‘Twas a week before Christmas and all through the (White) House, photographers were gathered to snap Donald Trump and Melania, née Knauss. The trees were arranged in the Cross Hall with care, because they needed a great back drop for the Donald’s famous hair!
Yes, on Dec. 15 the president and first lady posed for their official 2018 White House Christmas portrait, which was snapped by FLOTUS’s photographer Andrea Hanks at the Congressional Ball. Melania, in a white sequined Céline dress, and Donald, in a black tux, looked like wedding cake toppers as they posed side-by-side for the shot.
But there’s more to an image than meets the eye — so we consulted body language expert Patti Wood, author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language & Charisma, to find out what the couple was communicating without words.
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“If you look at that photo and don’t move in on it tightly at all, you can feel the tension in it,” she told InStyle. “There’s so many things that show affection, care, a desire to merge — that aren’t present.”
Read on for Wood’s full-take on the couple’s body language, from head to toe.
One thing quite striking is how straight up and down each of them are. They’re not leaning towards each other, or curled or curved toward each other, which would be standard in a couple photo to show relationship and attachment or endearment. That’s not there.
It’s normal for [Donald and Melania’s] couple photos, but when you’re doing the baseline for couples photos, it’s not. Usually there’d be something about that stance and posture that would indicate relationship.
Her feet are very tight together, facing out. Some people say that’s to look feminine, but the feminine posture is actually that foot-ankle pose, what I call the model pose, with one foot in front of the other. That used to be her standard pose in pictures.
Here, she’s not doing the posture that would be more flattering — instead, she has the feet together, and that’s protective.
The whole curve of the inner arm, and her left hand in a loose fist — just the closeness together of limbs and the tightness in the hand — all indicate tension and fear.
What is interesting is that her baseline many times when she’s photographed with him, is to have the mouth closed in more of a thin line, especially when she’s caught spontaneously with him. You see her mouth closed and the lips tight together. Here you actually do see that they’re both smiling, but they’re tight, the lips are pulled back in a tight grin — a tight, forced grin.
One of the ways you can tell [it’s forced] is the way you feel when you look at their smiles. You actually feel the tension in your body when you look at their smiles — it’s more of a grin than a smile.
It’s a loose handhold. If you look at her hand, it is bent around his and slightly lifting his up. But you can see where he’s not fully joining in by the way that his thumb is awkwardly out. It’s very odd. If you look at it closely, you see that the thumb is straight and pointing at him as opposed to resting or curling around her, and doing what would be normal to show a return of affection.
The feet, of all of the parts of the body, are the most subconsciously motivated. The feet are most indicative of how you truly feel. They’re under the least amount of conscious control. So in pictures, what you see is that the feet point to where the heart wants to go. So in photographs of couples, I always read from the feet up. I would guess that in the majority of the photos I’ve seen, especially in the last year, Melania’s feet are pointed out when they’re in couple photos.
His feet are pointed slightly toward her, but what we don’t know is where the camera is — it’s that slight. I would like the feet to be closer to her for that to be a clear read. But we do see that part of him wants to be seen as a couple. And that makes sense.
It’s so funny because this was the [photo] they chose to publish, so it’s not like it’s a spontaneous photo of them at a coffee shop in downtown D.C. This is the one they chose, this is one that they were happy about showing to the world. It’s surprising the photographer didn’t say, “why don’t you put your arm around her, why don’t you hold his hand a little bit tighter.” So this must’ve been the best of them.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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