Despite the fact that their father was the president of the United States and under the entire world’s scrutiny for eight years, Barack Obama’s daughters managed to keep a pretty low profile during their time in the White House. Now college-aged, the former president’s oldest daughter Malia is starting to branch out and make headlines of her own. From what she did with that gap year before college to what really went on during Lollapalooza, here’s some insight into Malia’s life.
Her birthday was sometimes upstaged
America’s birthday is a time when America’s politicians are expected to take part in all the fanfare, picnics, and parades that are almost as important to the 4th of July as the fireworks. So when your father is one of those politicians and you happen to share a birthday with America, well, your birthday is sometimes a little bit upstaged.
Such was the case for Malia, even before her father became president. According to a 2009 Chicago Tribune piece, she spent many a birthday in a hotel room, celebrating in between her father’s appearances. In 2008, for instance, the Tribune reports, “She spent the evening in a Holiday Inn Express hotel room in Montana. During a break in campaigning, the family partied in the hotel room, ordering in dinner and a birthday cake and dancing to her favorite songs from artists such as the Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana.” While in 2007, she “spent her birthday following her father around southern and central Iowa, first at a coffeehouse in Oskaloosa, then at another family’s home in Pella, then at an Independence Day celebration at a Des Moines park and finally at an Iowa Cubs baseball game.”
Though she still managed to have some epic birthdays
Still, you shouldn’t feel too bad for Malia, because her parents always made sure she knew her birthday was special and she did have some pretty amazing celebrations. In 2009, as the Chicago Tribune reports, she was the first in her family to have a birthday in the White House, a celebration that included having around 20 of her girlfriends join her at Camp David in the days before her birthday, followed by the South Lawn barbecue and fireworks back at the White House. And despite her actual birthday often being spent in hotel rooms, the Obamas made sure that there was still a party, the crux of that being those giant sleepovers.
According to a 2008 interview with People, the sleepovers were so involved, her mother said, they don’t do birthday presents in their family. “[W]e spend hundreds of dollars on a birthday party and movie tickets and pizza and popcorn,” she said, her husband adding, “That sleepover is enough. We want to teach some limits to them. And their friends bring over presents.”
Pizza, movies, popcorn, friends, and fireworks? Not too shabby, Malia. Not too shabby at all. Of course, does any of that compare to an 18th birthday with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Janelle Monae? That’s a tough call.
She got an allowance, but it was small and came with stipulations
Speaking of limits, just because the eldest Obama daughter was treated to elaborate birthday celebrations doesn’t mean she was spoiled. In fact, while she and her sister did “sorta, kinda” get an allowance, it wasn’t much, and it came with responsibilities. Malia’s father told People, “Originally, we were giving her a dollar a week as long as she did all her chores. It turns out that she’s been doing her chores even without prompting from the allowance, which makes me feel guilty that she’s been carrying on her end of the bargain and I haven’t been as consistent.”
And if you thought those chores ended once they got into the White House, you’d be mistaken. According to The New York Times, moving into the White House didn’t change some things at all, with the Obama daughters still getting in bed at 8 p.m. (at least in that first year in the White House) and still being required to make their own beds and clean their own rooms.
Malia’s father told Barbara Walters on ABC News that while his daughters are special to him and their mother, “they’re not special, you know in terms of having to do their homework or having to do chores.” Her mother added, “That was the first thing I said to some of the staff when I did my visit. Don’t make their beds. Make mine.” While she may have said it with a laugh, we’re pretty sure she wasn’t joking.
She attended a prestigious school while living in the White House
Just because your father is the leader of the free world doesn’t mean you’re exempt from attending school. When they moved into the White House, the Obama family decided to send Malia and her sister Sasha to Sidwell Friends School, a private school whose alumni also include Chelsea Clinton and Richard Nixon’s daughters. A Sidwell parent told the Washington Post of the Obamas’ decision, “I think the school knows how to handle it and the kids know how to handle it.”
