If Melania Trump is looking for a role model on how to transition from being a model to a first lady, she need look no further than Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the former first lady of France, who celebrates her 49th birthday on Friday, Dec. 23.
And that’s not just because President-elect Donald Trump allegedly planted a story about his having dated Bruni after he split from his second wife, Marla Maples, in the early ’90s — a claim Bruni-Sarkozy has consistently denied.
It’s because, as one of the highest-paid models of the ’90s, Bruni-Sarkozy is more than well-versed in dealing with the press, which is apt to shame a woman whose body is intrinsic to her work and who also happens to be married to a major head of state. Bruni-Sarkozy married Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France, in February 2008, when Sarkozy had held the office of the presidency for just under a year.
A nude photo of Bruni-Sarkozy was sold at auction in April 2008, and news of the sale was widely covered in the press, especially in British newspapers, just as the Sarkozys were in the United Kingdom for an official state visit.
Additional nude images of Bruni-Sarkozy surfaced at around the same time, to the sound of clicking tongues, in an attempt to diminish the French president’s credibility. (The promise of additional images of Bruni-Sarkozy in the buff was even used as part of an attempted hack of G20 delegates.)
And yet, Bruni-Sarkozy refused to express shame or embarrassment for her work, rarely even acknowledging it and, in doing so, making clear that there was no reason to be embarrassed by her body or her work.
It certainly set a model to follow after similar photos of Melania Trump were leaked last summer in the throes of her husband’s campaign for the presidency. In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper in October, Mrs. Trump made clear that she had nothing to apologize for, saying, “I’m very proud I did those pictures. I’m not ashamed of my body. I feel very comfortable with myself and with my body, and they were taken for a European French magazine. In Europe, we are proud of the bodies, no matter what size you are. And it was done as art and a celebration of female body.”
Bruni-Sarkozy has been clear that she doesn’t see herself as a feminist, a position that Mrs. Trump has not yet articulated, but is certainly imaginable, given her public identity or rather, lack thereof. Trump actively chose to abstain from the campaign trail, has offered very few interviews, and has announced that she won’t be moving to the White House (for now).
On the whole, Melania attended to her son and her private family life during the campaign. Meanwhile, her stepdaughter Ivanka Trump emerged as Donald Trump’s lady-things-explainer-in-chief, and could take on a broader role than the typical first daughter.
Perhaps the best thing Mrs. Trump can learn from Mrs. Sarkozy is to simply not care what others think. Bruni-Sarkozy masterfully cared when she wanted — when it came to talking about issues she was invested in, like the global fight against HIV and AIDS — and remained at one remove from politics for the other 98 percent of the time.