Michelle Obama to mark 50th birthday on Friday
FILE - In this Oct. 6, 2011, file photo, first lady Michelle Obama plays soccer on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, as part of a Let's Move! clinic. The nation’s first lady turns 50 on Friday and, by her own account, feels more relaxed now that President Barack Obama’s days as a candidate for elected office are over. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearing a milestone birthday, Michelle Obama exuberantly describes herself as "50 and fabulous." She's celebrating already and a big birthday bash is in the works.
The nation's first lady hits the half-century mark on Friday and, by her own account, she feels more relaxed now that President Barack Obama's days as a candidate are over.
"That layer is gone now. It gives me a little more room to breathe," she told an interviewer.
Nearly five years after assuming the first lady's role following a bruising campaign in which she sometimes became a target, Mrs. Obama is showing increased comfort in what amounts to a volunteer position with a host of responsibilities and outsized expectations. Not to mention a sometimes-unforgiving spotlight.
"I have never felt more confident in myself, more clear on who I am as a woman," the first lady told Parade magazine when asked about the birthday. She started the celebration last week by spending extra time with girlfriends in Hawaii after her family's holiday vacation there. It was an early birthday present from the president. On Saturday, she'll be toasted at a White House party where guests have been advised to come ready to dance, and to eat before they come.
Second presidential terms can be freeing for first ladies, just as they are for presidents, because there is no next election to fret over. But while Mrs. Obama is over the hump of her first lady tenure, with just three years remaining, it's unclear if she will take on new or different roles.
FILE - In this May 28, 2013 file photo, First lady Michelle Obama joins school children from Long Beach Island Grade School in Ship Bottom, N.J., from left, and second from left: Jordan Leeds, age 11, Joshua Styler-Tracy, age 11, and Madisyn Goias, age 10, to harvest the summer crop from the White House kitchen garden, at the White House in Washington. Nearing a milestone birthday, Michelle Obama describes herself as “50 and fabulous.” She’s celebrating already and a big birthday bash is in the works. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
There were expectations last January that she would help the president push for new gun-control measures in response to the shooting massacre of 26 first-graders and adults at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December 2012. But she largely avoided the divisive debate after tip-toeing into it during a speech in her Chicago hometown. Mrs. Obama said even less about immigration legislation, another contentious issue and priority for her husband.
Like all first ladies, Mrs. Obama's every move and fashion choices have been closely watched — and mercilessly critiqued. She gets wide credit for carefully shielding daughters Malia and Sasha, now 15 and 12, from the spotlight and for displaying a strong sense of style. But there have been missteps, too, like wearing $500 sneakers to a food bank, taking a pricey vacation to Spain during the economic downturn and being photographed wearing shorts aboard Air Force One.