Why a recent photo of Donald Trump and the First Lady has reignited the 'Fake Melania' conspiracy theory

Social media users are convinced there is something different about Melania Trump

TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as he and US First Lady Melania Trump board Air Force One to depart Nashville International Airport after the final presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22, 2020.  / AFP / MANDEL NGAN

Last week, US President Donald Trump was pictured boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House en route to the presidential debate in Nashville.

Alongside him was wife Melania, wearing dark sunglasses and her hair loose around her face, smiling for the waiting cameras.

But the photo is now at the centre of a raging internet debate among many who believe that the woman in the picture is, in fact, not Melania at all, reigniting the “Fake Melania” conspiracy theories that have plagued Trump’s presidency over the years.

How did the 'Fake Melania' theory start?

Conspiracy theorists believe that the president regularly hires a body double to step in for his wife when she does not wish to accompany him on campaign trips and official duties.

Speculation began in October 2017 when Trump gave a speech from the grounds of the White House next to a silent Melania, who covered her face in large black sunglasses. Some viewers thought her appearance was slightly off, and theories were only fuelled further when Trump referenced the fact that his wife “happened to be right next to him".

"Will the real Melania please stand up?," actress and comedienne Andrea Wagner Barton wrote on Facebook. "Is it me or during his speech today a decoy 'stood in' for Melania?"

Weeks earlier, Trump made a speech during a visit to Fort Myers in Florida to survey the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Addressing the media, he said: “I just want to thank everybody, the first responders, on behalf of myself, our Vice President. Melania really wanted to be with us – it has really touched her heart what's gone on.” Only, Melania was stood at the president’s side, adding further fuel to the fire that he had hired a body double for the occasion.

Others have also singled out pictures over the years where Melania’s height against her husband seems to differ dramatically.

Why has the theory been reignited?

The latest photo seems to have caught the attention of conspiracy theorists because of the First Lady's seemingly different smile.

Side-by-side comparisons have been made showing a suggested difference in teeth shape from previous pictures of Melania.

“No way those teeth belong to the same person, unless she secretly wears dentures,” one Twitter user wrote.

“I'm not one for conspiracy theories ... but ... the teeth and smile are just not the same,” another said.

Some also commented on the change in nature from the characteristically straight-faced First Lady.

“Good luck finding any photos of Melania smiling like that,” one person tweeted.

Film director Zack Bornstein also waded in on the debate. “The only thing I’ll miss from this administration is them swapping in new Melanias and just pretending we won’t notice like a 4-year-old with a guppy,” he wrote.

The White House has not commented on the theory, but Trump is not the first president accused of hiring a body double.

Hillary Clinton is reported to have used a stand-in during her husband’s presidency, while Vladimir Putin is also speculated to have used a body double in the past.