First Lady Michelle Obama sat down for an interview with iVillage in which she gave a rare look at her life raising her daughters, struggling to eat healthy, the importance of her girlfriends and her views on the challenges of motherhood in 2012.
“I think sometimes we, as women, feel like we’re not doing it right unless we’re doing it all ourselves,” the first lady said when talking about the importance of support systems. “And I had to throw that out the window a long time ago. I had to sort of understand that getting help wasn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, our generation, we’re probably one of the first generations where we’re growing up trying to do everything.”
How about those famous First Lady arms—does she feel constant pressure to keep them fit?
“I just saw two weeks of Olympic athletes who have real arms, so I always wonder, well, what is it? My arms do not compete with people who have ‘real’ arms. But obviously, people know that exercise is important. For me, it’s a de-stresser, first and foremost,” she said.
Michelle said that the easiest healthy habit that the family has instituted since moving into the White House has been eating together as a family.
“I think we underestimate the importance of families sitting down around the table at a set time. And it’s hard for many families. It was hard for us until we got to the White House, but we talk about this all the time. Barack can at least control that part of his schedule. He can stop whatever he is doing, come home at 6:30 p.m. We kind of structure our lives around mealtime. And right now, the people who mess that schedule up these days are the kids, because they’re busy and they have things that they’re doing and afterschool activities, and sports and games and things like that.”
And though many have caricatured her as some type of healthy food tyrant, the first lady said if the chips are there, she’s going to eat them. So she makes sure there are health snacks around.
“I need it more than my kids need it, because if there’s a bag of chips in my cabinet, I’m going to eat them,” she said. “I’m going to eat them, and I’m going to eat them until they’re gone, right?”
The first lady revealed the unhealthy obsessions of each member of the first family, including the leader of the free world.
“Malia is juice…I suggested to her that she cut her juice in half, that first of all she drinks water first when she’s thirsty and not just juice. And then, when she has the juice, do like one-third seltzer water or water just to cut the sugar content,” she said.
“With Barack, his is chips and salsa and guacamole. And peanuts—nuts —almonds, pecans. And there’s a way that he eats them that we tease him about—he kind of shakes them in one hand and creates, like, a little dispenser with his index finger where he can just pop them in his mouth. And I kind of imitate him when he does that. But he’s a nut guy. That’s what he’s munching on all the time. And if there are chips and salsa, he really can’t stop eating those…For me, it’s French fries, which is good because you can’t just have French fries around, so that’s helpful. But if there are French fries in the vicinity, I’m done. It’s over.”
“For Sasha, she’s kind of a free for all.”
And as for the importance of girlfriends, Obama said, “We started developing this playgroup when the kids were in carriers, because it was more of a mommy play date then. And we found that many of us‚we were all working women. We had husbands who traveled—sort of similar stories. Some were single-parent mothers. And we just found that being able to meet once a week, and kind of debrief and talk about the kids and talk about the challenges of motherhood and what we were worried about….
I rely on them implicitly to be able to talk frankly and complain without being judged, and to let off steam knowing that you really don’t mean it. And you sort of get a pep talk from your team and you get pushed back into the game. It’s like, you’ll be okay and dust it off.
It has just been essential for me in this role, being in such a highly visible, highly scrutinized environment to have people that you’ve known for that long where you can just be yourself and be vulnerable. And that’s one of the reasons why I encourage women to take care of our friendship, because while my husband is my best friend — and I love and respect him dearly — my female friends just provide a different kind of support. He is grateful to those women in my life as well. And he is somebody who understands my need to have my girls around me.”