Watch Oprah interview Michelle Obama below:
Read the full transcript:
OPRAH: Okay. We're ready. Whoo. (Applause.) Oh, oh. No, when I started thinking about who has had some of the greatest impact on the global vision of what health and wellness and empowerment looks like, this person's name came to mind first. Brooklyn, please welcome our WW 2020 visionary conversation, the former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama. (Applause.)
(Michelle Obama entrance.)
MICHELLE: Hey, wow.
OPRAH: It's fun, hey.
MICHELLE: It's fun.
OPRAH: Look at this. Look at this, Brooklyn. (Applause.)
OPRAH: Whoo, sister, does this feel like deja vu all over again for you? Because you were here wearing those fab Balenciaga gold boots.
MICHELLE: Yeah, Barack is, like, where are those boots? He's, like, what did you do with those boots? I was, like, they're put away, honey, just settle down.
OPRAH: To think when you wear a pair of boots like that, like they go to the Michelle museum. Right?
MICHELLE: That's right. You don't walk around in the street with that. You know, you don't do anything with those boots.
MICHELLE: You can barely get on stage in them.
OPRAH: But does this feel familiar?
MICHELLE: Oh, it feels good. (Applause.)
OPRAH: So I know 20–was 2019 your year or what?
MICHELLE: It was crazy. It was unexpected. Yes. It was a good year.
OPRAH: It was. Especially because Michelle Obama's book, Becoming–I know everybody in here has it. (Applause.) It was–it wasn't just the best-selling memoir book of the year, it's the best-selling memoir of all time. (Applause.) And what that says to me, I think it's like now 11.7 million, probably 12 million since we've been sitting here, what it says to me is it's such an extraordinary time to be a strong, confident, assured and, above all else, well woman in the world today.
MICHELLE: Absolutely. I mean, so many people saw themselves in my story. It's also a time for owning our stories. And I think that's part of what resonated with people. I mean, a lot of people came up and said, well, you were so vulnerable. Was it hard for you to tell your story, to tell your truth? There were things you covered that were difficult. Like trouble in your marriage and trouble having–getting pregnant. Was that hard to do? And my response is, no, that's my story. I embrace every aspect of who I am. Because as I've said, I like my story. I like all the highs and the lows and the bumps in between.
OPRAH: Yeah, yeah.
MICHELLE: And I think that what we learn from that is people are–they are–they gravitate to other people's vulnerabilities.
MICHELLE: We gravitate to one another when we see the best and the worst in ourselves. Because it makes us feel human. You know? And I think people connected to the humanness of the story.
OPRAH: What happened that you could never have anticipated on the tour? I mean, didn't y'all do 30 cities?
MICHELLE: We did 34 cities. We did Europe–you know, a tour in Europe. But I think that–and I won't say that it was surprising because we're feeling it here, you know, that people are hungry for connection. They're hungry for community. What's happening here is that there are people gathering together. They're moving outside of their individual lives. And the loneliness that can come with social media obsession and Instagram world, we feel lonely. And when we come together in a space like this, you know, whatever the reason. Whether it's to hear about a book or to talk about health or to see Oprah–(applause)–it reminds us that we are not so unalike. And people are hungry for that. And it's that hunger–and I don't take any credit for it. I think we underestimate the desire for people to feel a connection to each other.
OPRAH: I know. And all of the people in this room paid money to come out to give up a Saturday. And we know all that Saturday means.
MICHELLE: Like I said, ain't nobody twerking on this stage. You know? People are talking–people are talking and having conversations.
MICHELLE: But the current climate speaks down to people. You know? We think that people don't want to talk about books and talk about deep things and to, you know, really be self-reflective.
OPRAH: Speaking of the current climate. You know, one of the things that you have now become famous forever for is that, "When they go low, we go high."
MICHELLE: And that ain't always easy, y'all.
OPRAH: And it's not always easy. What I wanted to ask you about that, in this climate where low has taken new lows, how do you maintain a high and not appear to be passive and not lose your equilibrium? Because low has gone lower.
MICHELLE: Yeah. Well, because going low is easy. Which is why people go to it. It's easy to go low. It's easy to lead by fear. It's easy to be divisive. It's easy to make people feel afraid. That's the easy thing. And it's also the short-term thing. And for me, you know, what I learned from my husband, what I learned in eight years at the White House, is that this life, this world, our responsibility in it, is so much bigger than us.
MICHELLE: So what I have to keep in mind, usually when I want to go low, it's all about my own ego. You know? It's not about solving anything. It's not about fixing anything. It's about seeking revenge on the thing that happened to you.
MICHELLE: And, Oprah, when you talk about purpose and what it's all about? My purpose on this planet is not just to take care of my own little ego. You know? There is a bigger purpose for me out there. So when I respond to something, I have to think about that light I'm trying to shine. What role model am I trying to be? What are the words that I'm gonna say? And how will it affect young people who are looking at me? That's the bigger picture that puts you in a position to think high. Because if you're thinking about the long term, you don't take the short-term measure of getting even with somebody right here and now today because it makes you feel good in the moment. If it's not gonna fix a problem, if it's not gonna move the needle, then you're not going high. You're just being selfish.
