WASHINGTON — If second-term presidents feel liberated by re-election to pursue bolder agendas, first ladies often become more comfortable to be their own person.
Witness Laura Bush, who in her husband's second term discovered that she, too, had a voice and a bully pulpit. Seemingly overnight, she transformed herself from librarian to liberator, becoming a voice for oppressed women — from advocating for Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratic leader then under house arrest, to spearheading a women's health movement across the Middle East.
Likewise, it appears Michelle Obama has begun to break out. Though she long ago established herself as a health-and-fitness mom in chief, she had until recently been careful to stay well within the lines of traditional first lady. Obviously accomplished in her own right, she spent the past four years fashioning an image of good wife and mother to counter early impressions of her as politically ambitious and, to certain of her critics, angry.
Whatever she was then, she is something else now. In her second term, Michelle Obama has come out with, well, a bang! She isn't just breaking the mold; she's shattering the good china. The Madonna of first ladies, she is emerging as an iconoclastic, self-reinventing woman who clearly doesn't mind shaking the firmament. It seems clear that no one, including the president, tells the first lady what to do.
The bangs were a clue that Michelle was evacuating the cocoon. Analyzing her bangs may seem a silly pastime — but only if you know nothing about women. When a woman changes her hair — especially as dramatically as the first lady did — something is up.
Those aren't bangs covering Michelle Obama's eyebrows. Those are butterfly wings.
Observe. The first lady completely changed her appearance on the eve of her husband's second inauguration. Now why would she do that? She jokingly has said that her bangs were her midlife crisis. Cute answer, but it's clearly more than that. Hair is the frame we choose for the portrait we project to the world. Hair conveys messages we don't even consciously recognize.