America’s smart sisters are doin’ it with style

Sasha and Malia Obama have shown poise and grace while growing up in the public eye. As they visit Ireland, Rachel Marie Walsh looks at their Mum-influenced fashion choices

THE First Lady always adds glamour to any event but fashion fans will be just as keen to see the style choices of her daughters Malia and Sasha in Ireland for the G8 summit this week. Michelle Obama and her girls will reportedly be staying at Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel and are expected to attend a number of events while President Barack Obama is at the summit in Fermanagh.

Malia and Sasha were just sweet little girls when their parents visited in 2011 but have swiftly grown into poised, intelligent young women their parents can’t stop talking about. Sasha turned 12 last week and Malia, who currently stands a model-esque 5’11, will be 15 on July 4.

The Obama girls are frequently seen with their parents, but rarely heard. The media’s fascination is most often expressed through praise for their cute clothes. The sisters certainly seem to have inherited their mother’s sense of style. They favour empire-line dresses, sequinned cardigans, full skirts and ballet flats for special occasions. Their casual wardrobe is preppy, which suits their active lifestyle — Mrs Obama insists they practise one sport they like and one she chooses, telling Women’s Home Journal: “I want them to understand what it feels like to do something they don’t like and then improve”.

We see them in colourful T-shirts, Converse trainers and patterned leggings while helping out in the White House vegetable garden, reading children’s stories at the annual Easter Egg Roll or playing on the lawns with their Portuguese water dog, Bo. The whole family dons jeans and trainers to visit local galleries and museums in Washington.

The responsibility their roles impose leaves little room for wild self-expression but that doesn’t mean they don’t have fun. Malia sports heart-shaped sunnies, spotted tights and metallic brogues while Sasha is partial to Alice bands and beaded bracelets. Like Mom, the sisters do a lot of “colour blocking” in bright, on-trend shades. When they wear designer labels, they tend towards the same names as Mrs Obama. Women’s Wear Daily reports that many designers were asked to submit sketches for the First Lady’s Inauguration Day outfit, including ideas for Sasha and Malia too. Malia has been known to pass on more expensive garments to her stylish sibling.

After their Dad took the oath of office in January, the girls stole the show in leather gloves and peacoats (Malia in blue from J Crew, Sasha ladylike in purple Kate Spade). Their excitement was infectious as they danced in their seats, snapped “selfies” on their phones and pulled faces while their parents kissed. They also wear cooler, youth-oriented labels, like the Chris Benz and ASOS skirts they chose for election night in November. The Obamas’ look is quite ‘modern Kennedy’: All-American, polished and effortlessly stylish.

“What has always struck me about this First Family is how incredibly well-coordinated they are,” People Stylewatch editor Susan Kaufman told The New York Times. “Being as media savvy as they are, they know how to look good in front of the world.”

The First Couple fiercely guard their daughters’ privacy but are generous with cute family anecdotes. They are plainly proud parents. Malia is a varsity tennis player who plays the flute and is learning Spanish. Sasha likes hip-hop dancing, plays piano and studies Mandarin. Mrs Obama speaks about her children in almost every interview and speech she gives. She is described first as “Sasha and Malia’s Mom” in her White House bio. The girls could be poster children for Let’s Move, the First Lady’s initiative to solve America’s obesity problem within a generation “so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams”.

The programme supports physical education and healthy school meals but she is keen to stress the message begins at home. She has said the girls have a set menu for daily meals and can only snack on fruit and vegetables. The conscientious Mom also teaches her girls not to link diet to body image, telling iVillage: “When we talk about what we need to eat it is always about health, not physical beauty. It is not ‘don’t eat this because it makes you fat’ it is ‘this is what breakfast needs to look like if you want to get through a school day’.”

The girls’ daily activities are off-limits to photographers but the Obamas are open about their firm-but-loving parenting style and often mention the house rules their children follow. We know the girls help to prepare meals, make their beds and get themselves up in the mornings. Television and mobile phones are off-limits on weekdays and limited on weekends. When they travel, they must write reports on what they have seen. “They’re kids. That’s the point that I make to them: You live in the White House, but you’re a child,” explains their mother.

The President uses his daughters to relate policy when possible, most frequently to emphasise how his choices affect future generations. According to a New York Times review of White House transcripts, he made public reference to the girls more than 100 times in his first term. Speaking in 2011 on the ‘No Child Left Behind’ Act, he cited his daughters while urging parents to be vigilant about their children’s studies.

“Malia and Sasha would often rather be watching ‘American Idol’ or ‘SpongeBob,’ but Michelle and I know that our first job, our first responsibility, is instilling a love of learning in our kids,” he said. “And so there are no shortcuts there; we have to do that job. And we can’t just blame teachers and schools if we’re not instilling that commitment, that dedication to learning, in our kids.”

Troubled by party division over gay marriage last month, British Prime Minister David Cameron might have won hearts and minds by paraphrasing Obama’s reasoned response in an ABC interview. “Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table, and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and, frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”

Even if Malia and Sasha never go into politics, they can safely claim America was improved by their time in the White House.

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