OPRAH: Yeah, I was gonna ask you that because–(applause)–you know, when you are the rock star that you are and when you're filling stadiums all over the world you're a rock star. Just take it. Just take it.
OPRAH: Yes. So when you–when you are–(applause)–
MICHELLE: Okay, y'all.
OPRAH:–not just rock star. Rock star. Role model. World's most admired woman. When you are that, when you carry all of those titles, does that affect how you then make decisions? And is that now a part of what you think about before you make a decision or have an intention?
MICHELLE: I don't know that it's any different today. But I feel like I have a–when you–I believe that when you are a public figure, I believe this–that when you have any level of–of fame, or if you have a platform, I believe, and I always have believed, that I have a responsibility with that platform. And I think about kids. I care a lot about young people. And I know that what we say, what they hear come out of our mouths, all of us, me in particular, because they're paying attention, that it has a lasting effect. And I am a mother. I'm a mother. I care about kids first. So I think deeply about what kids are hearing me say. So, yes, I do. I take that very seriously. And I take the words that I say to children very seriously. You know, when I'm with a young person, I want them to hear me–I want them to hear me see them. It's important for them to know that this person who's so famous and has this platform thinks that they are beautiful and smart and kind and good.
OPRAH: Yeah. I was saying earlier that everybody just wants to know that you hear me—
OPRAH:–and that you see me.
OPRAH: What's the best advice do you think that you've given your daughters?
MICHELLE: Oh, gosh, I give them so much advice. They're so sick of me. (Laughter.) You know, now that they're in college, I have these texting–did I tell you to remember some little things? Like you are eating some green things. Aren't you?
OPRAH: What does that mean over the years that was a running theme in your house that you said over and over?
MICHELLE: You know, I try to–it's–you know, what I tell them is what I continue to tell themselves is that they have to walk their own walk. You know, they cannot define themselves by looking at each other or looking at me or their dad. They have to take the time to get to know themselves. Give themselves a moment to figure out who they want to be in the world. Not who they think I want them to be. Not what the rest of the world says about them. But to really think about how they want to shape their lives and how they want to move in this world. So I don't want them measuring themselves by external influences. And for young girls, that is hard to do.
OPRAH: Oh, yeah.
MICHELLE: You know? That is a very hard thing to do. And everybody should understand that as a responsibility.
OPRAH: It was hard–
MICHELLE: And in this brand culture, oh, it–it drives me crazy.
OPRAH:–it was hard with just cable TV when you're watching all the images in music.
OPRAH: It's–I don't know. It's exponentially difficult when you're comparing yourself with everybody on social media.
MICHELLE: Yeah. Yeah. So I constantly have to remind them that they have to live in their own skin. And that takes time, too. And I try to make sure that they understand that that–that under folding of understanding who you are, it is a journey of becoming because you don't know that in your 20s. You don't know it all in your 20s.
OPRAH: No, you don't. You just start to know something. Right?
OPRAH: How did you all do that in the White House where you have access to everything and everybody in the world? I think it's difficult for people, no matter where you are in your trajectory, you want to do–have a better life than your parents. You want your children to live comfortably. Everybody does. But how do you not spoil children when they have access to everything?
MICHELLE: It–it was easy for us, you know, because we don't think they deserve it. You know? (Laughter.) It wasn't a difficult thing to do. You know?
MICHELLE: Not the way me and Barack were raised. I mean, first of all, you've got to have a mate that shares your values. Let's start way back with who you pick. You've got to have a good picker. Because if you all don't come to parenting with the same kind of values and understanding that stuff isn't–isn't parenting, giving kids things is not–parenting is a verb. It is an active, engaging thing.
And that means you have to know who your kids are, and each one of them are different. Right? So you can't just apply the same principles to the first one that you did to the second one. Because they come here totally different. So we–you know, we didn't just show up in the White House. You know? We–I'm Michelle from the South Side of Chicago. I grew up, you know, a little city house. I got nice clothes and jewelry now. But my mother made my clothes. You know? I mean, we were raised with the, ‘that's enough.’ You know, ‘you be grateful for what you have. You don't look at the next thing. You be happy with what you have.’ And that's how we work in the White House. That didn't change because we moved to a different house. You know, the house didn't define us. It's the values that defined us.
OPRAH: Amen. Amen. (Applause.)
MICHELLE: So for us–
OPRAH: So I've heard, we've read this. Although we can't believe anything we read. But I know Malia's third year Harvard and you all–all together as a family dropped Sasha off.
MICHELLE: We did. We dropped Malia off, too. We all did.
OPRAH: Okay. And I heard–
MICHELLE: With the motorcade.
OPRAH: With the motorcade.
MICHELLE: Tried to hide it. But it was there.
OPRAH: It's hard with 20 cars.
MICHELLE: Well, we had 'em do less cars.
MICHELLE: So it had to–
OPRAH: How was the dropoff?
