The Presidents & First Ladies’ Body Language In This Photo Says A Lot About Their Group Dynamic
The funerals of former presidents and first ladies always turn into gatherings for the other people who have held those offices, and Barbara Bush's memorial was no exception. In fact, all of the attending presidents and first ladies took a photo while they were at the event — and it has a lot of people talking.
The first thing you'll notice is who's in the photo — and who's not. George H.W. Bush is right in the front in his wheelchair, and behind him are his son George W. Bush and Laura Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama, and First Lady Melania Trump. Donald Trump did not attend the funeral, which isn't an abnormal thing; the White House told the BBC the decision was made out of respect to the Bush family and to avoid the added security that the president would bring with him.
It's an impressive gathering, though. The only living presidential couple missing was Jimmy Carter, who was on a private trip abroad, and his wife Eleanor Rosalynn Carter, who was recovering from a recent surgery. Even so, there's an awful lot of contemporary American history in that one picture — but that history is made up of actual people, and you can learn something about their feelings on the situation just through their body language.
According to body language expert Patti Wood, there's a lot going on even in what might seem to be fairly run of the mill, posed shot. Everyone was there to remember, celebrate, and mourn a formidable and beloved former first lady, but it also presented a rare opportunity for this particular group to get together.
Wood says there are quite a few dynamics she notices in the photo, like how the younger Bushes — George W. and his wife, Laura — form a group with former First Lady Hillary Clinton in the photo, leaving Bill Clinton in the background.
Wood points out that Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton are in their own trio, "with Bush Junior even equally anchoring his relationships with his wife and Hillary Clinton with his hands on their shoulders." She adds, "Hillary Clinton is relaxed and happy," but Bill Clinton, who appears behind the trio seems a bit left out, like he just wants to be included.
"Remember, [Clinton] is a former president, [and he] had to stand in back of the grouping and pop his head up in the back to be partially in the group shot as if he just jumped in at the last minute," Wood notes. "Look how big former President Clinton’s smile is. He is so happy to be in a presidential group photo."
Meanwhile, "Obama is centered and also giving a huge smile," Wood says, noting that he is "angling toward that grouping with his body and ever so slightly away from Melania." She tells Bustle, "Last, note how Michelle Obama has stepped forward to be close to Bush Senior and Melania."
Finally, when it comes to Melania Trump — the only person pictured who currently lives in the White House — Wood says she seems more tense than the rest of the group. And if the current first lady did approach the gathering with the apprehension that Wood suggests she is displaying, it wouldn't be entirely unexpected.
After all, not even the Republican former presidents voted for her husband, and in fact Bush Sr. publicly announced that he voted for Clinton. She also wasn't tense throughout the entire event; she was photographed having a very relaxed moment next to former president Obama, and she posted about the funeral on Twitter, calling it "a beautiful tribute to a wonderful woman who lived for God, family and country."
"Melania is turning from the feet up towards everyone else to be connected and a part of [it]," Wood explains. "She is smiling, but notice how her shoulders are back and tense, how close together her feet are, and the hand that shows has the fingers closed — all indications of tension."
A photo is just one moment caught in time — but it can still tell you a lot about what was going on in that moment, in the middle of a day spent honoring of the life of American political matriarch Barbara Bush. While we can't be sure of anything that any of these presidential subjects were thinking, a photo can at least give us a glimpse into what their bodies seem to be saying.