Hidden Meanings Behind Melania Trump's Body Language

Melania Trump, the reserved former first lady known for her steely facial expressions and oversized sunglasses, is a bit of an enigma. The Slovenian-born mother of one has spoken about her passions — being a mom and fashion design, to name a couple — but her experiences as the first lady and the wife of a figure as notorious as Donald Trump are decidedly more private. And when it comes to politics, she's similarly tight-lipped. As she told GQ, "I chose not to go into politics and policy. Those policies are my husband's job."

It's possible that, after spending over 20 years in the public eye, Melania has found that keeping her life private is the best way to protect herself and her loved ones. After all, she has indicated in several interviews that family is most important to her. But what isn't revealed in interviews or through her actions as the former first lady may be more clear through her body language.

Awkward hand holding equals unhappy marriage

Melania and Donald Trump are frequently seen holding hands, and a cursory glance may lead one to believe that their hand-holding is an indication of a close marriage. But when you look a little deeper, it appears to indicate the opposite, according to body language expert Patti Wood. She told Insider that the way the couple holds hands is not typical of people in a close romantic relationship.

Take the 2019 White House Easter Egg Roll, for example –- a photo shows the pair walking together as Donald Trump attempts to grab Melania's hand. Melania's face and posture are tense, and her hand appears to be pushed down by her husband rather than embraced. "He's reaching out, but reaching out and down," Wood noted. "He often pushes her hand down when they hold hands, and he's lifting up the tips of her fingers to meet his. I don't know what the context is, but neither of them is happy."

Melania's posture is also telling in this photo, as her arms and body appear tense. According to Wood, Melania's stiff arms and shoulders indicate a "danger response." In other words, she is definitely not comfortable. And though Melania is known for looking tense in photos, this hasn't always been the case. "Her relationship with him [Donald Trump] has changed, so she feels the need to be formally on guard," Wood said, noting that Melania was "always laughing" at the beginning of her relationship with Trump.

Forced displays of affection

Since Melania and Donald began seeing each other in 1998, photos of them seem to hint at underlying conflict in their relationship. A 1999 photo of the pair at an event shows Donald leaning into Melania, looking relaxed and in charge, while Melania looks rigid and uncomfortable, with her arms and legs crossed. Though Melania is leaning into Donald slightly in the photo, her body language gives the impression that she is on edge.

As their relationship has progressed, it appears that this underlying tension may have become more and more apparent. A photo of them at the Wollman Rink in 2011 shows the two walking together, but not leaning into one another at all, with both wearing hardened expressions on their faces. According to communications consultant Dr. Lillian Glass (per Elle), "you can see the breakage" in their relationship. It appears the two want to give the impression of a close relationship, but their body language reveals hollowness and disconnection.

The infamous face fall

Donald Trump's inauguration made history for a few reasons, but perhaps the most memorable was Melania's facial expression. During the swearing-in ceremony, Melania flashes Donald a broad smile — and as soon as he turns his head, her smile disappears in a flash and is replaced with a serious frown. The moment has been GIF'd unto eternity and lead to thousands of #freeMelania tweets. While it is an undoubtedly hilarious moment, it also feels deeply sad.

Some may argue that Melania was just having a long day. Maybe the pressure to be perfect in front of cameras and crowds was getting to her. Maybe she became distracted, or someone asked her a question that led to the change of expression. Or maybe putting on a façade of a happy relationship was becoming too exhausting to keep up. According to Patti Wood, body language expert (via Harper's Bazaar), "What created her facial expression is that she was expecting a moment, because he looked back, but he didn't connect with her," Wood said. Melania's resulting frown is, according to Wood, "sadness mixed with a little bit of anger that she didn't get it [connection with Donald]."

And the equally infamous hand swat

Sure, we can read into hand and finger positioning when analyzing the Trumps hand-holding, surmising that Melania is often being "dragged" around by Trump or that the two are holding hands out of obligation rather than a true connection. But at the end of the day, that's just speculation. What can't be denied is the infamous hand swat. No matter how you look at it, Melania was not trying to hold her husband's hand.

At the Tel Aviv, Israel, welcoming ceremony in 2017, we see Melania swat Trump's hand away as he reaches out. CNN posits, "Perhaps the first lady, who studied extensively ahead of the trip, did not want to buck protocol, since their Israeli counterparts did not appear to be holding hands at that particular moment." Or perhaps she just didn't want to hold his hand. After all, Hand Swat 2.0 happened just a year later. 

In February 2018, the presidential pair were headed to Ohio and were filmed walking out of the White House. Twitter users quickly honed in on Trump awkwardly fumbling for Melania's hand as she seemingly avoided his attempts at all costs. One Twitter user wrote, "Melania simply doesn't want to hold this man's hand (who can blame her). It's clear and obvious and not the first time."

Competition may be brewing with Ivanka

For two people who have spent a lot of time together, Melania and Ivanka Trump don't seem to have a particularly close relationship. Some even describe their interactions as "frosty." With Ivanka as a senior advisor for her father's presidency, she was very much immersed in the same world as her father. Melania, on the other hand, seems to have gone through the motions of being a first lady but didn't necessarily seem to have a passion for it. The infamous leaked tapes of Melania bemoaning putting up Christmas decorations gave some insight into her feelings regarding her duties. Despite their differences, CNN reported that the two were "respectful of one another's turf."

