Noelle McCarthy
Noelle McCarthy is a Herald columnist

Noelle McCarthy: Thirst for First Lady becomes obsessive


What is it to be a wife? What does it entail, what does it mean? I'm not, nor have I ever been one, but I am a little bit obsessed with someone else's wife at the moment, and so I am thinking about such things.

Husbands of my acquaintance, breathe easy - it's not your missus I'm after, unless you're the President of the United States.

I can't get enough of Michelle Obama. She is one of my favourite things. I'm not being facetious, nor have I lost my mind.

If anything, I might have stumbled on a cure for SAD. It's Michelle. La Belle Michelle. As this miserable winter snakes around us, the thought of Michelle Obama is the only thing that's getting me through the day.

That sounds nuts I know, but it's true. I love Michelle Obama. I love her and I don't even know her, or know that much about her even, except she used to run hospitals in Chicago, she rocks a bold print, and she's a complete knockout in teal.

I know she gardens in Lanvin tank tops, and she has a penchant for cardigans, which don't make her look mumsy like the rest of us, because her body is sculpted like venerable timber, and her arms are made out of steel.

I know all of this like everybody else knows all of this because Mrs Obama is one of the most photographed women in the world.

Which suits me nicely, because, as I say, a photo of Michelle Obama is all it takes to make my day. It's the strangest thing. It's been a gradual process, something that happened over time.

I thought she was gorgeous from the start, obviously, in as much as I thought about her at all. She and her husband with their bright styles and their unlined faces, radiating newness like a dress that's yet to be worn.

The handsome wife of a young senator from Chicago, as Barack Obama was then, before the election made him Super-Jesus with a mandate to change the world.

As images from the campaign trail were beamed around the world, like millions of others I watched Michelle Obama standing there beside her man on the hustings, all colour-blocked and proper and proud, and I liked the look of her.

Of course I did. Seemed churlish not to. How could you dislike a face as open and handsome as hers? Lately though, I've gone from approving of Michelle Obama to needing her.

I need to see a picture of the First Lady of the United States of America at least once a day. It makes me feel better.

I like looking at her because she glows. He does too, of course. Well, he used to anyway. He's been losing a little bit of his sheen with every passing day, as the banks stay broken and dying seabirds writhe on Louisiana's oil-blackened shores.

The daily grime of politics is tarnishing the President, plus there's the ageing effect of an an unending, unwinnable war. Gone is the geeky young Messiah we fell in love with, in his place a middle-aged man, merely mortal and eaten up by care.

Beside him though, his wife stands radiant, ever smiling, lit from within. If being a wife is looking the part, then Michelle Obama is doing a hell of a job.

It's a look I've never bought on previous First Ladies. Of the Bush pair, the last one was waxen, her white-haired predecessor, unspeakable. Nancy Reagan looked away with the fairies even before she was, and Jackie O, for all her style, always struck me as pampered and contrived.

But this one I could look at all day. And I do. I've got hundreds of pictures of her, in ballrooms and drawing rooms and soup kitchens. In de La Renta and Missoni and Thankoon.

Her beauty is cartoonish, really, the huge sparkling eyes and that big goofy grin. That absurdly high hairline would look silly on some women, but a big forehead is part of her charm.

And it's best to marry someone who looks a bit like you, my best friend reckons. She says same-face is a recipe for sexual success.

For what it's worth, I think what's going on between them is all good. He may not be the man of action America is crying out for, but I forgive Obama a lot for the way he looks at his wife.

There is a vitality about them that is instantly affecting. They are laughing and present and alive. Is that what marriage looks like? Is that the spark of a bond?

Despite the cameras, and the questions and the wars and the critics and the press conferences, the Obamas radiate intimacy and it makes it hard to look away. That, or I'm just a hopeless romantic, drowning in the depths of midwinter, bewitched by a pair of big smiles.

- NZ Herald

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