Photo Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
The produce section in a Springfield, Missouri Wal-Mart may be as far from the Oscars as you can get, and yet that was where we chatted with First Lady Michelle Obama about some of the criticism surrounding her unprecedented appearance at the Academy Awards.
“We live in a time when there are bloggers and tweeters and 24 hour news and everyone has a voice in this town square, and it’s a big one,” said Mrs. Obama during an exclusive interview with iVillage and TODAY. “That means at any point at a given time, somebody’s not going to like what you do. That’s just the nature of things.”
“It’s a part of the culture,” she told me, after making her last appearance on her two-day, three-city national tour promoting the third anniversary of her Let’s Move anti-childhood obesity initiative. “It’s not really about me, I just happen to be in the public eye and along with everybody else in the public eye, you’re subject to conversation, opinion and all that sort of stuff. There’s nothing new about that.”
Mom Dancing with Bangs!
The first lady also laughed off all the analysis surrounding her bangs (“It’s a haircut! I’m sorry. I don’t know what to tell you.”) and said she never expected her “mom dance” spoof with Jimmy Fallon on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to become a viral sensation. “I guess I made enough of a fool of myself,” she said, adding that Malia thought the skit was hilarious.
The Real Stars on Inauguration Day
Of course, we also had to ask about Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11, especially after they took our breath away on Inauguration Day with just how normal they seem to be. Mrs. Obama said the girls are definitely cognizant of the pressures of being in the national spotlight especially during a time when everyone has access to a cell phone.
“They’re absolutely aware. I think the awareness grows with age,” she said. “But as I’ve always said, we just try to keep them on the track of their lives, which is one of the reasons why they’re not in the public eye all that often.”
Going Healthy = Good Business
After a tour of the relatively new Wal-Mart, one of 86 the retailer has built in food deserts like this area of Springfield, the first lady saluted the company for demonstrating that healthy choices can be good for business.
“They are seeing increases in customer satisfaction and they haven’t lost an ounce of business, they’ve seen profits go up but they’re doing the hard work,” said Mrs. Obama. “They’re living proof that you can do what’s good for families and also what’s good for the bottom line.”
Forget ‘Good for You.’ How about ‘Great for You.’
In addition to providing access to produce at affordable prices, Wal-Mart has already reached its goal of slashing sugar in its products by 10% and is well on its way of cutting sodium by 25%. It has also started adding ‘Great for You’ labels to those products that have nutritional value and are also lower in sugar and sodium.
“We evaluated all of our great value products, over 4,000 products,” said Andrea Thomas, Wal-Mart’s senior vice president for sustainability, before leading Mrs. Obama on a tour of the store. “We’ve ended up with about 1,300 that will carry the ‘Great for You’ icon. It’s being rolled out now so you’ll see it in the store but there’s more coming and it will just help you as you go up and down the aisles, see what the choices are.”
In Chicago, It Gets Personal
Before coming to Springfield, Mrs. Obama announced a major new public-private initiative, spearheaded by a $50 million investment by Nike, with the goal of engaging 50,000 schools within five years to provide one hour of exercise a day to kids. Speaking to – and exercising with -- 6,000 kids in her hometown of Chicago, the first lady got emotional, telling them she is no different than any other boy or girl growing up in a tough part of the city.
“As I told these kids, I am them,” she said. “So it is a very passionate thing for me because I think all of these kids are special. Every single one of them has the potential of being president or first lady but they’ve got to own their own power and start understanding that they’ve got to have control over the things they can control. And getting an education is one of those things.”
The Gun Debate
We only had 15 minutes with the first lady but we managed to cover a ton of ground. We also asked her about the gun violence debate, namely whether the death of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old honors student gunned down in Chicago just days after performing at the president’s inauguration, has propelled her to devote more of her political capital to helping reduce gun violence. (Mrs. Obama attended Hadiya's funeral.)
“Everything I do makes me think there’s more I can do on every issue, but you’re absolutely right, there are limited hours in the day,” she said. “Barack and I think about that every day in everything we do. How can we do more? What can we do to motivate kids? What can we do to inspire them?”
Finally, her legacy. We were curious whether she’s thinking about what legacy she hopes to leave behind now that she’s in the final four years of her work as first lady.
“Our dance cards are so full and so varied that it’s hard to think so far out in terms of our legacy because in the end, this really isn’t about our legacy. It’s about how many lives we can impact while we’re here. So my belief is that legacy comes from the work that we do. That you don’t plan it. You just do the work and that becomes your legacy.”
No doubt part of her legacy will be doing things no other first lady has done before!
WATCH: Kelly Wallace and Michelle Obama's Interview on TODAY