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The Biggest Lesson I Walked Away With From 'Becoming'

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Our forever FLOTUS recently published her memoir Becoming, following her from her childhood through the eight years she and our forever POTUS graced the White House.


Since its release, Becoming has managed to sell over a million copies in its first week and has broken the record for the longest #1 best-seller on Amazon since Fifty Shades of Grey. I just finished it and, baby, let me tell you, it was a game-changer for me. With my one-hour commute, I listened to it on Audible – she reads it herself and that only adds to the magic.

At 34, I have lived an entire life already, and not the life that I wanted to live. As it turns out, Michelle Obama could not only relate, but has been there herself.

Her courage in sharing her deepest fears and experiences makes the already down-to-earth woman even more personable and relatable. You feel more like you're listening to the story of a friend instead of one of the most powerful women in the United States. While she is aware of the gravity of her responsibility, she insists on remaining the Michelle Robinson she was growing up on the southside of Chicago, even as she slowly became the Michelle Obama that we all know and love.

I don't intend on doing a full report on the book, but wanted to share my takeaways, in the hopes that, if you haven't read the book, you now go get it in whatever version works for you, and you can perhaps feel motivated and inspired for the same reasons I do.

It is Beautifully Written.

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I don't remember reading a memoir at any point in my life that has been written in the style of Becoming. In fact, I have avoided many biographies for that very reason. But at times, this book is almost poetic in its delivery with descriptions so vivid, I sometimes felt that I was there at that time in history with her. This adds to the beauty of the work itself – as Michelle describes striving for excellence, her work is written in such a way that you have no choice but to elevate to her level and not the other way around. You will feel like a better person for reading this book.

She Understands the Power of the Tribe.

While we know it takes a village to raise a child, we also know that it takes a tribe to raise and support a woman. Over the course of the book, several times she invokes the names of her soul sisters, identifying women from her lifetime who have been a part of her tribe. From women who were working mothers like her who needed support during her time with Barack before he even went into politics, to women she became close to on the campaign trail and while in the White House. She truly celebrates and honors those women and drops life lessons about how vital a tribe is to the psyche and soul of a woman, supporting and loving each other and cheering each other on. To have that validated by Michelle truly makes this point hit home.

She Upholds Family First.

Michelle Obama at Princeton in 1984

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama started as Michelle Robinson in a family of four that had little in terms of possessions but a lot in terms of love and life lessons. She and her brother Craig both grew up to be very successful and accomplished individuals – something she attributes almost solely to her mother and father's influence. She painfully details her father's lifelong battle with Multiple Sclerosis but with a pride that only a daughter could have for her father. He never gave up or used his circumstances as an excuse, and this was the running theme of her childhood.

As extraordinary as her children were, Michelle's mother was quick to say that her children were no better than the other children in their southside Chicago neighborhood (which she represents all throughout the book), all capable of the same type of success. It's a truth that Michelle has carried with her throughout her life in her work with the youth and the community.

She Doesn’t Like the Cheeto in Chief, Either.

Michelle Obama "Becoming" book tour stop in San Jose

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She keeps it all the way 100 with us in her book, and doesn't mince words when it comes to Trump. She doesn't like him, period. He's a disgrace for how he treated President Obama during his Presidency with the whole birth certificate issue and she hated everything that came out regarding his character. She spoke from the heart in the final days of his campaign, displaying her disgust with him and everything he stood for. She could hardly believe that he was voted into office and blames it solely on the Electoral College but she is quick to bounce back and remind us to have hope no matter the circumstance, or who is in office. She firmly stands by her belief that our country is greater than its worst moments and that we will get through this and come out stronger than before – just like any other tragic situation.

For me, the biggest lesson in the book was that we can become who we want to be at any time – it's never too late to do so. Michelle recounts how much she hated being an attorney, even though she was good at it and made a great salary. She ended up taking a pay cut for an opportunity that was more suited to her purpose in life – working with, and helping, other people in the community. She knew she wouldn't be able to do that in her position as an attorney. I can totally empathize, having to work in Corporate America to collect a check but wanting to eventually live my life doing what I love – writing full-time, among other things. Y'all pray for me.

Ultimately, Becoming isn't just her story.

Yes, it recounts the moments in her life, but she is quick to relate her story to any of our stories. She wants us to know that her story is no more remarkable than any of our stories, and that as we all become who we were meant to be, we do so through the lessons we learn from our experiences, education and every moment. Instead of wondering why something is happening to you, you have to ask what lesson can it teach you.

Michelle recounts all the lessons for our benefit, and makes the reader or, in my case, the listener, better for it...

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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