Malia Obama's Life Growing Up In The Spotlight

As the oldest daughter of former President Barack Obama, Malia Ann Obama probably barely remembers a time when she did not have to pose next to her father for photographs during events filled with important people.

Even before her father became the first African American to win a presidential election in 2008, Malia was already in the public eye as the daughter of a U.S. senator. Barack represented Illinois in the Senate from 2005 to 2008 after serving as a state senator since in 1997. Coming into the world on July 4, 1998, Malia was born into public life, often accompanying her father to speeches and dinners alongside her mother, Michelle Obama, and younger sister, Natasha, commonly known as Sasha Obama.

As if the normally tricky preteen and teenage years needed any added pressure, Malia spent that entire phase of her life at the White House during Barack's two terms as president, from 2009 to 2017. She went from being a cute child to a beautiful, successful young adult right before the eyes of America — and the world! While she was always there in the photographs, Malia tried to remain under the radar as she came of age. However, her transformation has been a beautiful one. Keep scrolling to see how much Malia has changed and evolved while growing up in the spotlight.

Malia Obama was 6 when her dad was elected to the U.S. Senate

Malia Obama was an adorable 6-year-old when her father, Barack Obama, was elected to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate in 2004, marking the beginning of her life in the limelight. On November 2nd, after she helped her dad cast his vote, per Vanity Fair, Malia sat in Barack's lap and Sasha sat in Michelle Obama's in a hotel room as the family waited for election results to roll in. As the favorite to win the race against the Republican candidate, Alan Keyes, Barack and his family smiled widely throughout the night, while Malia showed off her missing front baby teeth. 

The Obamas were still mainly just a regular family back then, though they were starting to become more prominent. In July 2004, Barack gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, which put him firmly on the map as a charismatic politician. With calls for unity between party lines, Barack set the stage for what would later become his successful presidential campaign. "The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States," Barack said in the speech.

She sometimes hoped Barack Obama wouldn't win in 2008

Between 2004 and 2007, Barack Obama continued to strengthen his position in America's political arena, drawing increased attention to his charming family along the way. Curiosity about the Obamas skyrocketed in February 2007 when the then-U.S. Senator announced his candidacy for the 2008 presidential nomination at the Old State Capitol, where none other than Abraham Lincoln kicked off his own political career, as The New York Times reported. Barack, of course, brought his family along. He stood in front of the opulent Sugar Creek limestone structure alongside his gals. Malia Obama, 8 years old at the time, protected herself from the frigid Illinois temperatures in a black coat and white scarf, with matching gloves and beanie, as seen in YouTube videos of the occasion.

That was a busy year for the whole family. But even on the campaign trail, Barack and Michelle Obama tried to establish a routine for the girls, they told People in 2008. The proud parents gave Malia and Sasha Obama chores, like setting the table and doing the dishes, in exchange for a $1 a week allowance and made sure they had movie nights together as a family, per the report. According to the outlet, Malia said in 2007 that she sometimes hoped her father would lose the election, though Barack said it came down mainly to her feeling nervous about leaving Chicago. 

Malia Obama got a dog when she moved to the White House

Less than a year later, Malia Obama would pack her toys and other belongings and move into the White House, putting a life of relative normalcy entirely behind her. But it was not all bad. In his victory speech, Barack Obama told the nation that his daughters would finally get a dog. While picking a puppy is not necessarily a hard task for most, it was in the case of the Obamas. That's because Malia is allergic to animal fur, so the family had to find one that was hypoallergenic, according to The Mercury News. They also wanted to adopt instead of purchasing and reconciling both criteria proved to be tough. "Obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me. So whether we're going to be able to balance those two things, I think, is a pressing issue on the Obama household," Barack told the press.

The search for the perfect First Dog riled America. The Obamas did not find a shelter pup, but the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy gifted them a Portuguese water dog. The Kennedys had Portuguese water dogs themselves, and the senator learned that one of his dog's litter mates had given birth to puppies that were in need of forever homes, according to The Guardian. The girls named him Bo after a cousins' cat. In 2013, the Obamas welcomed a second Portuguese water dog named Sunny.

