Is Melania Trump Trying to Profit Directly From Being First Lady?

by Rachel Withers

Things the First Lady (problematic gender norms aside) normally does:
Champion causes, act as White House hostess, organize White House tours and state dinners.

Things the First Lady does not normally do:
Use her high-profile status to release a fragrance line for personal gain.

But Melania Trump is no normal First Lady.

The Washington Post reports that Melania’s lawyers filed a lawsuit against Mail Media yesterday over an August Daily Mail article which falsely alleged she worked for an escort service. The defamation, they argue, has hurt her ability to capitalize on her profile as wife of the POTUS. Yes, you read that right. 

Charles Harder (the lawyer known for representing Hulk Hogan in the lawsuit that brought about the end of Gawker) argues that his plaintiff’s“Melania” brand has lost significant value, impacting “major business opportunities that were otherwise available to her.” Melania already sells a line of jewelry, but now she has (or had, as the lawsuit claims) the kind of profile needed to launch a “broad-based commercial brand” selling, among other things, “apparel accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance.”

The lawsuit’s preliminary statement does not directly reference her role as First Lady, but makes plenty of references to a “unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and the “multi-year term during which Plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world.”

In other words: Melania could have milked being First Lady for millions of dollars and now she can only milk being First Lady for… millions of dollars.

There’s every chance that this hypothetical “opportunity” is being played up to increase the scale of her brand’s potential losses and therefore damages, that there was never any intention to launch such a line. But an expansion of the Melania brand would be in line with the rest of the Trumps’ behavior. The New York Times reports that Trump is still closely tied to his business interests: his business assets are being held in a trust over which he has ultimate authority and for his “exclusive benefit.” The political climate appears to be backfiring for the First Daughter brand, with the “Ivanka” brand being dropped by both Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus as a result of the #GrabYourWallet boycott.

It’s ironic that the article in question is about a false escort claim, because Melania does appear to be selling herself. Her First Lady page on the White House website reads more like that of a modeling agency bio:

Screen Shot 2017 02 07 at 12.49.43 pmScreen Shot of the White House Website First Lady Bio

It also includes references to her jewelry line.

To be fair, there is a double standard in the White House: the President receives a (very large) salary while his wife’s duties go unpaid, arguably reflecting the undervaluing of women’s work worldwide. Melania, it appears, isn’t interested in working for free. But Melania also doesn’t seem that interested in “working” as First Lady at all.

The idea that Mrs.Trump thinks of the title as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to sell objects with her own name on them is disturbing– and disturbingly unsurprising.

Top image via Flickr/ABC Ida Mae Astute

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