Welcome to Club 50, Michelle Obama. Let me give you the tour
What do women in their 50s want? Respect, equality, peace and affection. Plus work, sex, friendship, money, reasonable health, a room of their own, and their children to pick up their own washing
Michelle Obama has always appeared warm, likeable and disarmingly human. She’s a woman who looks comfortable in her own skin. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images
‘Snacks, sips, dancing and dessert.” Michelle Obama is having a party. The American First Lady and “Mom-in-Chief” (her uncharacteristically mawkish self-description) celebrates her 50th birthday today and will mark the occasion tomorrow night with a gathering in the White House. With her signature ease and absence of formality, she emailed her mates and told them to dust off their dancing shoes, practise their moves and eat their dinner before turning up at her gaff (hence the sips’n’snacks), lest they waste time trying to figure out which fork to use or mignon to fillet when they could be boogying in the Round Room to Beyoncé and Adele.
I’m not much of a party girl, generally preferring dark corners in quiet bars with one or two shakily amusing depressives to the exhausting prospect of full-on fun, but this is one occasion I’d happily crash.
Michelle Obama has always appeared warm, likeable and disarmingly human. She’s a woman who looks comfortable in her own skin; she moves, she breathes, she picks up her children, she hula-hoops and star jumps and digs vegetable patches. And she’s a hugger. She even hugged Queen Elizabeth during the G20 summit a couple of years ago, in what palace officials, after they’d peeled themselves off the parquet, described as “a mutual and spontaneous display of affection”.
She’s strong, she’s fit, she has biceps that could crack walnuts or cradle the damned. She doesn’t wear tights (at 5ft 11in, they rip, apparently – not a problem of which I have personal experience) and, unlike Nancy Reagan, with her penchant for fine living, one cannot see Michelle Obama lashing out $200,000 on a tea service. There is a refreshing solidity about her; she is not some construct of twigs and tissue paper twitching behind a Brylcreemed husband.
Moneygall (and, I’d hazard a guess, most of Co Offaly) couldn’t get enough of Michelle Obama, nor she of them, on her visits to Ireland last year. Nationally, too, we seemed to embrace her, whether she was fingering our dusty archives or shooting the breeze with Bono over cod and chips in Dalkey (a place the American media depicted as a quaint little fishing village, conjuring up images of locals gutting mackerel in their bawneen sweaters rather than celebrity residents juggling wasabi beans in their Gucci thongs).
So what advice can we seasoned fiftysomethings offer to a woman who looks capable enough to let Atlas take a lunch break?
Ask the ether what women want and need as they embark on their second half-century and, discarding the online proponents of lunatic bleaching or lymphatic drainage or past-life regurgitation while having your bottom tattooed with highlights from your Twitter feed (okay, I’m making that bit up), the answer would appear to be respect and equality and peace and affection. In my experience, they’re also looking for work, sex, friendship, money, reasonable health, a room of their own, and their children to pick up their own washing.
I read a deeply depressing article recently by a 52-year-old British journalist, complaining that the best years of her life were behind her, that she was looking at a future of biopsies and hot flushes and kindle-dry bones and liver spots on her liver spots and a barrel-shaped silhouette that would dog her from the bunion parlour to the funeral home. If I could have reached into the screen and pulled her out by her highlighted roots, I would have. Why, at this stage, should any of us give a toss about a wrinkling décolletage or the direction our posterior is heading? If nothing else, regardless of race, gender or politics, our 50s are a time to lift our heads from the glassy waters of the lake and take a look around. If I had bodily dragged that writer into my messy kitchen I’d have flung a J-cloth at her and told her that if you can walk and breathe you’ve got a head start.
You might not agree with Michelle Obama’s views or politics. You might find the whole carefully modulated performance of First Ladyhood an anathema, with its cautious willingness not to ruffle the feathers of an American public that is perceived not to like assertive, active women. Certainly, the concept of public wife is accompanied by a faint whiff of nausea.
But I’m with Moneygall on this one. I’m sure she’ll negotiate her 50s with clarity and energy. Shes’ a pragmatic woman. After all, she allows the Water Spaniel share her bed when her husband’s not in town.