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Gloria Steinem and Rashida Jones Explain What Michelle Obama Means to Them

Oct. 17, 2016

'Michelle Obama may have changed history in the most powerful way — by example'

Three famous women penned thank you letters to Michelle Obama, praising the example she’s set for women simply by being herself.

Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, feminist activist Gloria Steinem, and actor Rashida Jones, along with journalist and TIME contributor Jon Meacham, praised the first lady in a series of essays for T Magazine, the New York Times‘ fashion and design magazine. The essays lauded Obama for how she’s handled herself despite harsh—and occasionally racially charged—criticism and how she approach her role with authenticity.

“Michelle Obama embodies the modern, American woman, and I don’t mean that in any platitudinous or vague way. Rarely can someone express their many identities at the same time while seeming authentic,” Jones wrote in her essay. “All women struggle to reconcile the different people that we are at all times, to merge our conflicting desires, to represent ourselves honestly and feel good about the inherent contradictions. But Michelle manages to do this with poise, regardless of the scrutiny. That, to me, is the best thing for feminism.”

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Adichie focused on Obama’s evolution over her eight years in the White House, praising the First Lady for becoming more self-assured even as she became the target of more vitriol.

“The insults, those barefaced and those adorned as jokes, the acidic scrutiny, the manufactured scandals, the base questioning of legitimacy, the tone of disrespect, so ubiquitous, so casual. She had faced them and sometimes she hurt and sometimes she blinked but throughout she remained herself,” Adichie wrote. “Michelle Obama was speaking. I realized then that she hadn’t been waiting to exhale these past eight years. She had been letting that breath out, in small movements, careful because she had to be, but exhaling still.”

Steinem’s essay focused on how Obama and her husband set an example through their show of mutual support.

“Though I’m old enough to remember Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House—and all the couples and families since—I have never seen such balance and equal parenting, such love, respect, mutuality and pleasure in each other’s company. We will never have a democracy until we have democratic families and a society without the invented categories of both race and gender,” Steinem wrote. “Michelle Obama may have changed history in the most powerful way—by example.”

Read the full essays here.