The stunning transformation of Melania Trump

She is the statuesque, bronzed, and stunning "better half" to our next president. Unapologetically coiffed to the nines, and often underestimated as shy and unassuming, she is a steady powerhouse: mother, executive, philanthropist, and unwavering partner-in-chief. All the world's eyes upon her, she has been thrust into the political spotlight. Forced to answer for her husband, and herself, while proving to an entire country of vastly differing views that she is worthy of our admiration and capable of forging an aspirational path for women that allows for both traditional values, as well as illuminated progress. No small task for any woman. Even for one who seems to have it all.

An easy target, the media has devoured her personal history, like wolves to prey. But even though her frame may be lean, she has proven unshakeable. She is a willing participant, ready to face the challenges ahead, while maintaining a fierce confidence in herself. She is strong. She is graceful. And with a beauty that originates in her heart, she is a force with which to be reckoned. She is Melania Trump. And on Friday January 20, 2017, she steps her Louboutin-clad foot into the White House as First Lady of the United States of America.

Growing up Knauss (in Yugoslavia)

She was born Melania Knauss, on April 26, 1970 in the industrial town of Novo Mesto, in the former Yugoslavia. Light years away from the opulent NYC penthouse she calls home today, she spent her earliest years kicking around in a stark, Communist-era apartment block, looking out onto factory chimney stacks, according to the AP (via PEOPLE). The NYTimes reports her father Viktor worked as a salesman, and her mother Amalija was a children's clothing designer. "I think I can say [Novo Mesto] was too small for her," childhood friend Mirjana Jelancic shared with the AP (via PEOPLE). "Even as a child, she dreamed of moving." Jelancic, now elementary school principal where both formerly attended, further described Melania to ABC News, "She was a very good student. She was an angel."

A passion for fashion at a young age

Melania contented herself with what would emerge as lifelong passions, even as a young child. In an interview with Parenting Magazine, she recounted her earliest inspiration, "I always liked beauty and fashion. My mom was in the fashion business. I was 5 years old when I did my first catwalk. My mom loved fashion, we loved to travel and go to Italy and Paris. I was always very tall and skinny. Sometimes I was teased, but I was never embarrassed. I always liked myself. I knew what I wanted to do. I found my passion at such an early age. It helped with my confidence." The budding supermodel was afforded a fortunate upbringing compared to many of her peers, thanks to her hardworking parents, participating in after-school gymnastics, and traveling to Italy and Austria to ski during the winter, as reported in Harper's Bazaar. She also cultivated a sure hand as an artist, perhaps learned from her mother, according to GQ. "Melania never wore anything from the store," a friend told the magazine. She sketched out original ideas, and the sewing would be tasked to her mother and sister.

She was discovered at 16 years old

In a modeling fairytale as old as time, Melania emerged from humble beginnings, only to be discovered by photographer Stane Jerko at the age of 16 in 1987, according to GQ. Melania was attending the Secondary School of Design and Photography in Ljubljana, the now-Slovenian capital, and was living in an apartment purchased by her father, the NYTimes reported. And while Jerko spotted her waiting for a friend after a fashion show, the aspiring model was no easy sell. "School was the most important thing to her," he told GQ. But, true to her passion, she soon had a change of heart. According to the magazine, Jerko taught Melania how to pose, and photographed her just a few weeks after their first encounter. Without shoes. "I didn't have shoes for her because she had very big feet. The other models had smaller feet," Jerko remembered, in the GQ interview. But, he assured, "When you live on big feet, you live big."

Newly signed to a modeling agency in Milan, the 18-year old Trump's career forced her to drop out of architecture school, the NYTimes reported. Also featured in the same article, a famed second place finish in Jana Magazine's Slovenian Face of the Year contest in 1992. She would find success in Paris and Milan, according to GQ, but the arresting beauty had her steely eyes, and her dreams, fixed on the rock-n-roll sister of all fashion meccas, New York City.

She made it to NYC, but things weren't what she expected

It was in 1996 that Melania would finally arrive in The Big Apple, thanks to her agent Paolo Zampolli, but according to a GQ profile, the 26-year-old model's big plans were fading, almost as quickly as her American modeling contract, and with it, her visa. "[It's] a frustrating age for models, the late 20s. It's not a friendly industry," Melania's former roommate Matthew Atanian mentioned, in the same GQ article. "She wasn't working every day, she was going to castings every day and not succeeding… She said things were very different in Europe, that she had been more successful."

She did what she had to do to land modeling gigs

But the resourceful Melania didn't throw in the towel. As reported in GQ, "She went on casting calls for alcohol and tobacco ads, which her under-age competitors couldn't be hired for. Once, she landed a Camel ad, a billboard in Times Square." A self-described homebody, she preferred to stay home, walking with ankle weights, eating seven pieces of fruit a day, and, Atanian tells the magazine, she may have resorted to additional means. "She went away for a two-week vacation, then came back, and was more… buxom," he said. "She admitted it to me. She just said it needed to be done to get more lingerie jobs."

