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VOL. 43 | NO. 44 | Friday, November 1, 2019

Thick skin, winning smile required for US first ladies

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

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The chair you now sit in was once occupied by someone else.

You are the second or fifth or 45th to hold the job, but get ready: in this position, everything you do is critiqued and measured against your predecessors and there is no playbook. Also know that, like in the new book “Melania & Michelle” by Tammy R. Vigil, you have some pretty big pumps to fill.

As in the aftermath of nearly every presidential election in American history, in January 2017, comparisons were made between the outgoing first lady and the incoming.

Fair or unfair, such study happens with every new administration and while everyone knew that Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Trump were different, there were many similarities – more so, says Vigil, “than their public personas seemed to indicate.”

Both, for example, “were raised in less comfortable environments than their forerunners,” politically and economically.

Both women had aspirations beyond politics. Trump, like Nancy Reagan and Betty Ford, worked in “image-oriented industries” and eschewed college.

Despite that Obama and Trump had each enjoyed some amount of fame before their husbands’ runs for office, both had to learn to manage their new and very unfamiliar positions.

Of course, both were harshly critiqued for their time as first ladies, by the public and by the media.

Melania & Michelle: First Ladies in a New Era

by Tammy R. Vigil

c.2019, Red Lightning Books

$26

199 pages

Their marriages were scrutinized and their roles as mothers were closely watched. Gaffes were magnified; platforms were ridiculed. Even their choice of fashion was cause for negativity and yet, both were seen as role models for young women and girls both in dress and in the poise they’ve displayed.

As for the next FLOTUS – if there is one – she will likely have the same struggles, scrutiny and expectations to meet, as has each first lady for more than 200 years. This, for a position for which she’ll be required to forge her “own unique path” in a job she didn’t necessarily ask for, and doesn’t get paid.

Apples or oranges? When it comes to first ladies, it almost seems wrong to compare them since they’re all unique. Even so, the author does it in “Melania & Michelle,” and the side-by-side is pleasantly surprising.

Indeed, Vigil’s book is one of the more balanced on this topic, examining the work of both Obama and Trump with a non-sensational, nonpartisan voice that remains honest and doesn’t hide anything, and a willingness to retrieve lessons from past administrations as examples.

In detail, Vigil also shows why a thick skin is necessary for the spouse in the White House; and then she flips the script, showing how, if a FLOTUS ever decides to opt out and stay home, she’d have history behind her.

“Melania & Michelle” is perfect for anyone interested in politics but it will also appeal to the reader who wants a behind-the-scenes of a job that only a select few ever hold.

Check it out. It’ll keep you in your chair.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.

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