MICHELLE: It was–it's always good for any parent who's dropped off kids, there's the busy part of dropoff which is, okay, all right. I'm that person. While Barack is trying to put together a lamp. I'm, like, girl, you cannot keep all these clothes. You brought a hundred shoes, and you live in a dorm. So you can pick 10. I mean, this is what I'm doing. Pick 10 shoes. You cannot bring all those shoes. And she was supposed to do that before we got there which was whiddle her clothes down. But see she didn't understand what dorm life was. I was, like, girl, you've got 3 inches of a closet. You've got to figure this out. So there's that business of trying to move in and pack and unpack and fold clothes and clean out stuff.
OPRAH: Put a lamp together.
MICHELLE: Get it all together. And so when you're busy with the busy stuff, you're not thinking about the emotional stuff. So usually we then drop 'em off, get 'em in the dorm, and then we take 'em out to lunch somewhere, and that's, like, our last lunch. And when the emotions come is when we are getting in our cars and getting on a plane and leaving our babies and they're going somewhere where they will now live. That's when it hits you. It's, like, we all start choking up. It was just like, this is the time when I know you're leaving.
MICHELLE: And so we all, you know, try to hold it together. We tried to hold it together to get her in the car so she wouldn't start crying. And then me and Barack, we bawled like babies. (Laughter.) You know, Barack has that–gets that ugly loud cry, like–(indicating)–you know? He did that at Malia's graduation. Like we're sitting there. He had his sunglasses on and speeches are happening and we're all chatting and we hear–(Indicating.) I look down, like, are you okay? He's, like–(indicating.) (Laughter.) He's gonna kill me for telling that story. Don't tell him. Don't tell him.
OPRAH: So this year is the first time you all have been empty-nesters. And what's that like?
MICHELLE: It is so good, y'all.
OPRAH: Is it? (Laughter.)
MICHELLE: Mm-hmm. No, it is really good.
OPRAH: Doesn't the actual energy of the house change?
MICHELLE: Yeah. It's good. (Laughter.) Okay, you guys. Get out of the gutter. All of y'all. Fifteen-thousand people. Shame on you. (Laughter.) So what I'm saying is that parenting takes up a lot of emotional space. And, you know, my husband was busy being President. So I don't think he understood–(applause)–how much time–time and energy–(Applause.)
OPRAH: Don't we wish. Yes.
OPRAH: Don't we wish. Yes.
MICHELLE: Just vote, y'all. That's all I'm saying. Just vote. (Applause.) But anyway, we digress. But, you know, I–I put a lot of time and energy to parenting these girls in the White House because I was–we were trying to make their lives normal. You know, so that meant weekends were always a pain, right? Because you had to worry about what party they were going to. Whether there was alcohol. Who was doing what. And I had to know who the parents were. So you're trying to do that as First Lady. I mean, every weekend for me was hard just following these little girls around. And they're gone. Thank God, they are off living their lives. As my mother used to say, sometimes you–you just need to get out there and live your life and have your mistakes where I can't see them. Because I'm tired of watching you walk into the wall.
OPRAH: You don't follow them on social media?
MICHELLE: Oh, no, no, no. We have a lot of people who do, you know. (Laughter.) No, I'm serious. We have my Communications Director. Every not–all the young people in our lives that I mentored, they all follow the girls. You know, they're brothers and sisters who are grown. It's like they're watching. And they're the ones because it's better for them to be checked by somebody other than me. I also had to learn how to parent with a balance of kids who have Secret Service. Right? What am I saying? You don't know what I'm talking about. Right? (Laughter.) You know, when there's Secret Service? It's like you know how that goes. No, you don't. Neither did I. But you're trying to make sure that these men and women who are following them around that the girls can trust. So I had to get my information about what they were doing or not doing just same way everybody else. From other parents and other kids
who will tell on each other. You know, that takes–that takes some energy. And now, all that energy I can now place back on me and helping me, you know, spend the time figuring out–figuring out my next chapter. You know, how I want to spend the rest of my life. What I want to do.
OPRAH: To choose what your vision is and beyond.
OPRAH: So do you all actually now have more time for each other?
MICHELLE: Yes. More emotional time.
MICHELLE: More emotional energy. I mean, it's just me and him and Bo and Sunny at dinner. And there's only–they don't talk, the dogs. We look at each other.
OPRAH: It will be 28. Right?
MICHELLE: It will be 28 this year.
OPRAH: 28 years.
MICHELLE: Yeah. That's real time.
OPRAH: Now, your husband recently posted a message. Did you all see this message that he posted on Michelle's birthday on social media? And said–he said that ‘In every scene, you are my star.’
OPRAH: Aw. And you have called him your soul-affirming partner.
