Heather Michon

Heather Michon
June 25
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Editor’s Pick
MARCH 9, 2009 11:52AM

More Oprah Than Thou

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oprah michelle



As anyone who has ever seen "O" Magazine while standing in the checkout line knows, Oprah Winfrey has never shared the cover of her eponymous publication...until now.

The lucky winner -- unsurprisingly -- is Michelle Obama.

The cover photo -- unsurprisingly -- is odd.

Usually so careful with her staging, Orpah is sending out millions of copies of herself at less than her best:  looking shorter, fatter, and older than the new First Lady.

(She is, in fact, shorter, fatter and older than Mrs. Obama, but that's why God and Adobe invented Photoshop, right?)

Of course, the strangest thing is their body language. Oprah and Obama aren't touching, aren't in each other's space, aren't even looking at each other. It's yet another sign that, as much as they try to act like "girlfriends" for the sake of their different careers, there's not a lot of love there.

For the First Lady, Oprah is yet another in a long line of things that must be endured. Not only rich and powerful, Winfrey is an open channel to a huge audience of women who are as a group critical to the success of the Obama administration. So she has to kiss the ring every once in a while.

For Oprah, Michelle Obama must be the proverbial pebble in the Manolo Blahniks. Obama grew up in a stable, loving working-class household, got into the Ivy League, bagged "The One," had two beautiful daughters, made a boatload of money, and at the age of 45 is already First Lady of the land. She has no food issues, no emotional baggage, and her ascent into the public consciousness has been almost effortless. she exudes that positive, spiritual attitude that Winfrey has been flogging her audience with for the last quarter-century. She is the living embodiment of how that self-actualizing crap is supposed to work.  

So Oprah can neither totally embrace her nor eschew her, and is far too savvy a businesswoman not to see the danger: she could well be usurped by Michelle, at least for the next four (to eight) years.

Obama's influence on fashion is already being seen. Her biceps (recently dubbed "Thunder and Lightning" by the New York Times' David Brooks) have launched dozens of articles and online workouts. Women are going to be turning to her for everything from work/life balance, child-rearing and diet advice to G-rated tips on how to keep the spark in a mature marriage. A list of her "most inspirational quotes" on HuffPo recently showed that, while she's hardly the Dalai Lama, she does have self-help lingo down to a science.        

And that's all been Oprah's job, for almost as long as Michelle has been alive.

The standard analysis of this relationship is, typically, the most demeaning: cat-fight.

It's not. It's much more complex than that.

These are two utterly decent people....hardworking, driven women who have brands to maintain and legacies to protect. In their joint Bizarro worlds, these two incredibly powerful public figures have to weave conversations about interior decorating and the quality of pie at the White House, because that's what the public expects. If they play their roles well enough, they may even get to talk about something substantive someday. Whether they like each other or not, they need each other.

One thing seems clear: it's only going to get weirder. Both these ladies are going to be in the public eye for the next many, many years. 

Maybe next time, they'll even be able to look at each other.

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Heather did not blog last week due to a altercation between her fingers and a very sharp box grater. Prior to the carnage, she wrote about  a hated new lunch-room policy in New Mexico, the USN&WR's strangely sexist online poll, and an update on the Nadya Suleman octuplet case, which has changed in ten or fifteen strange new ways since it's posting. 


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That's an unusual cover for sure. Oprah's covers are usually much more staged, even aside from the obvious lack of a person other than Oprah on them.

I'm no doubt part of a minority of people who didn't care that much for Michelle Obama during the campaign. Since the election, though, I've come to admire her. Certainly there's room in this world for one more positive female role model.

Good to have you back, Heather. Box grater? Ouch!
I'm agnostic on both Michelle and Oprah. I see that they fill a need, just not my personal needs. I am, however, fascinated by the way they are perceived by large portions of the public, and you're right -- positive female role models are always a sight for sore eyes.

Super-sharp microplaner-style grater + slippery potato = disaster. It's much better, but still bandaged, so it takes me forever to type...my bound-up fingers keep hitting the wrong keys!
Looking forward to the "weirder" part. rated.
I'm thinking they are walking and talking...and this was meant to look like a candid of that......

fail...but...that seems to be the intent
I like to think we are mature enough not to require all of our relationships be lollipops and cupcakes for them to be valid, sincere and responsive to higher needs and concerns than vanity and competition. I admire both women and look forward to the development of their friendship in the public eye.
Every time I see this, I think it looks like they were just Photoshopped together, that they weren't really in the same photo.

And Heather, Oprah typically annoys me, and I would never watch her show. However, I got a 3-month free subscription to her magazine, and I actually had to renew it. It treats women as intelligent people. Sure, they include some diet, makeup, and fashion tips, but that's not the WHOLE focus, like so many women's magazines. It has really good articles.

I'm mildly embarrassed and wish it came in a black plastic wrapper like my husband's Playboy, but still, I'll keep reading it.
How can one not adore Michelle?

For the first time in my life, I'm proud of Oprah.
O's body language causes my body to tense when I look at it...Michelle looks like she's talking with her hands. They presumably have had some sort of relationship for awhile, since O has been getting to know Barack for some time. These are two powerful, successful women who have done things very differently. I really appreciate your assessment, Heather. There is certainly room on the stage for both.
Oh I dunno Heather. Normally I think you're right on, but this sounds like one of those tabloid power woman v. power woman faux fights. Until Michelle is ready to sit down every afternoon and chat about your best bra, and your worst child molestor, I don't think Oprah faces much competition.
I'm glad to see an honest cover. Oprah is shorter than Michelle Obama. Nothing wrong with that. She's fatter too - nothing wrong with that. And she's older - also, what's wrong with that?

