The White House held a women’s conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center titled, “United State of Women” on June 14, where First Lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey conversed about women’s empowerment.
“I tell my mentees, my daughters, is that our first job in life as women is to get to know ourselves. I think a lot of times we don’t do that,” Obama said when asked about self-worth by the media mogul. “We spend our time pleasing, satisfying, looking out into the world to define who we are—listening to the messages, the images, the limited definitions that people have of who we are.”
She added, “That’s true for women of color, for sure. There is a limited box that we are put in and if we live by the limited definition, we miss out on a lot of who we are. But it takes taking the time to know who you are to be able to deal with the onslaught of negative messages that you’re bound to get.”
Obama knows a few things about negative messages. In her tenure as first lady, she’s been referred to as “Obama’s Baby Mama“—despite being married to the president for nearly 25 years—been compared to an ape by Emmy award-winning Univision host Rodner Figueroa, and has been publicly body-shamed by right wing media outlets. Yet, the mother of two has learned to silence the noise by just not feeding into it.
“There are just times I turn off the world, you know. There are just some times you have to give yourself space to be quiet, which means you’ve got to set those phones down. You can’t be reading all that stuff. I mean, that’s like letting somebody just walk up and slap you, you know? You would never do that. You would never just sit there and go, ‘Slap me in the face, and I’m good with it.’ No. So why would you open yourself up to that?” she said.
For Obama, the pushback and negative talk she endured when establishing her missions—including healthier school lunches—is just a small factor in a bigger picture.
“The other thing that I have found, particularly in this job, that it’s people won’t remember what other people say about you, but they will remember what you do. So when it came to this role, I just said: ‘You know, let me just be first lady. Let me wake up every day and work hard to do something of value, and to do it well, and to do something consequential, and to do something that I care about. And then let that speak for itself,'” Obama said.
She continued, “And that would shut up the haters, because I would have a whole portfolio of stuff that defined me because it’s what I did, not what you called me. So the best revenge is success and good work.”
As women continue to climb the ranks with profound success stories, as Black women have become the most educated group in the United States, according to a new report by the National Center for Education Statistics, Michelle Obama offered advice to men about how they can help women.
“Be better. Be better at everything. Be better fathers. Good lord, just being good fathers who love your daughters and are providing a solid example of what it means to be a good man in the world, showing them what it feels like to be loved,” she said.
“Be engaged. Don’t just think going to work and coming home makes you a man. Being a father, being engaged, all that stuff is important. Just be better,” she said.
Watch the conversation above.