However, the two women's body language tells a different story. Body language expert Judi James says (per Express) that both Melania and Ivanka aim to put off a perfect, polished look — and that the two may be in competition with each other. "This carefully-manicured look reflects in their body language too, which is measured and self-contained in their public appearances, with little if any displays of anything close to spontaneity and emotion," James notes. Their lack of affection for each other is clear; The two are rarely photographed together, and when they are, they tend not to touch or lean into one another as you would with someone you're close to. "It could be a sign of a more competitive relationship," James explains.

Sparks fly with Trudeau

We've never seen Melania as happy as she was when she was speaking with Justin Trudeau. (And, tbh, we get it.) Melania Trump and the Canadian prime minister were speaking so intimately at the G7 summit that you could mistake them for the leads of an upcoming rom-com. And this wasn't just tabloid fodder. According to body language expert Patti Wood (per InStyle), Melania's body language really did scream romance. "She's looking with pleasure — It's a delight to kiss you. I desire it. Her offering up, the way her neck is arched up, the way her mouth is placed up, the lips are partially pursed for the kiss, plus the look ... The body language is that of a romantic kiss," Wood says.

And okay, sure, you could sort of explain the interaction when you consider the fact that they'd just done the European standard double-cheek kiss. But what's a little harder to rationalize is how relaxed and happy Melania looks with Trudeau versus how tense and uncomfortable she tends to look with her own husband, not to mention the fact that she's turned the typically customary double-cheek kiss into something much less customary. From the way Melania is so close to Trudeau to the fact that she is halfheartedly holding her husband's hand while her body is completely hinged away from him. In this case, a picture really says a thousand words.

The inaugural dance not-so-subtly hints at dissatisfaction

Let's circle back to the photo of Melania with Justin Trudeau. On top of her blissful expression, her body is angled towards Trudeau's — a surprising choice for a public and formal meeting, which would typically dictate a reasonable distance. Now, compare Melania's body language with Trudeau to her body language with her husband at the inaugural dance: stiff, angled away, and overall signaling that she didn't want to be that close to him.

Regarding Melania's attempt to keep her body angled away from Donald during the dance, body language expert Patti Wood explains, per Mic, that this sort of distancing behavior "typically says, 'I don't want to merge with you as a partner.'" To make matters worse, Donald appears to be "pulling her in sexually," trying to force the appearance of a close relationship. The two held hands while dancing, and viewers can see that Donald seems to be gripping Melania's hand (not embracing it) as Melania's fingers stick straight out rather than holding his hand back. Wood says this can also indicate a lack of affection.

A lonely birthday

Much analysis of Melania Trump's body language centers on her in contrast with someone else — often her husband, Donald Trump. Nevertheless, looking at Melania's body language when she's alone tells a story of its own.

In 2019, a strange and sad photo of Melania sitting alone, scowling, on the edge of a couch was posted to the White House Twitter account. Melania's legs are crossed, and her hands rest in her lap as she is surrounded by a flurry of photographers. Understandably, people were confused as to why this photo was posted in celebration of Melania's birthday. Typically birthday photos include some form of celebration or, at the very least, a smile. But body language expert Patti Wood says, per Refinery 29, that posting this photo sent an intentional message. "That's the most interesting [thing], because she's communicating to the world that she's all by herself on her birthday," Wood said. "That's the most dramatic aspect of this whole story. If you'll look at her facial expression, with the tight lips, and the fact that she's not looking directly at the camera, that is suppressed anger." Wood added, "It's the fact that she's sitting on the corner of the couch, to make it clear she's by herself. That's the most significant part."

Tension and fake smiles abound

Melania Trump is known for her pursed-lips-squinted-eyes expression (maybe a take on the smize?), but there are times when she smiles in photos. Unfortunately, it's rare that her smiles to appear genuine. For example, in one photo with her husband, she looks at the camera and smiles, but you can almost feel the tension she holds in her face and neck.

Body language expert Patti Wood says (per Closer Weekly), "Her smile is pasted on fake — and actually, you see a little bit, just a slight bit of anger just in the clench of the way the jaw is, the tension all the way up to the neck and in the eyes." Ordinarily, a fake smile could be written off as someone having a bad day or feeling awkward in front of the camera. Since Melania's smiles so often seem forced — especially when she's pictured with her husband — it seems to indicate that Melania is not happy, especially in her relationship.

She may not be as passive as some suspect

At Donald Trump's inauguration, many people were surprised to see Melania left behind in the car as Donald ascended the stairs of the White House to greet the Obamas. Forgoing custom, he did not walk with his wife or interact with her much at all, leading some to see him as, well, a bad husband and Melania as the passive wife left behind.

This idea of Melania as a passive party doesn't seem to reflect in her body language. In November 2022, she and Donald were photographed at Mar-a-Lago after Trump announced he would be running in the 2024 presidential race. Body language expert Judi James notes (per Express) that Melania looked "less rigid" than she has in previous photos and that she noticed "Melania's signals of being quietly but slightly in charge of the choreography." Instead of Donald dragging her by her hand as he has done in the past, James says that Melania seemed to be directing things. "As they posed for photos when they hit the audience she seemed to be talking in an aside to her husband as though possibly back in the role of nudging him where to go and when," James says.