The famously private first lady has been especially quiet since allegations reemerged earlier this month that her husband had an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels a decade ago.
Just last week, Melania skipped out on a trip to Davos, Switzerald, with the president, fueling reports that an iciness had developed between the first couple since Trump’s reported payoff for Daniels’ silence made headlines. (The affair allegedly happened in 2006, shortly after the birth of the couple’s son, Barron.)
On Tuesday night, though, the first lady dutifully reappeared. Watching from the gallery, her facial expressions vacillated from smiles to strained looks, the latter of which was picked up on Twitter:
Body language experts noted that, although there were certainly smiles from Melania, the far-off, almost stoic glances she cast throughout the night were ripe for analysis.
Joe Navarro, a body language expert and author of What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People, said that Melania behaved differently than any other first lady in modern history at certain moments.
“It was not that she looked stoic, though she often did, it was almost a distant pained look,” he told HuffPost. “She almost mechanically stood and applauded, without any form of alacrity. That may speak to some psychological discomfort and emotional pain.”
Though the State of the Union address should have been a “happy, momentous occasion” for the Trumps, “there was little indication of happiness” from Melania, Navarro said.
When the president entered the House chamber, Melania gave the equivalent of a “polite golf clap” and little else, said body language expert Traci Brown.
“Every time we saw her, she showed more and more disinterest,” Brown said. “She reserved her one genuine smile of the evening ― that’s when your eyes smile, too ― for the little boy sitting next to her who made sure veterans got flags on their graves.”
Earlier in the night, the first lady broke from tradition and arrived separately to the speech; typically, the first couple arrive together. Also of note? Melania wore a white pantsuit, which some noted was similar to the white outfits Democratic women wore last year to protest Trump’s election as he gave his first congressional address.
Body language experts said the suit could be interpreted as an assertion of power ― or something else entirely.
“I found her choice of outfit striking to what we normally see,” Navarro said. “White attire is often associated with purity and spotlessness ... It’s not springtime, so you could argue there’s a message here.”
The message behind Melania’s couture ― a Christian Dior suit with a matching silk Dolce & Gabbana blouse ― and her body language remain open to interpretation, but one thing is certain: Melania was markedly more reserved in her facial expressions than she was at the inauguration last year. Who could forget that mesmerizing gif of her smile that dissolved into a frown after her husband looked away?
Last night, the first lady’s face remained fixed. There were few smiles, but there were also no genuine frowns to turn into gifs, said body language expert and psychotherapist Paul Hokemeyer.
“She really did resist any expression of emotion during her husband’s speech,” he said. “This tells me that she was exerting enormous restraint and taking back the power in her life. While she still seems uncomfortable in the spotlight, Melania is a fast student.”