Michelle Obama: White House ‘Nice Prison’ — Laura Bush: ‘With a Chef’

Photograph by Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

First Lady Michelle Obama and Marieme Faye Sall, first lady of Senegal, sit together on stage during a visit the all-girls Martin Luther King Middle School, on June 27, 2013 in Dakar, Senegal.

Updated at 9:25 am EDT

The White House, as a couple of first ladies should know, can be “confining.”

As former President George W. Bush met with President Barack Obama today in Tanzania, their wives also took part in an African First Ladies Summit on “Investing in Women: Strengthening Africa.” The first ladies of several African nations joined them at the forum.

The Americans talked about the big issues — health care, international cooperation — and also about the pressures of the position.

“There are prison elements to it,” Michelle Obama said. “But it’s a really nice prison.”

“But with a chef,” Laura Bush interjected.

“You can’t complain,” Obama said. “But there is definitely elements that are confining. ”

“Being able to pursue our passions and do things that not only help our country and connect us with the rest of the world, it’s a great privilege,” she said. “So while people are sort of sorting through our shoes and our hair —  whether we cut it or not…”

“Whether we have bangs,” Bush said.

“Whether we have bangs,” said the current first lady, who brought a new hair-do to her husband’s second-term inauguration and stirred endless commentary. “Who would have thought?  I didn’t call that one. ”

“I said that just because our daughter, Barbara, cut bangs at the same time Michelle did,” Bush said. “They commiserated.”

“But we take our bangs and we stand in front of important things that the world needs to see,” Obama said. “And eventually, people stop looking at the bangs and they start looking at what we’re standing in front of.”

“We hope,” Bush added.

“I always joke that we have probably the best jobs in the world because, unlike our husbands who have to react and respond to crisis on a minute-by-minute basis — they come into office with a wonderful, profound agenda, and then they’re faced with the reality,” Obama said. “On the other hand, we get to work on what we’re passionate about.  And I think that that’s something that I would encourage all first ladies to never lose sight of.  You have an opportunity to speak to your passions and to really design and be very strategic about the issues you care most about.  And I just found it just a very freeing and liberating opportunity.”

The presidents:

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