Of particular note, would be her now infamous British GQ spread, in the nude, in 2000. In a 2015 interview with Barbara Walters, Melania gracefully acknowledged her former career, "I think people will always judge. That's part of the job that I was doing; I was [a] very successful model. Nothing more than you see every year in Sports Illustrated."

She refused to give Donald Trump her number when they first met

"I was not star-struck," Melania confided to GQ about the first time she met Donald Trump. She recalled in the magazine that she had been invited to a NYC party at the Kit Kat Club, by Zampolli, who often used high-profile events to promote his models. It was NY Fashion Week in 1998, and 28-year-old Melania was about to meet another Zampolli invitee, Donald Trump. But it wasn't love at first sight. "I didn't know much about [him]. I had my life, I had my world. I didn't follow Donald Trump and what kind of life he had," she told GQ. And she wasn't about to give her number to a 52-year-old billionaire who, though separated from his second wife actress Marla Maples, had arrived with a date.

Instead, she snagged his digits. She told GQ, "If I give him my number, I'm just one of the women he calls. I wanted to see what his intention [was]. It tells you a lot from the man what kind of number he gives you. He gave me all of his numbers." Her friend Atanian confirmed to GQ, that the two broke it off almost immediately after they started dating, "She had some trust issues with him at the beginning. She kept her apartment to have her own space because of this." But peace would be made, as the two struck up a romance again, shortly after. A hometown friend speculated in the same article, "It's about all that power and protection. I think she needed a strong man, a father figure." And, one that would put a $3 million dollar ring on it.

Guess how much Donald Trump spent on her engagement ring and their wedding reception?

A sucker for a good deal, Mr. Trump purchased his wife's 12-carat, emerald-cut Laurence Graff diamond ring at a $1.5 million; 50% off, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He would later replace her puny pebble, with a 25-carat on their 10th anniversary, Harper's Bazaar reported.

The Hollywood Reporter clocked the gown's train at 13 feet, and the veil at 16 feet, saying the bride "could barely walk" in the nearly 300 feet of ruched satin — it was so spectacular, it landed the cover of Vogue. The same article reported that her sister Ines stood by her side as maid of honor in Vera Wang. New York event designer Preston Bailey told The Hollywood Reporter, he created the bride's "very classic, very creamy and white color palette" event, recalling, "She said, 'I want something that is very elegant but not over-the-top'." And afterward, for the woman who grew up wearing handmade clothes, a reception tipping the scales at $35 million.

She's never hired a nanny for her son, Barron

In a role she continues to be unexpectedly well-suited for, Melania became mother to son Barron in March of 2006, at the age of 35. It was, in fact, the same year she became a US citizen, which she recently posted on Twitter. She quickly assumed the duties of day-to-day parenting, without the help of nannies, telling Parenting, "We know our roles. I didn't want [Donald] to change the diapers or put Barron to bed." While she does employ the services of a chef and an assistant, which Parenting also reported, she assumes a highly traditional mothering role to her son. An only child, now 10, the littlest Trump occupies an entire floor of their NYC penthouse, and drives his own kiddie-sized Mercedes with personalized plates, according to Harper's Bazaar.

Melania remains fiercely protective over her son, and nurturing all at once. She shared her secret with Parenting, "It is so important to have good listening skills. I listen to what he says, what troubles him and what he is excited about. Then I can guide and support. I don't push my thoughts or likes or dislikes. I want him to grow to be his own person. I think [it's] important to give a child room to make mistakes in order to learn. Mistakes build wings so later in life they can fly and go on their own. Be their friend and parent as well. When they're in trouble they will come to you first." It's a philosophy she shares in her marriage as well; acceptance of people as they are. She continued in the interview, "You cannot change a person. You accept the person. It is important to understand each other. If you need to change someone… you will try your whole life and never succeed." Over the past year, Melania has remained a comforting buffer for her son during the president elect's often-volatile campaign. "We're dealing with [hateful comments], and I'm teaching [Barron] the right way and giving him morals… and teaching him values at home," she told US Weekly. She continued, "Of course, we both miss [Donald] because he is on the road a lot, but [Barron] understands and he's doing great."

Take a peek of her not-so-humble abodes in Florida and NY

Melania splits her time between the family's palatial estate in Florida, and the NY penthouse they call home. As profiled in Harper's Bazaar in 2016, the private top three floors of Trump Tower showcase an opulent glamour; "A Versailles-style hall of mirrors, a white marble fountain, and ceilings hand-painted with cherubs. Excess is, in many ways, the Trump brand." Blatantly luxurious, their $100 million digs remain a matter of taste and assets. But their secrets of their opaque relationship, practically untouched by media searchlights, have been in question by those hoping to further define the woman, and the marriage.

