What Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie Have in Common

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Photo: Getty Images

Angelina Jolie and Michelle Obama have more in common than dashing husbands. Both the first lady of celebrity weeklies and the First Lady of this country are image-control super-freaks, according to the Times. In November, the Times launched an investigation into how Angelina Jolie, without the help of a publicist, manipulates Us and People magazines and even Namibia, with unsuccessful results — marketing polls revealed that just 24 percent of respondents viewed her positively. As First Lady, Michelle Obama has lots of aides and advisers, and — unlike Angelina — uses them to help project an image of her as a mother who just had to move her family halfway across the country, loves to grow her own vegetables, takes interest in a healthy lifestyle, and mixes her designer clothes with affordable pieces. A glaring omission from that equation? Her intelligence and keen interest in policy. We don't talk about those things — which is upsetting to many feminists — because Michelle doesn't want us to. Yet.

Ten months ago, MObama was characterized as an angry black woman by conservatives. But now she has the highest favorability ratings of any incoming First Lady since 1980 and is more popular than Barack. Michelle's image starts with apparel: She insists on wearing her own clothes for magazine photo shoots, for example. (The editor of More tried unsuccessfully to talk Michelle out of this, citing MObama's "will of steel.") She grants interviews to women's magazines that allow her to talk about being a mom, gardening, and shopping at J.Crew. Though when she's not gardening, she's cornering congressmen in the White House and asking them to push bills out of committee. She would not grant the Times an interview about this, but rather only one about how much she loves French fries. Meanwhile, her aides partake in public-policy discussions frequently in the West Wing, which we don't hear about.

Michelle could be trying to build up her image as a mom and domestic type to get the American people to like her as a person before she tries to win support for policies. But for now, she seems content to have us all talk about her clothes, exercise routine, and how much dessert she allows Sasha and Malia to eat. It would be nice for her to remind the world she's a Harvard-educated lawyer and used to be vice-president of a hospital. And it would be nice for the world to appreciate that, instead of feeling threatened or scared by it. But for now, she seems to be having a great time in the White House. She may as well have some fun there.

In the meantime, Angelina could learn a lot from her, starting by hiring a publicist. She may as well plant a garden while she's at it. Or get a dog.

First Lady in Control of Building Her Image [NYT]