First Lady Melania Trump (née Knavs), is a bit of an enigma amongst the masses. The Slovenian-born brunette made quite the stir when she assumed the role of FLOTUS in 2017 — after all, she’s never come from a political background. “She had the least preparation of any First Lady in our history with the possible exception of Martha Washington,” explained Cokie Roberts, a political commentator for ABC News, in the network’s documentary about Trump. No, the former model, instead, is a far cry from the cardigan-and-pearl-wearing first ladies before her — with even her fashion choices sometimes stirring up controversy.
While Ms. Trump is known to remain stoic (unlike her frequently temperamental husband President Donald Trump), her quiet demeanor has been a topic of countless conversations and numerous essays and books. Time has called her a “reluctant first lady,” while Us Weekly was bolder and dubbed her “miserable” in the White House role, with Trump family friend Phillip Bloch revealing that “This life wasn’t her dream. It was Donald’s.”
While debates over the FLOTUS’ unhappiness are certainly all hearsay, it’s not the only stir that Melania created. We’ve rounded up those controversies — from Melania’s time as a model to her sometimes-provocative role as the wife of the leader of the free world.
Melania Trump's infamous GQ spread
The aughts were a different time for the world. An era where the tacky was celebrated, and even more, promoted. Reality TV star and business mogul at the time, Donald Trump, was still dating his girlfriend, then Melania Knauss, a model trying to make it big in America. Opportunity suddenly called, in the form of a spread for the British GQ. As editor, Dylan Jones explained in an updated article years later, “Given that she was obviously so keen to be featured in GQ, we came up with a rather kitsch and camp story for her to feature in.” The result? Something as flashy as the Trumps’ New York penthouse.
The shoot saw a naked Melania lounging in Donald’s “customized Boeing 727 wearing handcuffs, wielding diamonds and holding a chrome pistol.” Yup, it’s just as ridiculous as it sounds. When the photos began circulating again in 2016, the public discovered that she was the first FLOTUS to have posed nude.
Don’t bother picking your jaw up from the ground, as it’s not the only time the former model has been a part of racy photoshoots. In 2016, the New York Post unearthed nude photos of a young Melania Trump shot for a now-defunct French magazine, Max, in 1996. Critics tried shaming Melania for the images, yet the current FLOTUS stood her ground, telling Anderson Cooper of CNN. “I’m very proud I did those pictures. I’m not ashamed of my body.”
Does Melania Trump even care?
It was a fashion blunder with a controversial statement heard loud and clear throughout the world.
In 2018, the Trump administration passed a severe immigration policy towards the U.S. southern border, separating families who illegally crossed into the country. As U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered in April (via NPR), prosecutors were to “adopt immediately a zero-tolerance policy” for anyone disobeying this law — even minors. The public reaction? A “widespread outcry.” Per The New York Times, in June, Melania Trump’s visit to a Texas border town to meet with “detained immigrant children” was overshadowed by her decision to wear a jacket with the words, “I don’t really care, do u?” painted on the back. While the outlet notes that “Mrs. Trump did not wear it while visiting with the children,” she did wear it “upon her return to the capital, in full view of the news photographers.” Uh-oh.
While the incident could be chalked up to, well, ignorance, it’s bizarre to imagine that not a single soul from FLOTUS’ team stopped the blunder from happening. What’s more, as Bob Phibbs, the chief executive of the Retail Doctor, a consultancy in New York, put it to the Times, “Fashion is not by accident with this woman. She’s a former model. Every piece of clothing has statement and purpose. She’s all about image, and so is Trump. She knows the power.”
No hand-holding for Donald!
In addition to the boundless speculation about Melania’s happiness as FLOTUS, there has also been much debate about her satisfaction with her marriage — after all, it’s been rumored that Mrs. Trump allegedly sleeps on a different floor than President Donald Trump.
One moment that seemed to further the scuttlebutt? The now-viral clip of Melania and Donald arriving at the airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, which sees the president reaching out to his wife, and Melania swiftly swatting his hand away. As the Daily Beast mused of the incident, “She did it so the whole world could see. She doesn’t care if he’s embarrassed, and it completely rules.” As it turns out, the hand-swat isn’t the only time this sort of negative response by way of Melania has happened — who can forget the time she smiled at Donald, then immediately proceeded to scowl once he looked away? Of course, the incident sparked controversy online almost immediately, with the New York Post even running a story that she’s “secretly miserable as first lady.”
While all these articles are clearly speculative, it’s also important to remember an old quote dug up from Melania’s 2000 spread in GQ, where Donald was already mulling over thoughts of becoming president. “I will put all my effort into it, and I will support my man.” We’ll let you decide.
