American first ladies have traditionally played a delicate, understated, tightrope-walking role – supporting their spouses while trying not to steal the spotlight, focusing on philanthropic efforts, and in recent decades playing the role of fashion icon, too.
Melania Trump has ticked all those things off the list, and then some … and not necessarily in a positive sense. While we don’t yet know her plans for after she leaves the White House, the headlines she sparked over her four-year stay in America’s most exclusive residence are still fresh in our minds.
Bad outfit choices
Melania has had many style hits – but also some most notable misses. One included her wearing a pith helmet on a trip to Nairobi in 2018, which to many evoked imagery of imperial oppressors.
But one of her most memorable fashion statements was literally a statement. During a visit to see detained children at the US border, she wore a Zara jacket with “I don’t really care, do u?” emblazoned across the back. It left a bad taste in the mouths of many after her husband appeared seemingly apathetic to having separated children from their parents.
Melania said the jacket meant nothing and was simply a style choice.
Compared to previous couples in the White House, Melania and Donald didn’t appear very affectionate, and not just for the sake of keeping things PG. While the president was often seen reaching to hold her hand as a sign of unity or to help his wife down stairs in her heeled shoes, she was regularly caught on camera swatting him away.
To add insult to injury, Melania appeared to shoot unfriendly looks at her husband when she thought she was out of public view. In the infamous instance of the 2017 inauguration, she claimed she only scowled because Trump’s “mini-me” son Barron kicked her.
No Christmas spirit
Perhaps the hardest pill for Trump fans to swallow was the revelation that Melania wasn’t as enthusiastic about her ceremonial White House duties as we thought. In a secret recording from her former best friend and ex-adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, she complained (using expletives) about how she dreaded having to carry out her traditional festive decorating and unveiling.
Melania hasn’t given many speeches, but when she did, they never went without controversy – whether she was accused of plagiarising Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech or labelled a hypocrite for celebrating diversity at the 2020 Republican National Convention (RNC) years after questioning Barack Obama’s nationality.
After her statement responding to the deadly Capitol Hill riot on January 6, she was accused of plagiarising her own previous speech. Americans noticed that her line, “a common thread in all of these challenging situations is Americans’ unwavering resolve to help one another”, was similar to one she’d uttered at the RNC just months before.
— Newspages (@newspages) January 11, 2021
“Me, me, Me-lania”
Over the years, former associates have spoken out against what they call Melania’s “self-centred attitude”, with the first lady often retorting that the criticism is simply an attempt by disgruntled friends and former colleagues to command the spotlight.
Critics have also slammed her statement about the Capitol Hill incident as “lacklustre”, as well as what she was reportedly doing when the riot unfolded – taking part in a photo shoot at the White House while the Capitol was under siege. The first lady claimed that the “gossip” about her was a personal attack.
Note: This story was originally published on SCMP and has been republished on this website.