OPRAH: Is it more so now, 28 years, as opposed to earlier years? So does it just keep getting better? It's more seasoned? It's–
MICHELLE: It's all of that. You know, and this is what I try to tell young people. Marriage is hard. And raising a family together is a hard thing. It takes its toll. But if you're with the person, if you know why you were with them, you know? You understand that there was a friendship and a foundation there, this may–it may feel like it goes away during some of those hard times, but it's–it's something that you can–that we always come back to. And we're coming back to that point where we see each other again. You know? Because some of the hardest times in our lives we just–we just escaped it. We survived it. Now, we went through a tough time. We did some hard things together. And now we're out on the other end. And I can look at him and I still recognize my husband. He's still the man that I fell in love with. Who I value–
MICHELLE:–and I respect and I trust. (Applause.) He's been an amazing father through so much. He is–he shows up–he has shown up well in the world. And it's–he has been who he promised he would be to me. (Applause.) And so that has been tested over 28 years. You know? So what I tell young couples is that you've got to hang in there. You know, you can't quit the minute it gets hard. Because this–this thing of living life and building a life together is a naturally hard thing to do. So you can't quit when it's hard. Because then you miss the good parts.
And I do joke, you know, and some people hate when I say this. But if you live long enough to be married for 40 years, 50 years, which is what we're working towards, if you get to the point where eight of those years are bad, 10 of those years are bad, wouldn't you take those odds? You know? But that's what marriage is. You can have chunks of hard, bad times. And if that's how you define your marriage, by just the hard times, then you'll miss the truth of what's really there.
OPRAH: So you were so open in Becoming when you talked about it. Oh, they went to therapy. And therapy really was an eye-opener for you and for him.
MICHELLE: Well, we all need to reflect. And it's very hard to do it in a marriage with the person you're trying to work on. Sometimes you need an objective person to just hear you out, you know? You may not be right. You may just want to get it out and have him sitting there listening to you get it out. Sometimes that helps. It's like I don't know–
OPRAH: What did it teach you about yourself?
MICHELLE: I talked about this. It taught me that I am responsible for my own happiness. That I didn't marry Barack for him to make me happy. No one can make me happy. You know? (Applause.) So my disappointments were about what I thought he should be doing for me, giving to me, which I hadn't really done the work to figure out what to I want? And how do I go after what I want on my own? You know, if I'm gonna show up equal in this partnership, I have to be able to make myself happy. And so I had to stop focusing on what he wasn't doing and start thinking about how to carve out the life that I wanted for myself with or without Barack. And the more I did that, the more I succeeded in defining myself for myself, the better I was in my partnership.
OPRAH: And isn't that, for you, the cornerstone of your own wellness program is defining your own happiness and working towards that?
MICHELLE: Well, one of the things I said–I said this earlier, what tried to tell my girls is walk your walk. You know, that's been my mantra. One thing I do every year, I started doing right after the White House, is taking a–a retreat. And I think some of the people–some of my girlfriends who have gone on a retreat, we go to this place where you're essentially walking for four hours. It is–it's hard. And my friends who don't know what it is are usually mad at me by the middle of it.
OPRAH: That's a place where you get up at 5:00 in the morning–
MICHELLE: Exactly. And one of the lessons of walking for that long, because it's rare that you have to walk–and these are hikes. This is up mountains and down streams and valleys and all you have is a Camelbak with some water and a hiker is telling you, water, water, water. And you're just, like, just shut up. Shut up with this water. When is it over, this hike? But you're hiking with other people. And what you realize is everybody has their own way of hiking. Some people can get up the mountain fast. Some people are fast on the flats. Some people are slow and methodical about how they walk. And I always found that when I was not enjoying my walk is when I was comparing my walk to somebody else in the group. And I had to sort of start telling myself over these four hours, stop comparing yourself to the person walking ahead of you or behind you. Walk your walk.
Do your walk. Why are you here? How fast do you need to go? How fast do you need to take that incline to get through it? Because if you do what she did in front of you, you won't make it. So for me, the message that I always have to tell myself is, what is my journey? What is my definition of health for me? Not what I see in a magazine, you know, because the people in magazines don't look like us. They don't even set it up to look like us. They don't even look like that. Right? (Laughter.)
OPRAH: Sometimes I'm in a photo shoot. Have you looked around the photo shoot? The last photo shoot I counted 47 people.
MICHELLE: Oh, yeah, those are–
MICHELLE: This is also rich people's problems we're talking about.
MICHELLE: And in my photo shoot, girl, there were like a hundred people.
OPRAH: Girl, my last photo shoot–yeah. I'm saying it requires so many people.
MICHELLE: To make you look like this. Right?
MICHELLE: People–some people put some bracelets on me and then they moved one over there. I was, like, why did you move that one? Why that one? Who's got time to figure it out? They just push you out on stage. Just get out there. (Laughter.) It's sort of my walk but it's somebody else's walk, too.
OPRAH: I was talking to Tina Fey recently, and she said that she–she's at a stage now where she appreciates that she has moved through life in a few different body shapes.
MICHELLE: Uh-huh. Yeah. Yeah.
OPRAH: What do you appreciate most now about your body today?
MICHELLE: It's mine. All mine. And it's a healthy body that works every day. And I–I try hard not to judge it. And it is different. To me, you have to get to know your body. Because what this body is at 56 isn't the–I can't do the same thing that I did when I was 36. It's not the same body.
