Kellyanne Conway has responded to “couchgate.” After a photo with her feet tucked up underneath her on the couch in the Oval Office while the president met with the heads of the country’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) sent the Internet fully ablaze, the senior adviser to President Trump has offered up an explanation for her pose.
— Lou Dobbs (@LouDobbs) February 28, 2017
“I was very busy today and didn’t follow a lot of it, but I know there are a couple of reports at least showing what happened. And what happened is we had the largest gathering of men and women to date in the Oval Office for a picture,” she explained Tuesday on Lou Dobbs Tonight. “I was being asked to take a picture in a crowded room with the press behind us. I was asked to take a certain angle and was doing exactly that. I certainly meant no disrespect, I didn’t mean to have my feet on the couch.”
Many jumped to Conway’s defense, pointing out that President Barack Obama was often photographed with his feet on his desk in the Oval Office.
How dare Kellyanne Conway disrespect the Oval Office! pic.twitter.com/AXf22Q8jMG
— Jenna Abrams (@Jenn_Abrams) February 28, 2017
For those of you who were upset by Kellyanne Conway: Did this upset you? No? Then sit down. pic.twitter.com/vYxTt5Pxbb
— Stacy Washington (@StacyOnTheRight) February 28, 2017
As Snopes pointed out, Obama was far from the only leader to be photographed with his legs propped up, with similar images of Presidents George W. Bush and Gerald Ford likewise existing — and being “unremarked-upon.”
However, there were still those who were quick to call Conway “disrespectful.”
Never, in the face of white military leaders would Kellyanne Conway be on the couch, shoes off, on her knees.
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) February 28, 2017
Kellyanne Conway is treating the Oval Office like her own living room. Looks like she's settling in for a night of bingewatching Scandal. pic.twitter.com/jtrrR4vVsi
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) February 28, 2017
I have so many questions about this photo, but chief among them is why nobody is telling Kellyanne Conway to get her damn feet off the couch pic.twitter.com/tU0CBS36Fe
— Rex Huppke (@RexHuppke) February 28, 2017
Sure, Kellyanne, just make yourself right at home???? On an Oval Office couch??? With all those people there?????? Why not???? https://t.co/D71pExU0Xr
— lindsey marie (@thekuhlest) February 28, 2017
In this photo exists every comment on race and on respectability to be had on earth pic.twitter.com/5E2Q38dxaX
— Theodore R. Johnson (@T_R_Johnson_III) February 28, 2017
Now, you can't expect us to take this "meeting" seriously when this is the setting. pic.twitter.com/IAx34PlliM
— deray mckesson (@deray) February 28, 2017
Image consultant Sylvie di Giusto tells Yahoo Style that before hitting “retweet,” it’s important to remember that sometimes, a picture is just a picture.
“In general, I recommend not to ‘read’ too much from a single snapshot, an instant moment that a smart photographer has captured, because pictures are very one-dimensional,” di Giusto says, adding that for body-language experts to be able to really interpret the photo, they would need much more information about the context of the meeting itself, the role Conway played in it before and after, and the outcome of the meeting.
However, if anything, di Giusto says, the photo is just another example of yet another kind of double standard faced by women because of what their iteration of professional attire looks like.
“It’s an unfortunate pose. However, it’s just a snapshot, and I’d not allow myself to interpret anything into this instant moment. And it’s another proof that from a practical point of view, dresses are not very easy to wear as a professional woman, in particular when you are in the public eye.”
That’s why she says she makes a point of working with her female clients on how they sit, stand, and walk whenever they’re wearing a dress. “It doesn’t mean you should not wear dresses. It just means you add another thing to think about,” she says.
And yet, di Giusto also notes, “one of the most important traits of successful leaders is to show respect. Respect to themselves and also to others, and mostly, respect for the occasion. Because as soon as you allow your appearance, your behavior, or your communication to become a topic, it’s a lack of respect for the occasion.” She continues, “This was quite an important meeting for the president, his reputation, and his relationships with leaders of historically black colleges and universities. Her behavior took away from what this occasion and event should be about. She allowed herself and the way she represents him to become a topic. And I’m sorry for her that she is not surrounded by a team that protects her from that situation, someone who pulls her aside, someone who makes sure these pictures don’t get released.”
Conway did her best to shift the attention back to the meeting. “It is venomous, it is vicious, it bothers my children to be frank with you,” she responded when asked about the “deplorable hypocrisy” of the photo’s backlash. “I have 24/7 Secret Service protection because people do wish us harm and people should take that very seriously. I’m not a victim at all but people should take very seriously the import of their words when I meant no disrespect,” Conway shared. “This came from a journalist that is not happy that Donald Trump is the President. But I just want people to focus on the great work of the HBCU presidents and how honored we were to have them here.”