“Let’s go shopping,” Oprah Winfrey suggested to First Lady Michelle Obama after she leaves the White House next year.
“Yeah, girl. Let’s go shopping. You and me shopping — that will be a scene,” Obama responded to a room full of laughter.
The first lady and the queen of talk participated in a question-and-answer session at the United State of Women Summit, spearheaded by the White House Council on Women and Girls.
Among the other speakers were Warren Buffett, Patricia Arquette, Sophia Bush, Kerry Washington, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. They addressed pay equity, violence and the millions of girls around the world not in school.
Winfrey and Michelle Obama took the stage at the Washington Convention Center Tuesday night while an auditorium full of feminist activists cheered above the sounds of “I’m Every Woman.” Sitting opposite Obama on stage, Winfrey reverted to her comfortable role as interviewer.
“Over the years, I’ve interviewed thousands of people, most of them women, and I would say that the root of every dysfunction I’ve ever encountered has been a lacking of self-value or self-worth,” she reflected. “We’re constantly bombarded with images encouraging us to be light, literally.”
Obama responded with advice she gives to her mentees and daughters.
“Our first job in life is to get to know ourselves. We spend our time looking out into the world to define who we are, listening to the limited definitions. I came into this situation [being first lady] with a pretty clear sense of self. When I hear the smack-talking, it’s easy to sort of brush that off, because I know who I am.”
Winfrey asked how she handled critics on social media.
“I like me. I’ve liked me for a very long time,” Obama said. “I learned early on how to get the haters out of my life. You have to surround yourself with people who uplift you. The best revenge is success and good work. That tends to shut ’em up.”
She compared reading mean tweets to “just allowing someone to slap you.”
Obama explained she also didn’t read her predecessors’ biographies. “I specifically did not read other first ladies’ books, because I did not want to be influenced by how they define the role. I came in thinking about who I wanted to be in this position, and who I needed to be for my girls.”
She told Winfrey that her most rewarding experiences have involved bringing disadvantaged children to the White House, and to her vegetable garden.
“If you can be in that space, you can do anything,” Obama said she told the young people when they arrived. “There’s no class you can’t handle. There’s no school rejection that will make you fold.”
Obama explained her “cool” moments as first lady were “watching my mother and girls talk to the Pope, dinner with the Queen of England, and seeing Stevie Wonder and Prince in the East Room.”
Acknowledging the smattering of men in the audience, Winfrey asked Obama what men can do to help today’s working women.
“Be better,” she said to rapturous applause. “Just be better fathers. I’ve never experienced abuse at the hands of a man in my life, and that’s a sad rarity. Just be better. I could go on, but I’m not.”
The two ended on a light note, discussing Obama’s post-first lady life.
“I look forward to opening my front door without discussing it with anyone,” Obama joked.