We–we are–we're living things. We're not machines. You know, we run out of gas. We need fuel. We need sunshine and light. We have to take care of ourselves. And when you don't, as you get older, just like any living thing, it begins to fail on you. And for me, I'm trying to figure out what is that balance that I need to make sure that this–this body that God gave me, that I'm taking care of it the best that I can and that it will serve me well as I get older. And that isn't–doing that–what I did at 30 does not take care of this body at 56. So I can't look at some little kid in the gym next to me and even want to walk her walk. Because she's 30. You know? And I'm 56 with a 56-year-old body. And I love my body. You know? And as a–as a child, growing up with a person–with a father with a disability, who could not walk, my father would have given anything to have any one of my legs. For me to judge that and not to just embrace it and be happy that I'm alive, moving, able to move–
MICHELLE:–I have to tell myself, appreciate what God gave you and take care of that.
MICHELLE: And be balanced about it.
OPRAH: I like that you so freely speak the number 56.
MICHELLE: Yeah for me. Yeah. (Laughter.)
OPRAH: I love that. You have been around women–we all have–and men, too, like I'm not gonna say the number. And oh, my gosh, I'm turning 40. Oh, my gosh, I'm turning 50. You never had any of that?
MICHELLE: We are so ridiculous as women. You know? We are working with–we were struggling with so much. You know, just the notion, too–the other thing we don't want to talk about our age and then we want to act like we should look like we did when we're 20. You know? When I'm sorry, men, y'all can look any kind of way. You know? And it seems to be okay. It's–I told my daughters, because they're getting older, they start to judge themselves. And, you know, it's interesting when they talk about, well, I couldn't fit in my jeans that I had last year. And I said, but you're a whole other year older. You're now becoming a woman. You don't have a child's body. That's like saying at 20 I'm really upset that I couldn't wear my favorite overalls anymore when I was 10, you know? That is ridiculous at 56 to think that I should look like I did when I was 36. Or for anyone to judge me like that. Or to judge a woman like that. We–we're aging. And our bodies are–
OPRAH: And we're in a culture where people are trying to stop it.
OPRAH: And then you have all of these frozen faces.
MICHELLE: Yes. (Laughter.) And let me tell you, when you're in a photo line–now this is another thing (inaudible.) When you're in a photo line and everybody looks the same and you're, like, didn't I just meet you? (Laughter.) No.
OPRAH: No. No.
MICHELLE: Y'all just have the same lips. (Laughter.) It's like–
OPRAH: And the same forehead.
MICHELLE: Stop it.
MICHELLE: Let it go.
OPRAH: That's pretty funny. I just met you. No, I didn't. (Laughter.)
MICHELLE: But we have to embrace our change. And I'm lecturing to myself truthfully, ladies, because I struggle with this, too. You know, I struggle with looking at the mirror going, well–oh, and I hate–I hate looking at myself. I hate listening to my voice. I hate watching myself on tape. Because I'm constantly judging myself, too, just like everybody else.
OPRAH: Really? Are you, still? I was going to ask you, is there any self-doubt left?
OPRAH: Because I honestly–
OPRAH:–I remember when–because I opened–or interviewed you at the very first tour stop in Chicago.
MICHELLE: I remember that. Yes.
OPRAH: We were a little nervous. We prayed backstage. And that was the first one. And I remember you were anxious. And I read somewhere that you weren't even sure that people would show up.
MICHELLE: Yes, exactly. I lived in a cocoon of the White House for eight years. I knew sort of kind of that people maybe sort of liked me. You know? Might be interested in the book. I don't know. You know? But people–(applause)–you guys I wasn't really–I wasn't fishing for a compliment. Not everybody likes me, you know. Some people think I'm the devil incarnate. You know what I mean? When you're in politics, you get the good and the venom, too. That's why in the book I remind people, look, people called me all kinds of things when I was–when I was campaigning for Barack, when it was a competition. They called me unamerican. And this stuff sticks with you. Men talked about the size of my butt. You know, there were people who were telling me I was angry. You know, you–that stuff hurts. You know? And it makes you sort of wonder, what are people seeing, you know?
MICHELLE: So that stuff is there. And, look, I'm a black woman in America. (Applause.) And, you know, we're not always made to feel beautiful. You know, we're–you know, so there's still that. You know, there's still that baggage that we carry. And not everybody can relate to that. But, yes, there is baggage that–that I carry, just like anybody else.
OPRAH: Well, I was wondering if touring the world, filling arenas and stadiums around the world, helped to release some of that self-doubt.
MICHELLE: The release doesn't come from the adoration or the–the book sales. The work is still from within. That's the thing to know.
OPRAH: From within.
MICHELLE: It's the voices in my head. It's not y'all. It's me. You know? It's me changing the–the playbook, the recording in my head, that was–that has been played over and over again. And that's what a lot of women and a lot of you–that's why it takes–takes what–what children hear from me. You know, I take that very seriously. Because my voice becomes the part of the recording in their head.
OPRAH: So what can that voice possibly be saying to you at this point that brings self-doubt?