Barack Obama tried to keep his kids away from the spotlight

On the campaign trail in July 2008, Michelle and Barack Obama agreed to do an interview with Access Hollywood — and they brought Malia and Sasha Obama along, who were 10 and 7 at the time. The girls were a big part of the interview, answering questions and being cute in front of the camera. The Obamas probably expected the interview to generate some interest in their young daughters, but they just did not anticipate how strong the reaction would be. Barack later felt their decision to include them was a mistake, and the four Obamas never sat down for an interview together again, as Today reported in 2008. "I think that we got carried away in the moment. ... I was surprised by the attention it received," Barack saidAfter learning the lesson, Barack and Michelle Obama worked diligently to keep their daughters' lives as private as humanly possible.

Early on, Malia proved to be a hard worker. While attending high school at Sidwell Friends School, Malia interned in television studios in New York and Los Angeles, indicating that she might be interested in pursuing a career in the entertainment industry. Malia interned on the set of the Halle Berry-led miniseries "Extant," acting as a production assistant, which often includes menial tasks. "She was down to do whatever a PA is asked to do, and I had wild respect for her for that," Berry told Andy Cohen in 2017. Such high praise!

Malia Obama kicked off her career as a TV writer

In 2015, Malia Obama spent the summer interning at HBO, which included spending some time on the set of "Girls" working with the show writers. Her performance earned her praise. "She is so smart," Lena Dunham, the show's creator and lead actor, said on SiriusXM Satellite Radio. "I once asked [Malia], 'What's your favorite movie?' and she was like, 'Well, do you want me to list by my favorite director, actor, or cinematographer?' And I was like, 'You are smarter than me, let's just be done with that.'" The showrunner of "Girls" said they were teaching Malia the tasks performed by their writer's assistant.

A year after, Malia switched gears and accepted an internship at the U.S. embassy in Madrid, Fox News reported, a move that caused many to wonder if the young Obama was interested in following in her father's footsteps. But in 2017, during her gap year between high school and Harvard, Malia landed an internship at The Weinstein Company film studio in New York City, as Page Six noted, showing where her true interests were. And her journey in the world of show business hasn't stopped there.

She finished her degree in lockdown

Like her fellow college students, Malia Obama's time at Harvard was broken up by the arrival of a global pandemic. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in Visual and Environmental Studies in May 2021 and spent the national lockdown with her sister, Sasha Obama, and their parents.

As Michelle Obama revealed on her self-titled podcast in August 2020, their household discovered the importance of keeping a regular schedule while they were stuck at home. "Right around five o'clock, everybody comes out of their nooks," she noted, explaining that her and Barack Obama's daughters studied on their computers for most of the day but always took part in a fun activity after work. "Puzzles have become big." Michelle also explained that her family had started holding card game tournaments. "Barack has taught the girls Spades, so now there's this vicious competition," she continued. "They wouldn't have sat down, but for this quarantine, to learn how to play a card game with their dad."

The former first lady also spoke about how the quarantine had psychologically affected Malia and Sasha. "It's an unburdening for them," Michelle reflected. "I don't know if they've articulated it, but there is a calm in them." Since Malia and Sasha had always existed in a whirlwind of media attention and political upheaval, their mother observed, "It's almost like they needed the world to stop a little bit."

Malia Obama joined in with Black Lives Matter protests

After spending her whole life surrounded by politics, Malia Obama decided to make her own statement and participate in protests for racial justice.

"Malia and Sasha found their own ways to get involved with the demonstrations and activism that you saw with young people this summer, without any prompting from Michelle and myself, on their own initiative," Barack Obama told People in 2021, recalling how his daughters became involved in the Black Lives Matter protests. "They didn't do it in a way where they were looking for limelight. They were very much in organizer mode," he added. The former president stated that he was very proud of his daughters and that they were very practical about their activism. "I didn't have to give them a lot of advice because they had a very clear sense of what was right," he insisted, observing that Malia and Sasha were emblematic of their generation.

Michelle Obama also admitted that she worries about her daughter's safety as a politically active college graduate. "I don't wanna have to worry about her entering a world where she has to worry about how people would treat her because of the color of her skin," she told CBS News, reflecting that she still felt protective even if Malia wasn't a child anymore. Michelle added that she would like to know "that she's not at risk, out there in the world, as an adult, because she's a Black woman."

She lives with Sasha Obama in a Los Angeles apartment

As their mother told British Vogue, Malia and Sasha Obama "couldn't be more different" at times. "One speaks freely and often, one opens up on her own terms," Michelle Obama described, adding that "neither approach is better or worse, because they've both grown into smart, compassionate and independent young women, fully capable of paving their own paths." 

