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Michelle Obama 'fabulous' at 50: Has the big birthday changed?

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
January 17, 2014 -- Updated 0946 GMT (1746 HKT)
First lady Michelle Obama, who turns 50 this year, has accomplished in a half-century what takes many people a lifetime: She earned degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law and went on to work for a Chicago law firm, where she met her future husband, President Barack Obama. She later entered academia and public service. Obama, who will celebrate her birthday January 17, grew up on the South Side of Chicago the daughter of a homemaker and a utility worker. Click through the gallery for facts on other notable women turning 50 in 2014. First lady Michelle Obama, who turns 50 this year, has accomplished in a half-century what takes many people a lifetime: She earned degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law and went on to work for a Chicago law firm, where she met her future husband, President Barack Obama. She later entered academia and public service. Obama, who will celebrate her birthday January 17, grew up on the South Side of Chicago the daughter of a homemaker and a utility worker. Click through the gallery for facts on other notable women turning 50 in 2014.
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50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
50 women turning 50 in 2014
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Michelle Obama turns 50 on January 17
  • About turning 50, the first lady says "she's never felt more confident" in herself
  • Many women 50 and older relish the midcentury milestone: 50 is the new 40
  • Others dread it, with one woman saying "everything either hurts or doesn't work"

(CNN) -- Michelle Obama's not just embracing her half-century milestone, she's relishing it.

Describing herself as "50 and fabulous," the "Let's Move" creator is getting ready to move herself on Saturday -- as in show off some dance moves -- with a big birthday celebration at the White House.

"I have never felt more confident in myself, more clear on who I am as a woman," the first lady told Parade magazine last summer when asked about approaching the big 5-0.

That confidence was on full display when she recently took on the topic of aging and whether she'd ever consider plastic surgery.

"Women should have the freedom to do whatever they need to do to feel good about themselves," Obama said in an interview with People magazine set to release on Friday, her birthday. "Right now, I don't imagine that I would go that route, but I've also learned to never say never."

READ: Lessons in style from Michelle Obama

And when asked if she has peaked at 50, she joked that first lady is "pretty high up," but said she's always felt her life is "ever-evolving."

50 Moments with Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama opens up as she turns 50
Michelle Obama talks about turning 50
First lady celebrates turning 50

"I've got to keep figuring out ways to have an impact, whether as a mother or as a professional or as a mentor to other kids," said Obama, who has made talking with teens and increasing the college graduation rate among her major issues during her husband's second term as president.

Michelle Obama has plenty of fabulous company when it comes to celebrating a milestone birthday in 2014, with a host of amazing women including Sandra Bullock, Elle Macpherson, philanthropist Melinda Gates, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Susan Rice, President Obama's national security adviser, all turning 50 this year. (Check out the gallery above showcasing 50 women celebrating 50 in 2014!)

Some, like Macpherson, are welcoming middle age. "I rather like the idea of flowing on with life. I have had amazing life experiences and hopefully another 50 years of experiences ahead of me," she told Contact Music in May 2012.

PHOTOS: Michelle Obama graces magazine covers

Others, like Courteney Cox, aren't so psyched.

"That's gonna be brutal," Cox told New You Magazine back in 2012, referring to her 50th birthday in June. "I'm not that interested in that! That sounds different. It feels different."

So how does 50 feel? Is 50 today a whole lot different than the age 50 of 20 or 30 years ago? We asked women across the country who have already reached the half-century milestone to weigh in, and most agreed with Obama: 50 really is fabulous.

'50 is the new 40'

Sharon Greenthal, managing partner and editor-in-chief for MidLife Boulevard, an online magazine focusing on the lives of women older than 40, wrote a widely read post back in 2012 titled "How to turn 50."

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"The way to turn 50 is to embrace it," she wrote as she turned 50 that year.

In an interview, Greenthal, a former stay-at-home mom with two grown children in Los Angeles who became an editor after turning 50, said 50 today is dramatically different than 50 of a few decades ago.

PHOTOS: 50 people who turned 50 last year

"I think 30 years ago or so, you were moving into the phase of your life where things were really slowing down," she said. "I feel like my life is just really speeding up now ... because I don't have the responsibilities of caring for other people anymore. I can really take care of myself and my husband and we can enjoy being 50-plus. I don't think there's anything old about 50 at all."

Louise Sattler, a mom of two grown children in southern California who hit the big 5-0 in 2009, agrees.

"50 is like the new 40," Sattler said. "I think because we now know octogenarians and we know people well on the cusp of 100 that 50 seems kind of like your second act. It does not seem like a two-thirds point."

For her 50th, Sattler wrote a list of 50 fabulous things she would do in her 50th year, which included eating spicy Indian food for the first time, wearing the "crazy beaded necklace and earrings" she bought on Venice Beach and buying new dishes "just because."

Also on that list, she said, was making an impact.

READ: The do's and don'ts of dating after 50

CNN\'s Kelly Wallace interviewed Michelle Obama several times.
CNN's Kelly Wallace interviewed Michelle Obama several times.

After battling thyroid cancer when she was 51, the psychologist decided to do something new. Already the owner of Signing Families, an organization that specializes in sign language education, she decided to focus her efforts on training first responders to communicate with special needs populations. She now travels the country working with first responders.

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"50 was a wake-up call to do something for me that was kind of how I want my legacy to be," she said. "That was one of the things that I said: You've got to start doing things that are important versus just to make a dollar."

'As cantankerous as I want to be!'

But for many, turning 50 is about as welcome as cleaning the bathroom, doing taxes or having a tooth pulled.

"50 sucks ... Everything either hurts or doesn't work," said Nancy Rudy, in response to a post on CNN's Facebook page.

Sue Scheff, a parenting author and advocate in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, just turned 52. Fifty is "only a number" but the experience can be different "depending on where you are in life," she said on Facebook.

"If you are single, finding a date is difficult. Men want women in their 30s," Scheff said. "If you are job hunting, employers want people out of college.

"50 is an age you 'learn' to embrace or it can get you really down since you think, 'Heck, I am halfway through my life. What do I want to do when I grow up?'"

READ: iReport -- Turning 50 isn't what it used to be

Said Jeanne Rog on CNN's Facebook page, "The only good thing about hitting my 50s is that I can be as cantankerous as I want to be!"

Whether they're embracing 50 or wishing it would go away, people seem to agree on one thing -- 50 means letting go of caring about what others think.

"I don't question how others are perceiving me," said Greenthal, author of the "How to Turn 50" blog post. "I know that I am the best person I can be and that's really the gift of being older is being comfortable with who you are."

And that comfort in your own skin gets even stronger after 50, says Tish Howard, a retired school principal.

"Fifty means testing your wings of independence and some selfish, long-earned indulgence. But at 60, you learn to soar unshackled of anyone else's opinion of what is you but yours," said Howard of Fredericksburg, Virginia.

The big 5-0 is just a few years away for me, but I'm fully in the "embrace it" camp. I'm already telling friends to keep their calendars open for my dance-all-night disco party and not caring what anyone thinks of the idea!

How do you feel about turning 50? Share your thoughts in the comments, or with Kelly Wallace on Twitter or CNN Living on Facebook.

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