The two are not friends, or frenemies. They are not people who have shared a background, history, or serious endeavor like starting a company. They don't really 'know' one another. So it would be strange and false for them to be hugging or standing together pretending some sort of intimacy they do no feel for one another.

It seems like a reasonable cover, given all of these facts.
Maybe the weren't even together and it's a composite of two different pictures. Happens a lot.
I actually think this isn't a "photograph" but a composite. I swear Oprah's worn that dress before....
I think the distance in the photo may be intentional so that "O" doesn't offend her huge audience of Hillary Clinton supporters again. Sometimes what is portrayed publicly does not reflect that which is shared privately. On the surface, there seems to be plenty "O" may be envious of, yet, I'm confident both phenomenal women can successfully co-exist.
Michelle Obama looks amazing in this picture. Oprah is saying, "Please God! Please! Let me look that good someday."
I have always found it so strange and off-putting that Oprah publishes a magazine in which she is the cover girl every single month. I don't know what is so significant about her sharing space with Michelle Obama. I guess Michelle's mug is selling more magazines than Oprah's? It all comes down to marketing doesn't it? I mean, Oprah's magazine is just self-promotion for the Oprah brand.
Absolutely loved this analysis and commentary!!

I have a thang about Oprah (she drives me nuts), so I particularly loved this: "She has no food issues, no emotional baggage, and her ascent into the public consciousness has been almost effortless. she exudes that positive, spiritual attitude that Winfrey has been flogging her audience with for the last quarter-century. She is the living embodiment of how that self-actualizing crap is supposed to work. "

IOW, Michelle's life and self shows that pursuing The Answer of the Week as Oprah does (and asks her audience follow her in) is not the way to achieve what Oprah (and her audience) supposedly seeks.

So, maybe, just maybe, some of what Michelle is and what makes her tick will rub off on Oprah. Maybe O will finally find her guru.
hmm, I saw the photo and thought that Ms. Obama was talking and Ms. Winfrey was listening. Nothing more, nothing less.
Heather, I'm with the commenters that don't understand your assumption that the First Lady is somehow usurping Oprah's power, and that Oprah is worried about that. Please. Oprah is one of the richest people in the world. She doesn't have to have a petty power struggle with the First Lady. Michelle Obama is the First Lady. Enough said. Another equally likey interpretation is that this strong, beautiful, elegant, smart African-American duo are a force to be reckoned with. I think the photo is inelegant due to photo-shopping.
Funny analysis, and thanks for posting the magazine pic. I heard on the news that this would be the first time that someone besides Oprah was featured on the cover. Should have guessed that Michelle would be featured WITH Oprah rather than INSTEAD of Oprah. Rated.
Heather, I really like your casual yet sharp style of conveying your story. It's very readable, for lack of a better word (I'm hungry and can't think straight right this sec.) I think your observations are creative and thought-provoking.

I love body language. Its one of my favorite topics. I think you can tell tons from a photograph. This one just reads weird and strained and "put on," at least for Oprah. Just the fact that no other face has gone on her magazine is maniacally egotisical in and of itself.

I really dislike Oprah.

There, I said it.

Gonna go eat now.
I don't understand all the cynicism here. I looked at the photo and it made me smile, the colors made me think spring. I don't know why this needs to be analyzed as some sort of power struggle between two strong, beautiful, compassionate women. I really don't get this.
I knew it would be a matter of time before people started reading into this cover. I have to wonder would people feel the same way if these two powerful women had less melanin in their skin? I don't know why people like to portray women (especially those with a little more melanin) as being catty and unable to get along.
Looks like they are enjoying a lively conversation to me--pretty photo. This article seems petty..... aren't we all a little past Oprah's weight? Seeing as Oprah's, what? about 52 or 54, she's not even been close to being in the public eye most of Michelle's lifetime. Just because Michelle's a gazelle, doesn't mean Oprah's short..... I'm just confused...
This picture reminds me somehow of the Dean that was installed my last year in law school. She like to pose and she had the exact same pose and frozen smile in every damned picture at my graduation. So, I like that this picture looks more like a snapshot than a formal portrait. Both of them look like folks walking around talking in very colorful outfits. I also note that in the composition of the cover, they put Michelle in the foreground and even the Magazine title block is behind her. That seems pretty respectful to me.
Somehow I feel you are looking WAY too deep into this cover. I just thought it was nice picture of them talking.
Oprah annoys me too. Haven't watched her show in many years. And I just never liked the idea that she was always the "cover girl" for her magazine. No thank you.
Something else-- in commercial photography, the image "they" want us to focus on more is always on the left in English speaking countries (because we read from left to right.) Knowing this, Oprah and the "O" editors CHOSE to put the first Lady in the most powerful position on the cover. Doesn't sound like a power struggle to me.
And here I was thinking that Oprah should be feeling pretty good about herself seeing as how she is one of the richest, most powerful women in the world. But, she ain't got no man and she could stand to lose a few pounds, so guess she is second rate.
Just perfect, I ping it on my website: parier, so lovely: )
Not sure what their body types or appearance have to do with anything and I doubt it would even be mentioned if they were men. One thing is certain: Oprah has nothing to fear from Michelle. She will still be rich, famous, powerful and iconic long after Michelle is the ex-president's wife. Never did like cat fights.
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