Technically, children of the president are allowed to attend any school, including public schools. However, The Atlantic reported in 2016 that Jimmy Carter’s daughter Amy is the only president’s daughter to attend a D.C. public school since 1906. In an interview on NBC’s The Today Show, the president revealed that he didn’t think his daughters would be able to receive a “high quality” education at a D.C. public school.
She’s allergic to pet dander
During her father’s campaign, one of the things he promised Malia and Sasha was that, win or lose, he’d get them a dog. It was, however, easier said than done because of Malia’s allergies. Her father told the press, “We have two criteria [for deciding on a dog] that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic so it has to be hypoallergenic.” The other criteria they hoped to meet was adopting from a shelter. “But, obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts, like me,” the president said. “So, whether we’re going to be able to balance those two things, I think, is a pressing issue on the Obama household.”
Although Malia and her sister had been promised a dog by the time they entered the White House in January 2009, it took a bit of time to find the right one because of the pet dander allergy. But finally, in April 2009 the world got its first look at Bo Obama, a Portuguese water dog that was a gift from Senator Ted Kennedy. White allergists warned ahead of time that any dog can actually cause an allergic reaction, it seems Bo wasn’t an issue for Malia considering they got a second Portuguese water dog named Sunny in 2013.
She is a soccer fan and player
Prior to moving into the White House, the Obama women were already pretty busy. According to People, that meant “soccer, dance and drama for Malia, gymnastics and tap for Sasha, and tennis and piano for both.” Soccer always seemed pretty important to the eldest Obama daughter, even before she was very good at it.
During another People interview with their father, he told the magazine that it was a good thing his daughters were interested in things they might not always be good at. “Malia loves soccer, but she’s still so tall and gangly compared to some of these little kids who are zipping around her, although she’s getting better. The fact that she’s not good at everything right away… means learning lessons about having to work hard at something and improve.” Soccer is an interest that Malia carried with her to the White House, with her father even taking time as president to come watch her soccer games.
And playing soccer isn’t the only way she enjoys the sport. Malia and her sister are also apparently fans of professional soccer and wanted to meet Argentinean player Lionel Messi when they traveled to Argentina with their father. Unfortunately, not even the U.S. president can disrupt an international sports schedule and the Obama daughters were unable to meet the soccer star. Their father said, “They’ve already met one famous Argentinean — His Holiness Pope Francis. Now they want to meet Messi, but I could not arrange that.”
The Secret Service taught her how to drive
Sure, she might have Secret Service available to drive her around wherever she wants and whenever she wants, but like any teen Malia was excited to learn how to drive. “Driving for Malia, I think, gives her a sense of normalcy, like the rest of her friends are doing,” Michelle Obama said in an interview with Rachael Ray (via CNN). “And my kids have got to learn how to live in the world like normal kids.” However, Michelle revealed that the Secret Service wouldn’t even let her get in the car with Malia and took on the task themselves.
She speaks Spanish
It makes sense that the president would have to know the basics of at least a few major languages in order to get the job done, but apparently Malia is better at speaking Spanish than her father. In an ABC News interview, the president told David Muir that his daughter helped him get by during his 2016 trip to Cuba. “You know, her Spanish is much better than mine,” he said. “My vocabulary is the equivalent of a 2-year-old’s.”
She visited a lot of schools during her college search
One of the most stressful moments in a high school student’s educational career is deciding on which college to attend. As the daughter of two Harvard graduates and, of course, the president of the United States, Malia’s decision likewise wasn’t easy.
According to the New York Times, the president told his daughter “not to stress too much about having to get into one particular college.” The Times reported that Malia was choosing between “Ivy League schools, liberal arts colleges and at least one top-ranked public university.” According to the Times, Malia visited a number of school during her decision-making process, including Brown, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania on the East Coast as well as Stanford and UC Berkeley on the West Coast.
