First Ladies of the United States are usually universally lauded by the media, and their projects and fashion normally receive overly fond and supportive coverage. That hasn’t been the experience of Melania Trump. Despite being, perhaps, the most poised, fashionable, and elegant First Lady since Jackie Kennedy, in the eyes of the media, she can never do anything right.
The criticism started early, during the campaign she was called out for her absence from most of the campaign trail and for plagiarism after she asked a staff member to utilize Michelle Obama’s convention speech as a blueprint for her own.
After the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, the new First Lady received immediate criticism for her decision to stay in New York City and allow the couple’s 10-year-old son, Barron, to finish out the school year, which was entirely understandable. Changing schools in the middle of the year is stressful for any child, especially one that has the world’s attention on him. But the media twisted it into something decisively negative.
An article in The Guardian stated, “Given all that, you might deem it inconsiderate – selfish, even – for Melania to stay in the city past the inauguration.”
An editorial in Bustle said of the increased security costs associated with the decision, “Selfishness doesn’t even begin to cover it, really.”
Since then, the criticism has seemingly never ended, and nearly every aspect of her personhood, from her wardrobe to her quiet demeanor has been picked apart by the media.
As First Lady, Melania established BE BEST, a program focused on addressing “major issues facing children today, with the goal of encouraging children to BE BEST in their individual paths, while also teaching them the importance of social, emotional, and physical health. BE BEST will concentrate on three main pillars: well-being, online safety, and opioid abuse.”
The New Yorker had a slightly different take after the program’s announcement and criticized not only BE BEST but Melania herself. “Donald Trump’s emptiness revealed itself over decades in the media glare. But Melania, a former model, has long embraced vacancy as an aesthetic. She has the creepy, objectified opacity of a doll, or a robot—a shimmer of the uncanny valley. Her willed passivity may be the strongest expression of her agency. She is an avatar of blankness, a mute queen. Standing behind a podium in the Rose Garden, her husband in the audience, Melania spoke slowly, with practiced inflections; she sounded like an actor reading from a script that she didn’t quite understand.”
Did The New Yorker forget that English is not her first language, and is actually one of five or six that she speaks? In normal circumstances, attacking the accent and speech patterns of an immigrant would usually be considered disrespectful or at the very least in poor taste.
Jimmy Kimmel, the host of “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” has also mocked her accent on his show. He even imitated a video of her reading, saying, “About dees and dat.”
There are numerous other examples of the media’s negative outlook on her, including her background as a model, her comments, her silence, her marriage, her husband, her son, her parents, her fashion, her White House Christmas Decorations, her status as an immigrant and any other aspect of her life. While other First Ladies have also been criticized for various reasons, Rosalynn Carter was panned for re-wearing a dress to her husband’s inauguration and Nancy Reagan was labeled “indulgent and ostentatious” when her inauguration gown was deemed too expensive, Melania has experienced an almost never-ending series of mean-spirited barbs for simply being herself.
For example, on the way to Marine One outside the White House to visit the victims of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Melania was ridiculed for wearing stiletto heels. One person on Twitter called her “Disaster Barbie.” Though later the First Lady departed the plane in Texas in a different outfit and sneakers, the heels to walk across the lawn were considered tone-deaf. (It was as if the concept of changing outfits between departure and arrival had suddenly become a foreign concept.)
There was also that kerfuffle over the First Lady’s wearing of a jacket that said on the back, “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” while visiting children affected by the president’s immigration policy in Texas. In a later interview, Melania clarified the meaning of the jacket, stating, “It was for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me. I want to show them I don’t care. You could criticize whatever you want to say. But it will not stop me to do what I feel is right.”
Another particularly meanspirited article was in The Hollywood Reporter and titled “Are Women of the Trump Administration Held Back by Their Stilettos?” In addition to attacking Melania and Ivanka Trump for wearing high heels, the article also criticized their desire to adopt a more classic silhouette.
Sam Reed, the author of the article, stated, “The Trump women’s styling of the stilettos, often with vintage-inspired silhouettes, may play into the idea of the pre-feminist, male-gaze-dominated perception. Knee or lower seems to be the preferred hem length for Ivanka and Melania’s wardrobes, which thus far has been almost exclusively dresses and skirts, and Melania’s inclination toward a fit-and-flare silhouette, like the Dior skirt suit she wore on a recent trip to France, give her the appearance of a Betty Draper-like housewife of the Leave It to Beaver era.”
Most royals across Europe adopt similar, classic silhouettes with the corresponding heels. It’s doubtful that the author would say the same about the Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Queen Maxima of the Netherlands or the Queen Letizia of Spain. Their fashion is often lauded for being both stylish and regal, but Melania Trump is not extended the same courtesy for her similar style choices.
Another notable example was the media’s reaction to Melania’s $51,000 Dolce and Gabbana jacket. Teen Vogue stated, “Alas, this little jacket feels like another outright flaunt of the extreme wealth Melania gets to indulge in daily while her husband’s policies affect constituents who worry about the cost of their healthcare or where they will obtain clean drinking water feels like a slap in the face.”
In comparison, Michelle Obama received glowing reviews for wearing $3,900 glitter gold Balenciaga boots during her book tour. Glamour, a fashion magazine, wrote, “Stars, suns, planets—stand down: The new center of our universe has taken her rightful place in the intergalactic realm. And she has on a pair of thigh-high gold boots so incandescent, scientists recommend the use of special sunglasses to gaze at them, lest we burn our retinas.”
The magazine explained that while the boots were definitely expensive, she was no longer a “civil servant” and now a “private citizen, (and) she can wear all the runway Balenciaga she wants.” It’s also worthwhile to note that the price of the boots is equivalent to the average American monthly income, according to the Department of Labor.
No doubt, the First Lady’s latest plan to renovate the White House Rose Garden will also receive the harsh glare of the media spotlight.
Being First Lady isn’t easy, especially since the media has been hostile to this Administration. But Melania deserves more respect and grace than she has been given. There is nothing wrong with holding our public figures accountable, but the coverage of Melania has been almost entirely hypocritical, mean-spirited, and dismissive of a woman who’s only “crime” is being married to Donald Trump.
Photo from The White House
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