Michelle and Melania: A meeting of very different First Ladies

2016-11-11 11:24

Washington – While their husbands met on Thursday in the Oval Office to prepare passing the presidential torch, Michelle Obama and Melania Trump met elsewhere in the White House to plan their own transition.

This first meeting between the two women with vastly different backgrounds was held in the executive residence, far from the eyes of curious journalists.

"Michelle has had a chance to greet the incoming First Lady," President Barack Obama told reporters later in the Oval Office, with Donald Trump sitting at his side. "And we had an excellent conversation with her as well."

The first meeting between a First Lady and her successor traditionally offers both women a chance to confer about the best way to live in the goldfish bowl that is the White House, about how to raise children there, and so on.

Raising children may be one of the few points the two women have in common.

Melania Trump and Michelle Obama
Melania Trump and Michelle Obama (AFP)

Michelle Obama, elegant at 52, is the first black First Lady in American history. A Harvard-educated lawyer, she will leave the White House on January 20 enjoying sky-high ratings – approved by 79% of the American public, according to a recent Gallup survey. That makes her more popular than her husband.

Melania Trump, who is 46, is a Slovenian-born former model with high Slavic cheekbones, and what was once described as the "ice blue eyes of a snow leopard about to sneeze".

The new first lady will have much to prove. Only 28% of Americans hold favourable opinions of her, while 32% are unfavourable – the worst figures for a future First Lady since the 1980s, according to Gallup.

She kept a low profile through most of her husband's campaign, preferring to remain in their luxury penthouse apartment atop Trump Tower in New York to take care of Barron, the couple's 10-year-old son.

Active First Lady

Michelle Obama spared no effort in recent weeks to bolster the election campaign of Hillary Clinton – the woman who was supposed to help preserve her husband's legacy.

Appearing at several Clinton rallies, the first lady's passionate speeches and boundless energy brought a level of heightened excitement on the campaign trail.

After a video emerged last month in which Donald Trump spoke of groping and kissing women against their will – he later denied having actually done so – she criticised his "intolerable" attitude toward women.

And at the Democratic nominating convention in July, Michelle Obama denounced, without naming him, the "hateful language... that does not represent the true spirit of this country."

Often praised for her chic and modern sense of glamour, Obama was a particularly active First Lady. She was a prominent advocate in the fight against child obesity, supported the nation's military families and, with her husband, launched an initiative last year to help young girls around the world "get the education they deserve".

Melania Trump, always smiling, always immaculately turned out, is much more reserved – more in keeping with the traditional image of a First Lady.

At the age of 16, she began a career as a high-fashion model in Italy and France.

Inspired by Michelle Obama

At the Republican convention in July, her speech introducing her husband, at first well-received, was roundly criticised after its similarities to a 2008 speech by Michelle Obama came to light.

She has "always liked" Michelle Obama and was inspired by her, Melania Trump's speechwriter later explained. After that, Melania largely disappeared from the campaign trail.

But she returned recently to deliver a speech – visibly nervous – to pay tribute to "American values: kindness, honesty, respect, compassion, charity, understanding, co-operation".

"We have to find a better way to talk to each other, to disagree with each other, to respect each other," she said.

As someone who considers herself "very independent," she added that as First Lady she would devote herself to the defence of women's and children's causes – and to fighting Internet bullying.

The latter comment was roundly mocked by online critics, who noted the virulent personal attacks Donald Trump regularly launched on Twitter.

Melania Trump, whose English bears the heavy accent of her native Slovenia – and who speaks at least four other languages – will become the first foreign-born First Lady since Louisa Adams, the British-born wife of John Quincy Adams, who was president from 1825 to 1829.

A US resident since 1996, she received American citizenship in 2006, a year after marrying the New York billionaire. In his recent campaign, she has stoutly supported him even amid the worst crises.

She does have one thing in common with Michelle Obama: Both women stand nearly six feet tall.

Read more on:    michelle obama  |  melania trump  |  us 2016 elections

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