In fact, here’s a pretty good rule of thumb for any president: When the going gets tough, put the inevitably more-popular first lady out front – preferably doing something fun and breezy. Give the public a break from all that stressful talk of debt ceilings and economic calamity and scorching heat.
Of course, Mrs. Obama’s star turn in the August issue of Better Homes and Gardens was months in the making, and who could have known that when it came out, President Obama would be perched perilously on a high wire?
The focus of the magazine story – called “Fresh and healthy” – is Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative and the White House’s “kitchen garden,” where local schoolchildren have helped the first lady plant, weed, and harvest a cornucopia of vegetables.
There’s a lengthy interview with Mrs. Obama as well as a photo spread, but really, all we need is the cover shot: A smiling Mrs. Obama is sitting at a picnic table on the White House lawn, an array of veggies at her side. She’s wearing a blue-print summer dress and yellow sweater. Pure eye candy.
And also a first. No presidential wife has ever appeared on the cover of BH&G. Though first ladies on the cover of glossy mags are a time-honored tradition: Mamie Eisenhower appeared out front on Time magazine around her husband’s inauguration in 1953. In March 1964, McCall’s published “Claudia Taylor Johnson: A special McCall’s report on the first lady.” (That would be Lady Bird Johnson.)
Jacqueline Kennedy, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford – they’ve all been there, smiling from the racks in the grocery-store checkout lines. Mrs. Obama herself has graced other magazine covers including Ebony and People.
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 1998 cover spread in Vogue was perhaps the most glamorous first-lady presentation of all – particularly noteworthy, given her no-nonsense image as a hard-charging policy wonk and major wielder of West Wing power.
Some first-lady magazine features provide insight into who these women really are. In the Jan. 29, 2001, issue of People, we learned all about the “surprising world of Laura Bush,” which revealed that she loves Tex-Mex, singer Van Morrison, and drugstore makeup.
High-circulation magazine features are gold for the White House, which over the years has expanded its cultural outreach via daytime chat shows, the couches of late-night comedians, and social media. Better Homes and Gardens has a paid circulation of 7.7 million and reaches 40 million readers a month, making it the largest-selling consumer magazine in the country, it says.
BH&G editor in chief Gayle Butler says Mrs. Obama’s attention to healthy eating fits the magazine’s recent focus on edible gardening and home-grown foods.
"Michelle Obama has provided inspiration and help to moms across the country, and we want to keep the conversation going about this important national cause," said Ms. Butler in a statement.
And what about Mrs. Obama’s love of French fries? In an interview with NPR on Thursday, her husband responded to a question about her recent binge at the Shake Shack not far from the White House.
“Let me put it this way: Michelle’s never hid the fact that her favorite food is French fries or that she's going to have a burger once in a while,” President Obama said. “The whole point that she’s been making – which is common sense and so this should be a nonissue – is, how do we make sure that our kids in particular have balanced meals on a regular basis?”