Did Melania Trump lie about having a university degree?
Lying about something is pretty shady, yet lying about something as significant as obtaining a university degree when you’re a public figure? That’s definitely controversial. While many have been quick to dismiss Melania Trump as a vapid model, she’s had people vouching for her hard work ethic and intelligence. “I can put my hand in the fire to prove that she was a very intelligent student with a high IQ,” revealed Blaz Vogelnik, Trump’s architecture professor at the University of Ljubljana, to the Daily Beast.
Well, it looks like having someone vouch for you wasn’t enough for Ms. Trump, and according to NBC, up until July 2016, the FLOTUS’ “personal site said she obtained a degree in design and architecture at an unspecified university in Slovenia, her country of birth.” Hmm, well, did she?
Of course, once critics found the controversial statement, evidence came up that it, in fact, wasn’t true. “She hasn’t finished university, at least not in Ljubljana,” Vogelnik told NBC, adding, “My personal opinion is that, because she was a very beautiful girl … I believe that she realized that she could gain more with that, than to have long studies.” Sure enough, the blurb was eventually taken down from Trump’s website, and at the time of this writing, her official White House biography page says nothing about her education.
Melania Trump denied her half brother's existence
During GQ writer Julia Ioffe’s in-depth profile on Melania Trump, the journalist found out some shocking information: the FLOTUS may have a secret half brother. Wait, what?
According to Ioffe’s digging, before marrying Melania’s mother, Amalija Ulčnik, her father, Viktor Knavs, fathered a child with a woman named Marija Cigelnjak. As the article notes, “Viktor has never acknowledged his son, Denis Cigelnjak,” and “The existence of Melania’s half brother has never been reported.” Ioffe eventually tracked down Melania’s alleged half brother, asking him if he even wants contact with his father’s family. His response? He “wouldn’t mind meeting his half-sisters, Ines and Melania.”
So, where’s the controversy? When Ioffe asked Melania about Denis during their GQ interview on the phone, the former model “denied that it was true.” That being said, Ioffe didn’t give up, sending Melania legal court documents she had dug up. The story then changed, with the FLOTUS sending an email reading, “I’ve known about this for years … My father is a private individual. Please respect his privacy.” Hmm. After the infamous GQ piece was published, Melania denied it all on Facebook, saying it was “disingenuous reporting” by “the dishonest media.” Bizarre, no?
Grab them by the… bow?
This one can perhaps be chalked up to a coincidence, yet it’s still a decision that Melania Trump made that was met with a mountain of controversy. In 2016, while Donald Trump was still the Republican presidential candidate, The Washington Post published a recorded conversation from a 2005 Access Hollywood appearance, in which Trump said, among other offensive things, the now infamous phrase, “grab them by the pu**y.” Of course, the criticism poured in, eventually leading Trump to issue a short video statement, saying, “I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.”
How did Melania feel about it? She told CNN‘s Anderson Cooper that the “language was inappropriate,” but defended her husband, and shrugging it off as “boy talk.” She also made her own controversial statement. During the second presidential debate in October 2016, the former model was seen donning matching fuchsia pants and a so-called “pussy-bow blouse” (shown above). As Vanity Fair notes, “that’s the name of this style of blouse with a bow tied at the neck, named after the ones frequently tied around cats’ necks.” Naturally, the internet went wild. As the mag notes, “Some viewers took Trump’s shirt-style choice as a silent way of commenting on the audio” released. Was it?
While Sopan Deb of CBS News said in a since-deleted tweet (via Vanity Fair), “Campaign spokeswoman says this was not intentional,” it wouldn’t be the first time the public has accused Melania of subliminal messaging by way of her sartorial choices.
Melania Trump's response to the COVID-19 pandemic wasn't exactly robust
Melania Trump came under fire in March 2020 in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic, scrutinized for her decision to remain silent on the topic. As Express noted, the FLOTUS was even criticized “when she gave a speech at the National Parent-Teacher Association conference but did not mention the virus, despite the closure of more than 600 schools across the US at the time.”
What’s more, Mrs. Trump even canceled a California fundraiser she was set to host, but instead of simply explaining it was due to the coronavirus and the new practice of social distancing, the first lady merely blamed it on a “scheduling conflict” (via Politico). It’s weird that she seemingly avoiding the opportunity to speak out about COVID-19, right?
Eventually, it looks like the criticism got to the first lady, as she finally tweeted: “Our great country is fighting hard against the #Coronavirus. This nation is strong & ready & we will overcome. Please take action to prevent further spread. Visit cdc.gov for updated health info & updates.” While the tweet did include a link and some useful information for the masses, a quick look at the replies shows that the public was still furious, as many thought her response should have come much sooner.
