US President Donald Trump, 71, and his daughter Ivanka, 35, are regularly photographed at events together as she now has an official role as unpaid government.
Ivanka is vocal about the support she has for her father’s policies on social media, and Trump has often spoken out in the past about her crowning achievements.
But does the pair’s body language say something different about their relationship?
Body language expert Judi James has decoded their interactions at a small business event they attended together at the White House at the beginning of August.
As her role as a member of the president’s line-up squad Ivanka’s expression of open admiration and support works as a steer for his audiences. This is the kind of ‘my hero’ performance that previous FLOTUSes like Nancy Regan and even Hilary Clinton honed to perfection back in the day. No matter what is coming out of the president’s mouth on stage this look of staunch, unconditional admiration is intended to be contagious. Cherie Blair even tried it during Tony’s campaigns and with her upright posture and look of sleek, well-groomed youth Ivanka gets the job done more effectively than her often enigmatic-looking step mother.
This is an important role in attempting to boost Trump’s image and acceptability and Ivanka nails the look in three classic moves – firstly the head tilt. This suggests active listening, implying every word is worth hanging on. One glance down or dip of the head from Ivanka in this role and Trump’s visual support bubble would burst, making it a passive role that is also powerful.
Her second trick is the eye expression. Her gaze looks intensely focused, emphasising support for her father’s words, but the actual eye shape is subtly softened, creating the look of adoration. Thirdly she keeps her lips closed but with a slight lift to the corners of her mouth. This look of ‘loving approval’ is probably intended to soften the president’s impact by suggesting he has a warm heart no matter what is coming out of his mouth.
Picture two, three and four – the kiss
I am fascinated by the effect on Trump’s body language signals when he looks at and gets close to this daughter. When he’s facing the audience we see the signature Trump ‘Petulant tough guy’ face: eyebrows raised to signal dominant status and power and the mouth in that familiar ‘O’ shape with jutting lower teeth to imply stubborn resolve and an almost adolescent desire to get his own way.
This rigidly performed air kiss looks like a shared joke between father and daughter. Trump is normally a strong solo performer who is not great at achieving rapport with his greeting rituals but this one works perfectly because the pair are using body language mirroring. They keep a space between their bodies meaning a lack of actual touch in the kiss but their facial expressions are twinned, showing rapport. Both mouths are puckered in an exaggerated way but their faces show they see it as a bit of a humour that they both get.
In shot three we see a totally different version of Trump though, and for me it looks almost as though he’s dropped the mask or posturing alpha and allowed a slightly more vulnerable man to show through. The brows relax along with the rest of his facial muscles, the chin drops to a more natural 45 degree angle and the lips suddenly form a more normal shape. His eye contact drops to one side and – in contrast – it’s Ivanka who picks up the baton, sustaining that upright posture and perfect smile and even placing what looks like a supportive hand on her father’s shoulder.
Her eye expression is quite intense here, suggesting she’s scouring her father’s face to read his feelings and it is possible she is the only person able to stand this close to an otherwise imposing man and win the battle of the eye contact. All these subtle signals suggest not only that Trump can drop the tough guy mask with his daughter but also that her support and approval backstage might be vital to him.
When Trump looks back at his daughter on the stage the look he gets pinged back here is very ‘daddy’s little girl’. Her normal pose can be upright, strong and professional but here she performs a very subtle raising and pulling in of the shoulders and her smile enlarges to show the bottom teeth in a way that is borderline cute.
She looks happy to get his approval here and her response is to lower her own visual status slightly, performing a complimentary ‘fit’ with his alpha posturing. It’s interesting how flexible those status signals have become though and how her power signals rise slightly as his lower as they stand closer together. The pair seem to depend on one another in terms of support and power and are able to flex the balance as necessary.