MICHELLE: It's always, are you working hard enough? Is there–you know, are you using this platform for a good purpose? Are you focused on what other people need? Are you getting outside of your own ego? That's still–we're constantly checking that with the work that we're doing. I mean, I just spent a year on a book tour talking about me. And it feels like, that's enough. Now let's talk about somebody else's story. Where are these girls who are not going
to school? Because you know what, in the end, that's why I'm here. I'm not here to talk about my story or to talk about my journey. I'm here to shine a light on other young women.
OPRAH: That's your big work ahead.
MICHELLE: That's the big–I feel that's the–that's the work that speaks to me.
OPRAH: You recently released a companion to Becoming. It's called The Journal. Lovely. For [A Guided Journal] for Discovering Your Voice. I gave away many for Christmas.
MICHELLE: Thank you.
OPRAH: And I've been keeping a journal since I was about 15 years old. I love some of the questions you have in here. You say, if you could have a conversation with a loved one who has passed away, what would you ask him or her? I'm asking that of you.
MICHELLE: You know, I wish I knew. But, like, I–I wish I had taken the time to know my grandparents' full story. Because a lot of what I talk about are my impressions of what my grandparents must have been going through. I talk about my paternal grandfather, Dandy. And he was kind of a crotchety old man I read about. And now that I'm older I can look back and think, why was he so angry? But it–it was because he was a brilliant black man in the era of segregation and Jim Crow who did not realize his potential. And he was probably very bitter about that.
OPRAH: Imagine how that would–
MICHELLE: Imagine how that would feel. I wish I was older–I wish I had been old enough to sit down with him and ask him what–you know, what he went through. How did he–how did he survive living through a world that had such limited expectations for him when he knew that, you know, there was so much more for him.
MICHELLE: I would want to unpack that so that I could get to know him better. And the reason why I put this kind of stuff in–in the journal is because this is what our stories are. And I want particularly young people to know that there is a time now to have some of those conversations with the elders in your life. Because the more you understand their stories, their journeys, their pains, and their hurts, you get to understand who they are in a full sense. And then you judge less. And you're more empathetic. I wish I understood my elders a bit more. But we grew up in an era where you don't ask nobody questions. You know? Don't ask Dandy that.
OPRAH: Right. But you wish if you could have a conversation, that's who it would be?
MICHELLE: Every single one of my grandparents.
OPRAH: Describe your perfect day, beginning with breakfast and ending with dinner.
MICHELLE: Well, we'd be somewhere warm. (Laughter.) We'd be in Hawaii. And–or someplace warm.
MICHELLE: And I'd wake up and have a workout. I'd be outside.
OPRAH: Do you do breakfast?
MICHELLE: I generally don't. I'm not a big breakfast person.
MICHELLE: So I probably wouldn't have breakfast. I would go out on a long walk where I could see the ocean and the mountains and–
OPRAH: You love to hike.
MICHELLE: I love to be outside because so much of our lives we don't–we don't have the freedom to just be outside anymore because of security. So both Barack and I crave a chance to be outdoors. And I would take a long walk and I would come home and I would have lunch with my husband and I would sit on the beach and I'd read or I'd talk to some of my girlfriends, because I love living in my community. I love to have people around. Our house is usually full of people.
OPRAH: Do you still cook?
MICHELLE: No. (Laughter.) Not a stick of cooking. (Laughter.) That is not one of the things that I need in defining myself. I don't need to cook. (Laughter.) It's not on my personal list. Now I know, Oprah, you like to cook.
OPRAH: I like to cook when I want to.
MICHELLE: Yes. I don't ever want to.
OPRAH: Okay. (Laughter.) I can make some hot water cornbread.
MICHELLE: I'm just being honest, I can cook.
OPRAH: You can cook.
MICHELLE: Yes. I did it for–like I proved I can cook for y'all. You've been fed by me.
OPRAH: You don't do it anymore?
OPRAH: And he doesn't either? (Laughter.)
MICHELLE: No. He doesn't either.
OPRAH: How do you look after yourself after a bad day? That's another one of your journal questions.
MICHELLE: How do I look after myself after a bad day? I tune out the world that is making me feel bad. Because it's usually something external. I just take a break from what makes me feel bad.
OPRAH: How much TV do you watch?
MICHELLE: I watch TV. But I watch, like–I like HGTV. I want–and I get in this habit because I never wanted to, like, get caught watching something where I would be mentioned or my husband. So that cancels out, like, most of the news. Right?
OPRAH: Right. So you don't watch the news? How do you all monitor news in your house?
MICHELLE: We get clips and I watch–I get news on my feed and I kind of tune–I have a whole communications team. So when something goes down, they will be, like, you need to see this. So I generally–and I had to learn how to do that in the White House. Because if you don't block it out, it can eat you up.
OPRAH: So if I come to your house, like the TV is not gonna be on all over the house?
MICHELLE: No. No.
OPRAH: You go to Gayle's house, all the TVs are on.
MICHELLE: Oh, yeah, no.
OPRAH: All the TVs on.
MICHELLE: Yeah, no.
OPRAH: Literally so if you go from room to room, it's on–
MICHELLE: No, that would drive me crazy. That would sap me of all that was good inside.
OPRAH: So you don't?