A speech that sounded all-too-familiar
While Donald Trump was still just a Republican presidential candidate in 2016, his wife, Melania Trump, made waves for a speech she gave that July at the Republican National Convention. According to the BBC, “her speech, which brought the convention to its feet, had themes of inclusivity, honesty and hard work,” suddenly took on a different meaning — as it directly contradicted the ideas it was intending to enlist. As Twitter users initially noticed (via USA Today), Melania’s speech “was remarkably similar to a passage from first lady Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention eight years earlier.” Uh-oh.
While the public went wild comparing the speeches (CNN even uploaded a video of the two women speaking side by side), the Trump campaign issued a statement by way of senior communications adviser, Jason Miller (via USA Today). “In writing her beautiful speech, Melania’s team of writers took notes on her life’s inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking,” adding that “Melania’s immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such success.” Hmm.
While the speech was created by the FLOTUS’ writing team, Melania was ultimately the one who delivered it, so the controversy landed on her shoulders. Whether she knew how similar it was to Obama’s remarks is anyone’s guess. Remarkably, no one was fired for this political blunder.
The time Melania Trump bucked tradition on a trip to Saudi Arabia
During a 2017 trip to Saudi Arabia with her husband, Donald Trump, and his daughter, Ivanka, Melania Trump came under fire for her decision to forego wearing a headscarf — part of the country’s traditional dress code. While it’s not mandatory for visitors to wear either the hijab or an abaya (head coverings and full-length garments, respectively), there is one tiny element to this choice that caused Trump critics to scrutinize both Melania and Ivanka.
According to Allure, back in 2015, when former President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama embarked on the same trip in light of the death of King Abdullah, the former FLOTUS also opted out of covering her head. The decision caused The Apprentice alum to criticize Michelle, tweeting, “Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs. Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia, but they were insulted. We have enuf [sic] enemies.”
Of course, Donald’s 2015 tweet became a topic of conversation in the Twittersphere after his own trip to the Muslim country, with one user even screencapping the POTUS’ original tweet and photoshopping Melania’s name instead of Michelle’s.
Donald Trump isn't really practicing 'being best'
In October 2016, while her husband was still running for president, Melania Trump discussed social media during an interview with CNN‘s, Anderson Cooper. “Social media is very damaging to the children … I see more and more children being hurt by it.” By 2018, she had launched her Be Best campaign, a White House initiative that focuses on helping children by way of “three main pillars,” one being — you guessed it — online safety.
What critics found ironic, however, is that the FLOTUS’ campaign seemed to be a direct contradiction to Donald Trump’s countless offensive tweets. Cooper even asked Melania in that memorable CNN interview, “Do you tell Mr. Trump to not tweet so much?” Her response? “Yes, but that’s his decision, he’s an adult. He knows the consequences. I give him [a lot of advice] … sometimes he listens, sometimes he doesn’t.”
Of course, many skeptics have spoken out since the FLOTUS launched her campaign, such as The Guardian, which dubbed it “doomed by her husband’s belligerence.” In fact, even Melania isn’t oblivious to the critics. “It is not news or surprising to me that critics and the media have chosen to ridicule me for speaking out on this issue,” she revealed during a conference in 2018 (via ABC News). “I hope that, like I do, you will consider using their negative words as motivation to do all you can to bring awareness and understanding about responsible online behavior.”
The tennis court controversy
If her delay in addressing the 2020 novel coronavirus wasn’t enough to send the public into a frenzy of criticism, the following certainly did: Melania Trump tweeting out a photo of herself overseeing the construction of the White House’s new tennis complex in the middle of the global health crisis. “I am excited to share the progress of the Tennis Pavillion at @WhiteHouse,” she wrote, adding, “Thank you to the talented team for their hard work and dedication.” Um, really? At this moment?
The replies flooded in, with one user hilariously writing, “folks are dying because of a pandemic. Just FYI, Marie Antoinette.” Trump quickly responded to the public backlash with the following, instead of issuing out an apology: “I encourage everyone who chooses to be negative & question my work at the @WhiteHouse to take time and contribute something good & productive in their own communities. #BeBest.”
As InStyle pointed out, the former model rarely claps back at her haters, and with good reason, too, as her response angered users even more. As one Twitter user put it (via InStyle), “Children in cages. Record high homeless. People dying because they have no healthcare. A large percentage working several jobs to put food on the table. Not to mention the current global pandemic. But a tennis pavilion for wealthy, is what you consider ‘productive’ to the community.” Yikes.
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