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Michelle Obama would rather see herself as a “mom-in-chief,” not a first lady, but she's a critical part of her husband's presidency and her popularity helped propel him to a second term.
Two-thirds of Americans think favorably of Barack Obama's partner of 20-plus years, according to polls, easily outpacing him in terms of popularity in the most prominent unelected position in the United States.
Michelle Obama has been very effective at using her platform to promote the issues she cares about.
One prime example is Let's Move, an initiative to combat childhood obesity that she launched soon after moving into the White House - and which dovetails perfectly with the president's landmark health care reforms.
In a media-savvy act, Obama planted the first White House garden since World War II, growing fresh fruits and vegetables while encouraging an increasingly overweight nation to ease up on junk food.
She has also championed the interests of military families, promoted a better work-life balance for women and encouraged arts education, at the same time as raising daughters Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11.
For the Democratic Party, Obama is a prized asset, as witnessed by her pulling power at celebrity-studded fund-raising events and, in August, with her very well received speech to its national convention.
Obama was born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson in Chicago on January 17, 1964 to a stay-at-home mom and a father who never missed a day of work at a city water plant despite being handicapped by multiple sclerosis.
She followed her older brother to Princeton University, writing a thesis about black students' isolation at the elite Ivy League school, before going to study law at Harvard University.
Upon graduation, she returned to Chicago, joining the corporate law firm Sidley Austin where, one summer, she started dating a young associate named Barack Obama.
The couple married in October 1992, a year before she became an executive director of a Chicago non-profit for young people.
Later she joined the University of Chicago hospital network, rising to the position of vice president of community affairs, then took a leave of absence as her husband's political career in Washington took off.
“She seems emblematic of a generation of couples, willing to put one career - not necessarily that of the woman - on hold and to work together to advance the career of the other,” said historian Betty Boyd Caroli, author of “First Ladies: From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama.”
Her time as the first African-American first lady has not been without controversy, however.
In 2010, she stirred national outrage when she took her daughters, plus an entire Secret Service detail, on a seaside holiday in Spain just as unemployment in the United States was creeping higher.
The year before, she raised eyebrows when, at a Buckingham Palace reception, she affectionately put her arm around the back of Queen Elizabeth II, in what sticklers called a shocking breach of protocol.
But overall, rather than reshape the role of first lady, Obama has stayed clear of hot-button issues and avoided giving the impression she has overt influence over the president.
Away from politics, Obama has been a pillar of support for the US fashion industry, wearing a Jason Wu gown for the January 2009 inaugural ball and a Michael Kors sheath dress for her first official White House portrait.
The fashion industry loves her back, with Vogue magazine - whose influential editor Anna Wintour was an Obama campaign fund-raiser - putting her on its hallowed cover just two months after she moved into the White House.