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Michelle Obama's first 100 days

By Rajini Vaidyanathan
BBC News

Michelle Obama welcomes children of White House employees on 23 April
Michelle Obama knows the media and public interest in her is huge

"I have the best job being first lady. I think I have the best job in the White House because... I don't have to deal with the hard problems everyday."

That was how Michelle Obama responded to questions from the children of White House employees on what it is like to be the First Lady.

There were problems, she said, "but I get to do the fun stuff. And there's so much fun to be had with service."

Michelle Obama's first 100 days certainly seem to have been fun, be it spent opening the White House Easter egg hunt, or walking Bo the dog.

Mrs Obama has played the role of the President's wife in a traditional manner, accompanying him at state functions and, like many First Wives before, she has spoken out on issues she feels passionately about.

But she has put her own twist on some of those moments; placing her arm affectionately around the Queen at a Buckingham Palace reception, and getting on her hands and knees to show her support for organic foods in a practical way, by planting vegetables in the White House garden.

First Lady next door?

Michelle Obama's media strategy since moving into the White House has been to embrace the huge interest in her and use it to her advantage to come across as the kind of First Lady you could be friends with.

Michelle Obama arrives at 10 Dowing Street for a reception, 1 April 2009
I was surrounded by extraordinary women in my life... who taught me about quiet strength and dignity
Michelle Obama

In the days after the inauguration it was virtually impossible to enter a newsagents in America without seeing Mrs Obama's face on the front of a magazine.

"People feel like they know Michelle Obama, she's accessible, she's become like the first lady next door," says Nia Malika-Henderson, a White House reporter for Politico magazine.

"She's had a strategic publicity plan… She's brought herself into people's homes and grocery stores."

A big part of introducing Michelle Obama to the American public, and the rest of the world, has been to remind people of where she came from.

During her much-publicised trip to London at the start of April, Mrs Obama visited a girls school in North London to talk to pupils.

"There is nothing in my story that would land me here," she told them.

"I wasn't raised with wealth or resources or any social standing to speak of. I was raised on the South Side of Chicago - that's the real part of Chicago. And I was the product of a working-class community."

"I am an example of what's possible when girls from the very beginning of their lives are loved and nurtured by the people around them.

"I was surrounded by extraordinary women in my life: grandmothers, teachers, aunts, cousins, neighbours, who taught me about quiet strength and dignity."

'Mom-in-chief'

Michelle's mother, Marian Robinson, has moved into the White House, the first "in-law in chief" to make the famous residence a home. Michelle Obama has also often spoken of the importance of maintaining a work-life balance as First Lady and "mom-in-chief".

As one of most photographed women in the world, early comparisons were drawn between her and President John F Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, for their similar sense of style, and fashion icon status.

The Queen and Michelle Obama
The Queen reportedly asked to stay in touch with Mrs Obama

Much has been written about Michelle Obama's choice of outfits, in particular her penchant for wearing sleeveless dresses, which show off her toned arms.

The lack of sleeves in her official White House portrait generated many column inches with discussions centring on whether Mrs Obama had the "right to bare arms".

While regularly seen in designer clothes, Mrs Obama also wears high street labels. Dee Dee Myers, who was press secretary under President Clinton, says these choices all contribute to an image that Mrs Obama is a First Lady ordinary Americans can relate to.

"That first impression is often a visual one, how does she look, and I think Michelle Obama has passed that test on a lot of levels," says Ms Myers.

"She's both comfortable in her own skin, she is chic but in a very accessible way, it's not Couture it's J-Crew. And I think that's been tremendously popular here particularly at a time when the economy is suffering and people are making cutbacks and sacrifices in their own life."

A recent Gallup poll backs this theory up. It suggested Mrs Obama has a higher approval rating than her husband, at 72% compared to the president's 69%.

Among the people Mrs Obama appears to have won over is the Queen. Many said that Michelle Obama broke protocol when she put her arm round the Queen during a Buckingham Palace reception.

The Palace issued a statement to the contrary, saying: "It was a mutual and spontaneous display of affection."

Showing a more personal side rather than a political one is perhaps a strategy which has developed after Mrs Obama was criticised during the campaign for comments she made while out on the stump for her husband.

Her comment at a rally - "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country" - prompted accusations that she was bitter and unpatriotic.

More recently she was criticised by a US farming group for her decision to grow organic vegetables.

The Mid-America CropLife Association (MACA) wrote to the First Lady to encourage her to support their technological methods of farming.

"If Americans were still required to farm to support their family's basic food and fibre needs, would the US have been leaders in the advancement of science, communication, education, medicine, transportation and the arts?" the group said.

But overall compliments have outweighed criticism.

Dee Dee Myers says it has been a turnaround in some senses.

"Six months ago there was a conversation in this city, Washington DC about Michelle Obama, asset or liability and now that question has been answered with a resounding asset... she's a tremendous asset."



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