Michelle Obama told Seventeen that she doesn’t want her daughters to feel they have to “choose a name” when it comes to deciding on a college. “We live in a country where there are thousands of amazing universities,” she told them. “So, the question is: What’s going to work for you?”
She took a gap year after graduating high school
Malia graduated from Sidwell in 2016, but the New York Times reported that instead of heading to college that fall she would take a year off. Not only did she want to wait for the end of her father’s second term, but her final college choice — Harvard — actually recommends gap years.
“Harvard College encourages admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way,” Harvard’s website states, claiming that about 80-110 students defer their start date each year.
She interned at the U.S. Embassy in Spain
To say that Malia was busy during her gap year would be an understatement. To kick things off, she spent summer 2016, her first summer as a high school graduate, interning at the U.S. Embassy in Spain. Whether this means that Malia is interested in following in her father’s political footsteps is unclear since after the internship was first reported, there wasn’t much news about it. Real news, that is.
In the summer of 2017, a full year after her internship in Spain, fake news started circulating that she was fired from her internship for smoking marijuana. It was, as we said, fake news. The now-defunct website that first “reported” the incident reportedly had an About Us page that claimed it “uses facts that don’t exist and relies more on imagination than the truth.” Unfortunately that didn’t stop people from latching on to the rumor, showing once again that it’s really important to check your sources.
She protested the Dakota Access Pipeline
Though Malia took a gap year from school, she didn’t take a break from the political life. During her time off, she protested the Dakota Access Pipeline. In an interview with Seth Meyers, Shailene Woodley (who famously got arrested for her involvement in the DAPL protests) revealed that Malia attended Sundance Festival “to hear what the chairman from Standing Rock had to say and some of the water protectors had to say.” She can’t run for president until 2033, but it looks like Malia might have a future in politics!
She had other flashy internships
One might think that the daughter of a former United States president would have no issue finding a job after college graduation. However, like any normal college student, Malia took on some internships during her time off from school — though her positions definitely weren’t your average, boring data entry gigs. Instead, she gravitated toward the entertainment industry.
In 2014, she got to work as a production assistant on the set of the (now canceled) Halle Berry show Extant. “She was fantastic,” Berry said in an interview with Andy Cohen. “She was down to do whatever a PA is asked to do.” Then in 2015, Malia worked on the set of HBO’s Girls. Lena Dunham told Howard Stern that Malia is “so smart” and that she was interested in doing “all the jobs.”
She’s interested in film
Malia has no shortage of interests, it seems, and that doesn’t end with sports. In fact, one of her biggest passions seems to be film. While you may think her passion lies in television after those internships as a production assistant on Extant and on the set of HBO’s Girls, Malia spent part of her gap year between high school and college learning more about the film industry from producer Harvey Weinstein. Just before beginning her Weinstein internship, she was also spotted at the Sundance Film Festival at a screening of the film Beach Rats.
It probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise though, because Malia’s mother told People all the way back in 2012 that her movie buff daughter had an interest in film. “Malia has expressed some interest in filmmaking,” her mother said. “Just like her father, she is an avid reader, and she enjoys movies. But she’s a [high school] freshman, so she also knows she has years in college to explore her interest.” This is probably one reason that Malia toured colleges known for filmmaking, such as New York University, before ultimately deciding on Harvard.
Her parents weren’t ready for her to go to away to college
Like most other teenaged high school graduates, Malia couldn’t wait to fly the coop (even if that coop was the White House). “Malia is more than ready to leave,” her father said during an interview with Ellen Degeneres. However, both of her parents are anxious about Malia’s departure.
In an interview with People, Michelle full on side-eyed her husband for calling Malia a grown woman, asserting, “she’s still a baby!” Yep, sounds like the Obamas are just like any other family. The former president, on the other hand, says the hardest part about Malia leaving for college is that he’s losing his best friend. “It’s going to be hard for me not to have her around all the time,” he told Ellen. “But she’s ready to go. You can tell.”