Despite those differences, the pair are close and have even moved in together. They were first spotted out in Los Angeles at the same time by the Daily Mail in January 2022, sparking rumors that Sasha had moved to the West Coast to join her sister. An insider source hinted that she might have even transferred from her course at the University of Michigan to the University of Southern California.

That November, Michelle confirmed that Malia and Sasha were living in a Los Angeles apartment together, telling "Good Morning America" about her daughters hosting a family dinner at their new place. "They had prepared a charcuterie tray and tried to make two very weak martinis," she recalled. "They realized they didn't have any of the ingredients, but they were trying to, they were hosting us. And it's just fun, watching them become themselves." The former first lady also joked about how the sisters had suddenly become fastidious about taking care of their home. "They didn't care about the water marks on my table in the White House, but ooh they got their coasters out," Michelle laughed.

Malia Obama's parents are fine with her dating

Malia Obama's dating history has been a topic of international gossip since she first went to prom, accompanied by the Secret Service as well as her date. At Harvard, she met British student Rory Farquharson and brought him home during her family's COVID-19 quarantine. "He was sort of stuck — there was this whole visa thing, he had a job set up, and so we took him in," her dad, Barack Obama, stated on "The Bill Simmons Podcast" in December 2020. "And I didn't want to like him, but he's a good kid." These days, however, Malia's dating Ethiopian music producer Dawit Eklund, who was also born into a family of politicians.

"I think it's wonderful," Michelle Obama said in her November 2022 interview with "Good Morning America," insisting that it was normal for her daughters to date around at their age. "I want them to know what they want and who they are in a relationship. And that takes trying on some people." She added that Barack had also "learned how to be a concerned Black father" while not being over-protective. "Look, they are 24 and 21. They were in high school," the former first lady explained. "They went to prom. They've lived life."

"I don't worry about it because they're really solid smart girls — young ladies now," Barack told ABC News. Noting that he had adjusted to the idea of his kids dating, he joked that due to the Secret Service, "There's only so much they can do!"

She doesn't have any public social media

Unlike many young women her own age, Malia Obama has no public social media accounts. Although her sister, Sasha Obama, appeared to have started a barely used Twitter account in 2017, both Obama daughters prefer to stay away from online attention after all their years in the public eye. They do have their own private accounts for friends only, however, as Michelle Obama revealed in a 2020 talk with Oprah Winfrey, per People. She and Barack Obama don't follow them, though, since they decided to let their daughters live their own lives at college without constantly monitoring what they were up to. "It's better for them to be checked by somebody younger than me," Michelle noted.

Meanwhile, when Malia had her first ever on-screen interview in honor of her mom in Michelle's 2020 Netflix documentary "Becoming," she spoke about maintaining a low profile after all of the media attention the Obama daughters experienced during their dad's presidency. In a clip released by Entertainment Tonight, she observed, "No longer facing that same scrutiny, being able to let all that leave your mind, creates so much more space." 

Malia also reflected on the love for her mother's "Becoming" book tour and their family: "This has demonstrated, in a way — it's just like damn, those eight years weren't for nothing, you know?" she told Michelle. "You see that huge crowd out there and that last ... speech you gave — people are here because people really believe in love and hope and other people."

Donald Glover has praised Malia Obama's writing skills

Following her experience working with Lena Dunham on "Girls," Malia Obama got hired by Donald Glover to write for his upcoming Beyoncé-inspired Amazon Prime series, which is rumored to be called "Hive." As of this writing, the streaming service has yet to announce the show's premiere date.

In March 2022, the multi-talented actor and musician told Vanity Fair that Obama had earned her place on his writing staff through sheer talent. "Her writing style is great," Donald insisted, talking about her work in his writers' room. "She's just like, an amazingly talented person. She's really focused, and she's working really hard." His brother, Steven Glover, joked that the rest of the crew put her through a trial by fire. "Well, you know, we just hurt her feelings. We can't be easy on her just because she's the president's daughter," he continued. "Nah, she's very down to earth, and cool. So, it's not a problem at all." Stephen also explained that Obama's childhood stories were a great source of inspiration. "Donald always says perspective is important, and people with different perspectives are important for a writers' room," he said, adding that she came up with a lot of interesting ideas. "And for sure, she definitely has a unique perspective on everything."

Donald also told TMZ that Malia Obama had a bright future in the entertainment business, saying, "I think she has the potential to pretty much do anything she wants."