Chris Kleponis / POOL/ EPA/NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

A recent public appearance has reignited internet rumours that the White House occasionally employs a body double to stand in for the first lady.

A new viral photograph of Donald and Melania Trump boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on October 22, has ignited the interest of conspiracy theorists as the first lady looked unlike she had ever done before.

Melania is seen leaning out of the helicopter wearing a large pair of sunglasses, which obscure most of her face and generously grinning. However, some doubted whether this was actually Melania at all, pointing out that her smile was not the same as her smile in other photos.

This photo was taken just before the Trump's took off for the final presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee which Melania was definitely in attendance at. The fact that people are basing this conspiracy on Melania's smile would suggest that people aren't used to seeing Melania smile too often and are clinging to a theory based on a split second photograph.

Neither the president nor the White House has responded to these theories but they have spoken out against them when the exact same body double claims emerged in the past...

On 8 March 2019 Donald and Melania Trump visited the town of Opelika, Alabama to survey the damage done to the state by a recent tornado, a natural disaster in which 23 people lost their lives.

The president and first lady spent time signing Bibles and paying their respects to local people at a makeshift relief centre on what was a deeply sombre occasion, expressing their support for residents and handing out supplies.

But one picture of Mrs.Trump, stood holding hands with her husband before a row of white crosses outside the Providence Baptist Church, struck some observers as very odd indeed.

The woman in the press shot, taken by Nicholas Kamm of AFP, just didn't look like Melania.

In response to the accusations of the president using a body double for his wife, Trump hit out after the Fox and Friends breakfast show devoted a segment to it, accusing the media of photoshopping the original. "They are only getting more deranged with time!" he fumed.

The suspicion the White House routinely uses a body double in place of the real Mrs Trump, an old security ploy once used to safeguard dictators like Joseph Stalin and Saddam Hussein, first caught people's attention in 2017.

According to Snopes, it was first pitched on Facebook by actress Andrea Wagner Barton and on Twitter by Joe Vargas (founder and CEO of CBD Dispensary, a Las Vegas-based retailer of hemp syrup) on 18 October 2017, both posting videos of the first lady stood mute and nodding beside her husband:

President Trump rather hurriedly referring to, "My wife Melania, she's right here", certainly roused suspicion and an accompanying picture tweeted by Vargas appeared to show a completely different woman, with broader nostrils and a flatter chin, those distinctive eyes concealed behind huge Jackie Kennedy sunglasses.

The suggestion that the Trumps were employing a body double took Twitter by storm, with the perennially-paranoid keen to promote it as the latest evidence of sinister government deception, rarely stopping to ask what interest the state might have in concealing the real Melania.

The hysteria eventually forced a denial from then East Wing communications director and current chief of staff for the first lady Stephanie Grisham, who told CNN:

Once again, we find ourselves consumed with a ridiculous non-story when we could be talking about the work the first lady is doing on behalf of children, including the opioid crisis that is gripping our nation.

The trope returned in July 2018 when a windswept Melania was seen descending the steps of Air Force One as she and her husband arrived in Brussels for a Nato summit.

A popular theory about the Melania doppelganger is that a Secret Service agent assigned to protect her periodically takes her place at affairs of state.

One Twitter user noticed over the weekend that the first lady and her bodyguard even wear the same ring on their left hands, only adding to the intrigue.

"The United States Secret Service doesn't use body doubles," former agent Jonathan Wackrow categorically told CNN in response to the first incident in 2017.

"Mrs. Trump's lead agent is a woman... and she happens to look a little like her, but physically, she is much shorter," he said.

The desire to believe Melania Trump might wish to duck out of official engagements springs from the popular assumption she dislikes her public duties and is a reluctant first lady.

Snopes adds that some of these theories have gained resonance due to things like poor video quality, camera lenses marginally warping the shape and size of Melania's face and also people failing to take into context simple things like a change of shoes which altered her height.

While Melania has said little about the president's alleged extramarital affair with adult film actress Stormy Daniels, her habits of batting away the President's hand and walking well behind him have been noted.

The Huffington Post even tasked a body language expert to assess the behaviour two years ago, Jacqueline Whitmore concluding the patterns "could be perceived as a sign of disrespect".

Her initial decision to stay in New York rather than join her husband in Washington after his inauguration, apparently to shield their then 10-year-old son Barron from the media spotlight, was regarded as highly suspect.

As was her disappearance from public view in May 2018 while she recovered from a kidney operation, which forced her to tweet reassuring her followers she is alive and well.

If Melania Trump really does loathe her role so much she'd rather hire an imposter than be on public view – as indicated by her notorious "I really don't care, do u?" army coat – it is, to an extent, understandable.

Her White House Christmas decorations are routinely derided as "scary" and her anti-bullying agenda is either undermined by her husband overtly bullying his rivals on the world stage or picked apart for rehashing old Obama-era pamphlets with a new cover.

French first lady Brigitte Macron described Melania as "very fun" behind closed doors when they met last year but observed she is subject to so much criticism "she can't even open a window" without being criticised.

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