OPRAH: Watch TV. But what is your favorite TV show?
MICHELLE: Oh, I have a lot of favorite TV shows. I love Black-ish and Grown-ish and all the ishes. I love comedy. You know, I started watching Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. Hilarious. It's kind of a takeoff–a modern-day takeoff of Green Acres. For young people, that was a show that was on a long time ago.
OPRAH: A long, long time ago, yeah.
MICHELLE: I love comedies. I love The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I like that, too. I love TV. I love watching TV. I probably watch a little too much TV, now that I'm listening to myself.
OPRAH: Here's this question. Mrs. Kennedy told a story a long time ago about watching a congressman's wife sneaking silverware from the–in her bag at the White House. So I'm wondering if you saw any weird behavior at a White House event.
MICHELLE: Oh, God, yeah. People–you know, because people usually are nervous when they come to the White House. So, like, if there's a party, people usually over-drink because they're nervous. Right? Because they don't know what to expect. So you can see–and the drinks at the White House are strong. So we have seen some people falling out way back. I'm not gonna mention any names. But you–we've seen some Spanx and some–(laughter)–stuff.
OPRAH: Okay. Who's the most fun to sit next to at a State dinner?
MICHELLE: Stephen Colbert was a fun dinner date because he's so cute and charming and he's smart, so he actually knows what's going on, so–and he'll say things in your ear, you know, that are, like, stop it. We're not supposed to be laughing. So he was a lovely dinner date. And I don't think he knew that he was gonna be sitting next to me. I don't even think he understood why he was invited. (Laughter.) So–he tells the story. He's, like, then he looked up. He looked at his wife and he said I'm sitting next to Michelle Obama. And he said all she said was, don't embarrass me. So I like her.
OPRAH: What is the last new thing you mastered?
MICHELLE: The last new thing I mastered. I don't know.
MICHELLE: That's hard. The last new thing I mastered. I don't–I'm drawing a blank here. Maybe I need to master something. I'm just starting yoga, and there are–
OPRAH: Do you like it?
MICHELLE: I do. I do. Because this is something I need because I'm getting old. So I've got to be flexible. I have to be able to touch my toes.
OPRAH: Flexibility is the most important thing.
MICHELLE: The older you get, the more important it is.
OPRAH: The more important it is.
MICHELLE: There all these crazy yoga poses that, you know, like they–we went the day before yesterday. And they were trying to have us do something where a chin was on the ground, they kick their legs up. And I was, like, I'm about to talk to Oprah. I cannot have a bruised chin that I have to explain to people because I'm trying some stupid yoga pose.
OPRAH: I was gonna ask you, my next question was, what is the last thing you did that made you feel genuinely older?
MICHELLE: Oh, any conversation with a young person, you know? (Laughter.) Here's one just personal sentiment. I have a godson who, you know, is–just got his permit. And his mother sent me a video of him behind the wheel. And that just tripped me out. Because I was, like, no one should let that little boy drive. (Laughter.) He's on the road. I mean, he was the kind of kid like the girls would go over to his house when they were little and they'd come back with scratches on their face because he was a wild little boy when he was little. And I would come home and it's, like, oh, you must have been at–we call him Booch. You must have been at Booch's house because your face is all scratched up. He's driving. That makes me feel old. Seeing the young people in my life–
OPRAH: Seeing them like this.
MICHELLE: Yeah. Watching them out in the world, you know, buying groceries. Having conversations about life like they know something. (Laughter.) When you think about young people, you know, it's like their baby comes out, you know? It's like my children can be all elegant and saying interesting points. And then I get a FaceTime because somebody doesn't know how to get a stain out of their duvet cover. And I'm, like, oh, you're still a baby. Because you don't even know how to do laundry right yet, so…but that kind of stuff makes me feel old.
OPRAH: I was asking earlier Julianne was out and she was talking about her superpower is dance. What is yours?
MICHELLE: I don't–you know, I have a hard time thinking about it as a superpower. But, you know, I–I hope it's making people feel seen. You know, I hope that that's my superpower. That I make the people that I come in contact with feel seen and heard. Especially young people. I hope I have that power to make them feel relevant and whole. You know? And to deliver to them what I didn't have when I was that age. Like the sense of–of importance and relevance in the world. I hope that's my superpower. I hope my superpower is empathy. You know? I try very hard, even in these times, to understand what people are going through when they're angry or hateful or when they're doing things that just don't feel right. I try to stand in their shoes and say, there's got to be something. There's got to be a context that I can understand that helps me see how you see the world so that I can connect with you on some level. And I think that's one thing that's missing in all of us, you know, is just the ability to stand in somebody else's shoes and understand their pain, their hurt, their fears, their loss.
MICHELLE: And to see them beyond their anger.
OPRAH: I think empathy is your superpower. And I'm also wondering, like, every time we see you, I've seen you out since 2016, you look like, and so does Barack Obama, like you really discovered what living your best life means. It seems like you all took living your best life to a new level. Have you?
MICHELLE: You know, we're–yeah. We're happy people. But I–you know–
OPRAH: Did you get happier?
