Michelle Obama: The Camera Loves Her

Magazines typically get less than 30 minutes to shoot the first lady for a cover, but in return, she gives the photographer beauty, warmth and power. 

First lady Michelle Obama
First lady Michelle Obama The White House/Getty Images

Unbroken String of Successful Magazine Images

Michelle Obama has become a top magazine cover celebrity, arguably the top celebrity in terms of breadth and frequency of appearance,” Robert Newman wrote last week for Folio:, which covers the magazine industry.

“I can’t think of anyone else who makes such a stylish splash every time she appears on a cover, and who also appears on so many different types of covers. I’m sure Baby Boomers who still adore Jackie Kennedy will disagree, but for my money Obama is by far the all-time leading First Lady in terms of iconic magazine cover appearances.”

Newman, most recently creative director of Reader’s Digest, was analyzing the Obama portrait on the cover of the August issue of Essence.

He also wrote, “I was part of a team that photographed her for the cover of Reader’s Digest back in 2011. I’ve talked with a number of art directors who have photographed her for covers, and their experience seems to be universal. You get the option of setting up in a handful of rooms in the White House, including the First Lady’s office.

“There’s no advance notice of what she is going to wear, and her personal team handles her styling and makeup. No one gets more than a half hour with her (and often less). In fact, during the Reader’s Digest shoot I kept a stopwatch running on my phone that I kept flashing at her assistant every time they tried to wrap up the shoot before our promised half hour.

“Still, within those parameters she’s a gracious, cooperative subject who definitely knows how to work the camera and create brilliant cover images. That’s one of the big reasons she’s had so many smart and diverse magazine cover shoots. Obama’s list of magazine covers in the past five years includes Vogue (twice), People, Reader’s Digest, Parade, Parents, Good Housekeeping, AARP, Condé Nast Traveler, More, Glamour, Ladies’ Home Journal, Prevention, Ebony and Better Homes and Gardens. The list is nearly endless. She’s even been illustrated on the cover of The New Yorker. And she rarely seems to repeat the same clothing designer, which is quite a feat! “

Newman also wrote, “Obama has mastered the art of creating iconic magazine cover images. There’s not another person in politics who conveys such a sense of power, style, grace, beauty, intelligence and sex appeal, except of course, her husband Barack. While Barack Obama, as with other Presidents, has aged considerably with the job, Michelle looks even better and more energetic than she did in 2008. I would go so far as to say that I don’t see any celebrities of any kind who have been able to create such a powerful set of cover images in such a short period of time.

“Obama has dozens of solo magazine covers to her credit, and that doesn’t even include the ones she’s been on with Barack, or teamed up with other people, including her mother and Jill Biden. Even more impressive is that this unbroken string of successful covers has come during a time of fierce and heated political opposition to the politics of the Obama Administration, and by extension, to Michelle Obama. This cover shows, once again, that no one commands a magazine cover like Michelle Obama.”

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