First Lady Michelle Obama knows how to turn heads. Mrs. Obama had long dressed pretty much like a working mom. But four years ago, overnight, she captured the nation's fashion sense, surprising almost everyone - even the young designer himself - by wearing a dazzling white chiffon, one-shoulder gown by then-26-year-old Jason Wu.
On Monday night, as the second Obama inauguration whirled into place, Mrs. Obama did it again, by wearing another Wu original. This time it was a ruby red, sleeveless, V-back chiffon and velvet dress. Mrs. Obama has made millions for young American designers and brand-name companies, such as, J. Crew by becoming a fashion icon. Some estimate that her "endorsements" mean over $3 billion for the fashion industry each year.
But fashion is hardly Mrs. Obama's only claim to fame. She has taken on the role of America's healthy food guru and started Let's Move, a campaign to reduce the scourge of childhood obesity in cities and towns all across the country. It seems to be working, with many lawmakers jumping on the bandwagon to downsize big gulp drinks and increase healthy options on school lunch menus.
Her embrace of military families also has been laudable. Mrs. Obama has led an effort to encourage businesses to hire and train more veterans and, lo and behold, Walmart, the nation's biggest employer, recently said that it would begin hiring almost any military veteran who wants a job. The aim is to find employment for over 100,000 vets in the next five years. "Historic," said Mrs. Obama and asked other employers to follow suit.
What more could you ask of a first lady? Some are saying she should stretch herself in her second term by taking on issues that are edgier, more daring and may even make waves. She certainly has the capacity, says Jodi Kantor, author of "The Obamas". Kantor also suspects that Mrs. Obama wants to "take and use her popularity for some good" and that "she believes in spending capital."
Kantor herself suggests that Michelle Obama could address the high suicide rates among veterans and their other mental illnesses, issues that are trickier, darker and more difficult. Others want Mrs. Obama to focus on the nation's high poverty rate - now at 15%, adding up to 46.2 million people living below the poverty line, but that would mean shining a spotlight on a nagging socio-economic problem.
Finally, as her husband mentioned in his inaugural speech, a line which received some of the loudest applause: "...our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts." Women's issues here and abroad, especially with Hillary Clinton stepping away from the spotlight, would seem to be perfect for a woman as admired as Mrs. Obama.
It is all up to the first lady now and how ambitious she would like to be as the curtain rises on her second term. So far she has played it safe and is as popular as can be. But, isn't it time for more derring-do?
Eileen Shields-West has served as a correspondent of TIME Magazine and has reported for CBS, CNN and NPR. She has written a book on political campaigns called "The World Almanac of Political Campaigns" (1992), and edited and contributed to "Choosing the Right Educational Path for Your Child" (2008), a book on 21st century schools. She is currently chair of Refugees International, a leading non-profit organization that advocates for refugees and the internally displaced, traveling to such places as Darfur, South Sudan, Rwanda, the Congo, Thailand and Cambodia to advocate on refugee issues. She sits on the board of The SEED Foundation, which is responsible for setting up the first public charter boarding school in the nation. She volunteers as a Bookpal in D.C. public schools. She holds a Master of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University.
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