MICHELLE: Oh, yes.
OPRAH: Since the White House.
MICHELLE: Yeah. Look, it was an honor to serve. I mean, it was–it was the biggest privilege of my life to serve as this nation's First Lady. And I will–(applause)–and I will continue to work to try to be a person–a person of service. To try to make sure that my life means something to somebody else. But those eight years were hard. I mean, it's a hard job. And it takes a toll. So anything after that, it's like they look really happy. And it's, like, yeah. Because it's not that. (Laughter.)
OPRAH: Yes. It's not that.
MICHELLE: So, yeah, we are happy people. But why wouldn't we be? We have our health. You know? We have each other. We have a sense of purpose. You know? I mean, there are things to complain about, he and I, but we, the two of us, we don't have anything to complain about. That's why we believe we owe so much. Because to whom much is given, much is expected.
So I cannot sit up here and complain about my life. What I'm worried about are the lives of people who don't have a voice. The people who don't have jobs. And people who don't have healthcare. There's so many people who are struggling with things that–so it is a hard thing for me to look at the life I've been given and complain about anything.
OPRAH: So I know you don't do resolutions. But we're here setting the commitment contract for a better vision for ourselves.
OPRAH: Do you have a vision for 2020 and beyond? Do you see it?
MICHELLE: Oh, for us as a people?
OPRAH: No. For you, Michelle Obama.
MICHELLE: Oh, for me. Oh, for me. Okay, good. That's easier. (Laughter.) For me, the next phase of my journey of becoming is–is really continuing to make sure that what I do has meaning and purpose to somebody outside of myself. So my vision is–in particular is to keep helping young people define and build and support that next generation of leaders. To help them understand a broader sense of values that they can operate within. Because I think that we are short on that right now. That our leaders are not paving a good path for what we want our kids to be. I'm just sorry to say that. I don't want to make this political in any way. (Applause.) But I think young people are hungry for something. And it's time for them to step up and to take the lead because we're getting older. And we need to move out of the way for them. Because they're gonna have answers that we've never thought of. So my hope is that I want to empower young people. I want to empower the next generation of politicians and community activists and teachers and doctors and lawyers and I want–I want to be a part of laying out a set of values and principles that we can all be proud of in this country. Honesty. You know, empathy. Compassion. Caring for others.
OPRAH: And as you said earlier, you've also made voter awareness a top priority for this year's presidential election.
MICHELLE: This year and every year. I mean, what I said was voter registration is that this isn't something we can do every four years. Because we have to change the habits of people in voting. We're not–we're not in the habit of being engaged citizens. And that's not something you do every four years. Okay, it's a presidential campaign. Get registered. No. We have to be talking about this every day. When we want to do something in this country, when a company wants to market and sell something to us, they don't do it every four years. They do it every take, every minute, every 30 seconds they're telling you what to buy, what to do. We need to do that with civic engagement because people don't understand why government is important in their lives. Because I always say, government doesn't have a marketing budget. It can't be on TV telling you what it's doing for you and your schools and your communities, so we start taking it for granted and thinking that this is all a game. But we have to be having these conversations every day—every day—about why it's important. Why is it relevant? You know? And so, no, it's not just this year. It's every year. It's not just this election. It's every election. We have to change our culture in terms of our engagement in this political process.
OPRAH: You've talked about being 56 and the shape that you're in. You work at this, though, every day. Do you have a wellness goal or wellness quotient for yourself?
MICHELLE: It is–it is balance. And understanding my walk. I've got to under–I'm trying to make sure I understand what healthy means for me. Not compared to the person walking next to me. Not the person in the magazine. I'm trying to understand what my blood pressure level should be and what my flexibility should be and what cardio means for me. And when do I feel good?
Because we can also overdo it. Right? We can work out so hard and diet so much that we might be thin and look a certain way, but our bodies are broken inside because we're not walking our path, we're walking somebody else's path.
So I am trying to figure that out every day. And it changes. Because women, our bodies, change drastically in comparison to men. We're going through menopause. We've got a lot going on. And I don't think we've done enough to understand what aging means for women's bodies. What are we supposed to look like? How are we supposed to feel? We're not talking about that enough. And I feel like we're at a time when women our age, because we do have–we do spend money. Now we have wealth. Women our age. But the market and the fitness market, they don't speak to us. They're not catering to us. They're catering to Malia and Sasha. How this workout wear looks and what these classes are. They're catering to 20- and 30-year-olds who, quite frankly, have no money. (Laughter.) How is that? So I want to make it a–I want to push these industries to start thinking about us. Women–mature women. So that we're operating with real good information about what we should be wanting. But for me, I have to figure out–in the absence of that information, I've got to seek it out for myself. And stop comparing myself to the woman next to me.
OPRAH: You don't have to compare because you represent–you represent what Maya Angelou said in one of her poems. You make me proud to spell my name, W-o-m-a-n. You. (Applause.) And when I see you walk it, it makes me proud. Because you are a phenomenal. Phenomenal woman. Michelle Obama. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Michelle Obama. (Applause.) First Lady Obama.