Melania Trump meets Michelle Obama: A meeting of very different First Ladies

First Lady Michelle Obama meets with Melania Trump for tea in the Yellow Oval Room of the White House on Nov 10, 2016.
First Lady Michelle Obama meets with Melania Trump for tea in the Yellow Oval Room of the White House on Nov 10, 2016.PHOTO: THE WHITEHOUSE

WASHINGTON (AFP) - While their husbands met on Thursday (Nov 10) in the Oval Office to prepare passing the presidential torch, Mrs Michelle Obama and Mrs Melania Trump met elsewhere in the White House to plan their own transition.

This first meeting between the two women with vastly different backgrounds was held in the executive residence, far from the eyes of curious journalists.

"Michelle has had a chance to greet the incoming First Lady," President Barack Obama told reporters later in the Oval Office, with Mr Donald Trump sitting at his side. "And we had an excellent conversation with her as well."

The first meeting between a First Lady and her successor traditionally offers both women a chance to confer about the best way to live in the goldfish bowl that is the White House, about how to raise children there, and so on.

Raising children may be one of the few points the two women have in common.

 
 

Mrs Obama, elegant at 52, is the first black First Lady in American history. A Harvard-educated lawyer, she will leave the White House on Jan 20 enjoying sky-high ratings - approved by 79 per cent of the American public, according to a recent Gallup survey. That makes her more popular than her husband.

Mrs Trump, who is 46, is a Slovenian-born former model with high Slavic cheekbones, and what was once described as the "ice blue eyes of a snow leopard about to sneeze".

The new First Lady will have much to prove. Only 28 per cent of Americans hold favourable opinions of her, while 32 per cent are unfavourable - the worst figures for a future First Lady since the 1980s, according to Gallup.

She kept a low profile through most of her husband's campaign, preferring to remain in their luxury penthouse apartment atop Trump Tower in New York to take care of Barron, the couple's 10-year-old son.

Mrs Obama spared no effort in recent weeks to bolster the election campaign of Mrs Hillary Clinton - the woman who was supposed to help preserve her husband's legacy.

Appearing at several Clinton rallies, the First Lady's passionate speeches and boundless energy brought a level of heightened excitement on the campaign trail.

After a video emerged last month in which Mr Trump spoke of groping and kissing women against their will - he later denied having actually done so - she criticised his "intolerable" attitude towards women.

And at the Democratic nominating convention in July, Mrs Obama denounced, without naming him, the "hateful language... that does not represent the true spirit of this country".

Often praised for her chic and modern sense of glamour, Mrs Obama was a particularly active First Lady. She was a prominent advocate in the fight against child obesity, supported the nation's military families and, with her husband, launched an initiative last year to help young girls around the world "get the education they deserve".

Mrs Trump, always smiling, always immaculately turned out, is much more reserved - more in keeping with the traditional image of a First Lady.

At the age of 16, she began a career as a high-fashion model in Italy and France.

At the Republican convention in July, her speech introducing her husband, at first well-received, was roundly criticised after its similarities to a 2008 speech by Mrs Obama came to light.

She has "always liked" Mrs Obama and was inspired by her, Mrs Trump's speechwriter later explained. After that, Mrs Trump largely disappeared from the campaign trail.

But she returned recently to deliver a speech - visibly nervous - to pay tribute to "American values: kindness, honesty, respect, compassion, charity, understanding, cooperation."

"We have to find a better way to talk to each other, to disagree with each other, to respect each other," she said.

As someone who considers herself "very independent," she added that as First Lady, she would devote herself to the defence of women's and children's causes - and to fighting Internet bullying.

 

The latter comment was roundly mocked by online critics, who noted the virulent personal attacks Mr Trump regularly launched on Twitter.

Mrs Trump, whose English bears the heavy accent of her native Slovenia - and who speaks at least four other languages - will become the first foreign-born First Lady since Mrs Louisa Adams, the British-born wife of Mr John Quincy Adams, who was president from 1825 to 1829.

A US resident since 1996, she received American citizenship in 2006, a year after marrying the New York billionaire. In his recent campaign, she has stoutly supported him even amid the worst crises.

She does have one thing in common with Mrs Obama: Both women stand nearly 1.8m.