This is her philosophy on staying happy in her marriage

Melania confidently stated to Parenting, "My life is very normal­­ — for me. Maybe for some people they would not think that. But for me it is. I know my husband. We have a great relationship. We are both very independent. We know what our roles are and we are happy with them." She continued, "I don't think you need to be with your husband every minute of every day. Both people should do what their passion is and then get together in the mornings and evenings and share and experience life and have a great time. You know that saying, "Work hard and play harder?" That's what we do." For her part, during their marriage, Melania has kept active in creating a skin-care line, jewelry collections, and a few appearances as guest host on The View, according to Harper's Bazaar.

She keeps choosing motherhood over politics

Famously low-profile for most of her husband's campaign, Melania has appeared recently on social media in fits and starts, as well as carefully composed interviews in her penthouse, piquing the interest of legendary hosts like Barbara Walters. In a late 2015 20/20 interview on ABC (via Refinery29) with the Trumps, Walters questioned whether Melania was involved in the decision for her husband to run for president, to which Trump responded, "We discuss a lot, yes, and I encourage him because I know what he can do for America. He loves the American people, and he wants to help them." She continued, "It's my choice not to be there. I support my husband one hundred percent, but we have a 9-year-old son together, Barron, and I'm raising him, and this is the age he needs a parent at home."

She admits that she doesn't always see eye-to-eye with her husband

Ever gracious and measured, Melania stands faithfully by her husband's side, even if not literally. When asked in the same interview with Walters whether she thought of her marriage as one of equals, she replied, "I would say yes." It was Mr. Trump who would disagree, saying, "I would say no. I think she's far greater than the 50%." Melania further explained to Harper's Bazaar that her absence from the public eye, has been strategic. "Because of who my husband is, and our life — well, you take that all together, and people are very curious about me. I'm choosing not to go political in public because that is my husband's job. I'm very political in private life, and between me and my husband I know everything that is going on. But I chose not to be on the campaign. I have my own mind. I am my own person, and I think my husband likes that about me." And do they always agree? "I give him my opinions, and sometimes he takes them in, and sometimes he does not. Do I agree with him all the time? No."

America's second-ever foreign-born First Lady

In her most public role yet, Melania will take on the role of First Lady of the United States in January 2017 at age 46. She will be America's second foreign-born First Lady (the first, being John Quincy Adams' London-born wife Louisa), according to Harper's Bazaar. And she will be charged with proving to the throngs of critics and champions of the country she serves that she unquestionably deserves the compulsory position.

Even before visiting the Obamas' White House in recent days, Melania had been taken to task for her husband's off-the-cuff insults toward women. In a statement (via Forbes), she rallied, "The words my husband used are unacceptable and offensive to me. This does not represent the man that I know. He has the heart and mind of a leader. I hope people will accept his apology, as I have, and focus on the important issues facing our nation and the world."

She has additionally taken heat on Mr. Trump's immigration platform, since she is, after all, an immigrant. While under fire for allegedly working in the U.S. illegally on a visitor's visa, according to the LATimes, she made short work of defending herself in an interview with Harper's Bazaar, where she claimed, "I followed the rules." While she may prefer that her husband do the heavy lifting in regards to politics, critics and advocates remain equally curious about what real value America's next First Lady will bring to the White House. She may be fluent in several languages, and already involved in "many different charities involving children, involving many different diseases," according to GQ, but she has her work cut out for her, in order to be a true ambassador for causes such as these.

Let us not neglect her wardrobe; the timeless measuring stick by which each and every First Lady has been judged. Melania's visit with beloved First Lady Michelle Obama was carefully considered by the NY Times, as if the actual dresses were doing the speaking. "[Melania] wore a streamlined sleeveless black sheath dress, a matching coat and Christian Louboutin heels. I'd say she looked polished and professional, and as if she wasn't trying to call attention to herself, though that is kind of unavoidable." NYTimes Journalist Vanessa Freidman continued, "I think it's too early to judge whether Melania thinks about her clothes in communications terms, so I'm going to hold off on reading too much into the shade."

Will she be the next Jackie Kennedy?

Melania has already confessed her admiration toward former First Lady Jackie Kennedy in an interview with Harper's Bazaar, "She had a very beautiful, elegant, simple but feminine style." The traditional First Lady was further characterized by GQ, "[Jackie Kennedy was] endlessly glamorous and endlessly tolerant of her husband's philandering." Professor of History Katherine Jellison, who studies first families, spoke similarly to NPR on Melania, "I think she will be a quiet first lady. Because that's been her demeanor throughout the campaign — someone who doesn't weigh in on policy issues. She might be sort of a Jackie Kennedy type, a well-dressed woman who will be seen as popular in the women's magazines but largely stays quiet and on the sidelines in terms of her public image." Only Melania can truly know how similar she is to Jackie O, or even Michelle. But one thing is certain: we're all about to find out.