
Luckily, Michelle Obama didn't let that woman's remark stop her. She graduated from Princeton University in 1985.
She Struggled To Get Pregnant & Used IVF To Conceive Her Daughters
After a long period of time trying to get pregnant, Michelle and Barack Obama finally received the result they'd wanted: A positive pregnancy test. Unfortunately, that first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. "A miscarriage is lonely, painful, and demoralizing almost on a cellular level," she writes in Becoming. "When you have one, you will likely mistake it for a personal failure, which it is not. Or a tragedy, which, regardless of how utterly devastating it feels in the moment, it also is not. What nobody tells you is that miscarriage happens all the time, to more women than you'd ever guess, given the relative silence around it."
She's not wrong: Miscarriages occur in approximately 20 percent of all pregnancies, Dr. Zev Williams, MD, PhD, director of Columbia University Fertility Center, told Bustle in a previous interview. Unfortunately, the topic is still terribly stigmatized, which means women often suffer in silence.
Afterwards, Obama began in vitro fertilization (IVF), and she eventually delivered two children, Malia and Sasha Obama.
She Was Well-Aware Of The Importance Of Her Fashion Choices
Being in the spotlight — for better and, very often, for worse — forced Michelle Obama to think more deeply about what she wore. "It seemed that my clothes mattered more to people than anything I had to say," she writes, adding: "This stuff got me down, but I tried to reframe it as an opportunity to learn, to use what power I could find inside a situation I'd never have chosen for myself."
She chose to appear on the cover of Vogue, despite anticipating criticism over the "frivolity" of such an act, because she felt it was important for a woman of color to appear on the coveted cover of Vogue magazine. For the photoshoot, she insisted on wearing clothes by designers of color, like Jason Wu and Narciso Rodriguez.
In her everyday fashion selections, she considered the double standard forced upon her as a black woman. "I was perceived as being showy and high end, and I'd be criticized also if I was too casual," she writes. "So I mixed it up." With the help of a team, she developed her own sense of style, mixing designer pieces with dresses from Target.
She Rarely Saw Barack Obama During Workdays — Except On Particularly Trying Days
Obama writes that once the president specifically requested her presence in the middle of a workday: After the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 26 people — including 20 children — were killed. "Usually, work was work and home was home, but for us, as for many people, the tragedy in Newtown shattered every window and blew down every fence," Obama writes. "When I walked into the Oval Office, Barack and I embraced silently. There was nothing to say. No words."
She Learned That First Ladies Have A Long History Of Supporting Each Other
When the Obamas took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., then President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, greeted the family at the residence. Michelle Obama writes that Laura Bush gave her a tour of the White House, culminating with a look at a "pretty, light-filled room off the master bedroom that was traditionally used as the First Lady's dressing room." Bush pointed out the views of the Rose Garden and the Oval Office, "adding that it gave her comfort to be able to look out and get a sense of what her husband was doing." She told Obama that Hillary Clinton had shown her the same room eight years earlier, and her mother-in-law Barbara Bush had been the one to show it to Clinton.
"I looked forward to the day I could pass whatever wisdom I picked up to the next First Lady in line," Obama writes. In a recent interview with Robin Roberts, Obama revealed that First Lady Melania Trump had not yet reached out for help.
Her Reactions To Hillary Clinton Losing The Presidency Are Painfully Relatable
"I am not a political person," she writes about Clinton's loss, "so I'm not going to attempt to offer an analysis of the results. I won't try to speculate about who was responsible or what was unfair. I just wish more people had turned out to vote. And I will always wonder what led so many women, in particular, to reject an exceptionally qualified female candidate and instead choose a misogynist as their president. But the result was now ours to live with."
At Donald Trump's inauguration, she says she "stopped even trying to smile."
She Feels Overwhelmed — And Blessed — By Their Legacy As The First African American First Family
"We were the forty-fourth First Family and only the eleventh family to spend two full terms in the White House. We were, and would always be, the first black one," she writes, adding that she made specific moves to impart their legacy upon the place. "Not every president commissioned an official china setting, for instance, but I made sure we did," she writes. "During Barack's second term, we also chose to redecorate the Old Family Dining Room, situated just off the State Dining Room, freshening it up with a modern look and opening it to the public for the first time. On the room's north wall, we'd hung a stunning yellow, red, and blue abstract painting by Alma Thomas — Resurrection — which became the first work of art by a black woman to be added to the White House's permanent collection."
"Whatever was coming next," she writes later, "this was a story we could own."
What Comes Next? Not A Run For Office
In the epilogue, Michelle Obama writes that she has "no intention of running for office, ever."
However, in the years ahead, she does plan to fight back in her own way. "We all play a role in this democracy," she writes. "We need to remember the power of every vote. I continue, too, to keep myself connected to a force that's larger and more potent than any one election, or leader, or news story — and that's optimism. For me, this is a form of faith, an antidote to fear."