She got caught smoking at Lollapalooza 2016…
Malia caused a bit of scandal in 2016 when a video surfaced of her smoking what appeared to be a joint during Lollapalooza. “You could smell the marijuana smoke,” eyewitness Jerrdin Selwyn told Radar Online. Just a few months later, someone took another controversial photo of Malia at a frat house, according to Radar Online. The image shows Malia in a “smoking kills” t-shirt, ironically standing beside a bong.
We’re not sure just how angry her father would be, though, as it’s been said that former President Obama had an interest in weed when he was younger as well. In his book Barack Obama: The Story, David Maraniss chronicled the president’s former membership in the “Choom Gang” in which he was apparently “known for starting a few pot-smoking trends.”
…And rocked on at Lollapalooza 2017
The Lollapalooza 2016 scandal didn’t stop Malia from attending the festival again in 2017. This time, no nosy onlookers caught her smoking anything, but she still drew attention to herself with her wild dance moves. TMZ got video of Malia rocking on with friends and even rolling around on the ground during a set from The Killers. It seems she might’ve gone a little too hard — TMZ also has video of Malia getting whisked out of the festival on a golf cart, though it’s not clear how much time passed between each piece of footage.
Rapper Swae Lee wants to date her
As a beautiful woman in the public eye, Malia has undoubtedly garnered some attention from people looking to win her heart — and rapper Swae Lee is one of them. Lee described his dream date with Malia to TMZ, saying he wants to take her to the Bahamas. “We gonna go on a dinner date, 200 feet in the air at a 5-star restaurant” he said. Don’t worry, Mr. President. Lee said he plans to ask her out like a gentleman and ask your permission first.
She took a secret trip to South America
While the public knew that Malia was going to be spending part of her gap year vacationing with her parents, and part of it working in film, no one knew that was also going to Bolivia and Peru through a Colorado-based group called Where There Be Dragons. The organization’s three-month gap year program helps students “examine current political trends, social movements, and environmental conservation efforts in the mountains and jungles of Bolivia and Peru,” according to their website.
When we say that no one knew she was going, we really mean pretty much no one other than her family and the Secret Service, and that includes the guides. While they knew someone in their midst was important (due to the need for American bodyguards), they didn’t know who the important person was. One guide told The New York Times, “There was a blonde girl, and we assumed she was the important one,” only later learning, long after the trip was over, that it was Malia Obama who had joined them on their trek. In retrospect the guide called Malia “very humble” and “chatty,” noting that she “spoke Spanish very well” and was “mesmerized by the Bolivian landscape.”
She’s trying to keep a low profile at Harvard
In August 2017, Malia moved into her dorm at Harvard. Unsurprisingly, many people at the school were excited about her arrival, with some in the area rushing to take photos of the former president’s daughter — but Malia is not amused. TMZ has footage of Malia clapping back at a woman trying to get a photo of her, saying, “Are you gonna take it in my face like an animal in a cage?”
Fortunately, the students at Harvard are more laid back about Malia’s attendance. “It’s not unusual that we have some well-known students here, either because of their parents’ name or because they’ve done something incredible,” one student told the Boston Globe. “I would just treat her like any other student.”
She’s following in her mother’s footsteps as a fashion icon
While Malia has kept busy traveling the world, learning about the film industry, attending festivals, and starting college, her fashion sense hasn’t gone unnoticed. Though her mother is the one who has been called a fashion icon, Malia doesn’t seem to be far behind. It’s obvious her mother’s style is an influence, with The New York Times noting that, “For all the style credit Malia is garnering, there’s still a sense that she is closely mirroring her trendsetting mother” with both of them centering their looks around bold colors and patterns.
Malia’s just like any other teen girl
If there’s one thing all of this reveals about Malia, it’s that she’s, well, normal. Her dad’s presidency is just that: his. She’s still looking to make a name for herself and by the looks of it, doing a pretty good job! “She’s just a really smart, capable person,” her father said in an interview with Ellen Degeneres, “and she’s ready to make her own way.” We can’t wait to see what she does next.