Who Is Michelle Obama?

As she prepares to take center stage alongside her husband at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this week, Michelle Obama has already proved she doesn't fit the mold of the traditional first lady.

Her assuredness and working class Chicago background may make her one of her husband's most powerful surrogates. And friends say despite the whirlwind media coverage and Barack Obama's history making presidential run, Michelle Obama has continued to keep it real and not strayed far from her roots.

"I don't want to paint some unrealistic picture of who we are," she said. "I've got a loud mouth. I tease my husband. He is incredibly smart, and he is very able to deal with a strong woman, which is one of the reasons why he can be president -- because he can deal with me."

Michelle ObamaPlay

Before She Was an Obama

Her confidence and coolness under fire may come from her upbringing.

"My parents always directed us in a way where we never felt inferior but we never felt superior," said Michelle Obama's brother, Craig Robinson. "My mom's mantra was making sure that we felt good about ourselves."

The 44-year-old mother of two young daughters has a back story as interesting and varied as her husband's. She made her way from Chicago's South Side to the halls of Harvard Law to a career at a prestigious law firm.

It was there she met a charismatic young lawyer, a junior associate at the firm named Barack Obama.

Michelle ObamaPlay

"I must say that Barack about a month in asked me out. And I thought, 'No way. This is completely tacky,'" Michelle Obama said. "'I've got an advisee and I'm gonna date him?'"

But her resolve eventually weakened, and she decided to go out with Barack Obama.

"It took about a month or so for him to talk me into going out on a first date," she said.

The pair realized they had much in common. For example, each was motivated more by passion than money, and they had given up big lawyers' salaries to serve their community.

Focused on Family

Eventually, the Obamas started their own family, and the family became Michelle Obama's main focus.

"I think she defines herself by what is most important to her, and I think at this point in her life [that is] raising the girls so that they are comfortable and safe and happy," family friend Angela Acree said.

Despite the hectic campaign schedule, the couple's two daughters, 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha, have remained a priority. In an interview with "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts, Michelle Obama said she was a mom first and foremost and would only take so many days away from her family for campaigning.

"I'd do a lot of good work, and touch a lot of folks. And then when I go home tomorrow, I'm off and I'm with the kids," she said.

And for some that's been part of Michelle Obama's appeal. Like so many candidates' wives before her, she offers a glimpse of the man running for office by humanizing him.

Taking Punches

But the campaign trail and the pursuit of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue hasn't come without its bumps. Michelle Obama has become a target for conservative critics. They questioned her patriotism after she said, "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country."

Then there was the fist bump she shared with her husband on stage the night he locked up his party's nomination in June. Many people saw it as the couple simply expressing their happiness in their own way, but some were critical, and one commentator even referred to it as "a terrorist fist jab."

Barack Obama didn't take kindly to the negative comments about his spouse.

"If they think that they're gonna try to make Michelle an issue in this campaign — they should be careful," he said. "These folks should lay off my wife."

Though her husband has bristled at the criticisms of his wife, Michelle Obama has seemed to take it all in stride.

"I just think it's part of politics, you know. There are going to be the ups and the downs, and, you know, you enter this business you've got to have a thick skin. And we've got thick skins over the course of this," she said.

Of all the labels Michelle Obama has received, though, there is perhaps one that makes her uncomfortable: the title fashion icon.

"I'm kind of a tomboy jock at heart but I like to look nice," she said, adding she finds it odd people follow her style so closely.