Michelle Obama, America’s cool mom, knows that to reach “generation Z-ers,” as she calls them, sometimes she has to dance around holding a turnip, use an inherently dorky rhyme scheme, or feign a mic drop.
“Everything is fair game if you really want to get your message across, particularly if you want to attract young people,” she said during a panel discussion with Lena Dunham and Julianne Moore at the American Magazine Media Conference Tuesday afternoon.
She was there to discuss her use of media over the course of her time in office as well as her Let Girls Learn initiative, which funds education for the 62 million girls worldwide who aren’t in school, even though they should be. But, being a cool mom, she also dropped some hints about her Vine struggles, the White House’s Luddism, and whom she’d like to see next in the Oval Office.
On sharing her personal story:
“When you’re the First Lady, you seem untouchable. Kids look at you and they think, There’s no way I could be her. And for me it’s so important for kids to understand that I am them, and they are me. We have to be vulnerable with people and tell our stories in an honest and authentic way, and you can’t do that if [you’re] not willing to talk about your own fears and missteps.”
On editing MORE magazine:
“My mom doesn’t pay attention to anything I do — she still loves my brother more. But when she saw I was on the cover of MORE, she actually took the magazine up to her room and read every single word, which is something she hasn’t done in a while. She doesn’t read my speeches, she doesn’t look at my clips, but she read MORE, so that just shows you the power of the magazine.”
On her own education:
“My parents were working-class folks who didn’t go to college, but they believed deeply in my ability to do whatever I wanted to do. But some teachers I ran into doubted that a girl like me — a black girl from the South Side of Chicago — should apply to Princeton or could get into Harvard. Our job is to push past doubters to find those caring adults that see the positive in us because they are out there. And whatever drove you to succeed, you’ve got to help another young person in your life find that for herself.”
On the impact of girls’ education:
“Studies show that for every extra year of secondary education that a girl gets, her earning potential increases by as much as 15 percent. If we have more educated, empowered people in the world, that’s going to impact our economy as well. This is about all of our lives.”
On reaching young people:
“We really think about the audience we’re trying to reach, and often times we’re trying to talk to young people. I’ve got two of them in my house, so I know that the way they take in the world is very different from the way I did growing up. They’re on their phones swiping and sharing Vines and laughing at stuff; they’re not reading the New York Times — no offense, but they’re not. So we have to try to reach them where they are. We can’t just do what was traditionally done.”
On technology in the White House:
“We still use BlackBerrys in the White House — we’re still hanging on. But I have an iPhone because I’m trying to keep up with the times. I want to make sure the issues I take on really move the needle, so it makes no sense for me to use communication tools that aren’t reaching the audience I need to reach to have that impact. If Eleanor Roosevelt were alive today, I’m sure she’d have a Twitter account; that’s just how you communicate these days. My mind is still blown by Vine. When my staff tells me, ‘You have six seconds,’ I’m like, ‘To do what?’”
“I’m always surprised when young people tweet so freely. I’m just like, ‘Gosh, you guys really should think about this stuff.’ When I tweet I’m really thinking about what I say, and I’ve got three people looking at it. Rarely do you hear me just, as my husband would say, ‘pop off’ on social media.”
On her successor:
“If the next First Spouse wants to be effective in communicating their message, they’re going to have to figure out how to connect with the audience they want to reach. Who knows what new platforms there will be in the years to come. Oh, you caught that? I’m just being neutral!”
On the next chapter in her career:
“When Barack and I leave office in a year, as we like to say, we’ll still be young! We’ll still have some life in us.”