On Monday night, a scandalous photo of Kellyanne Conway in the Oval Office began circulating on social media. To the horror of grandparents and etiquette experts everywhere, the image revealed the senior White House advisor kneeling on a couch with her feet tucked beneath her. She was still wearing her shoes.
George Takei, who's not been quiet about his disdain for President Trump, tweeted this morning: "Kellyanne Conway is treating the Oval Office like her own living room. Looks like she's settling in for a night of bingewatching Scandal."
What makes the images more awkward, some point out, is that Conway appears extremely comfortable in the middle of a meeting Trump hosted with representatives from historically black colleges and universities across the nation. Shaun King, a senior justice writer at the New York Daily News, opined: "Never, in the face of white military leaders would Kellyanne Conway be on the couch, shoes off, on her knees. Period."
It turns out, though, that Conway was merely documenting Trump's meeting: More photos surfaced, showing her aiming her phone at the crowd to take a photo. As a result, some have called the outrage "dumb." Others responded by tweeting out photos of former President Obama with his feet up on the furniture in the Oval Office.
In fact, Obama caught heat over and over for "desecrating" the sanctity of the office. In an email obtained by Snopes in 2010, one critic, lambasting a photo showing Obama with his feet kicked up on his desk while talking with senior White House officials, wrote: "This arrogant, immature, self-centered idiot demonstrates repeatedly that he has no sense of honor, or of simple decency. ... He thinks of himself as a king — and not as a servant of the people, humbly occupying our White House for his term in office."
But are the two instances comparable? We asked Traci Brown, a body language expert, to weigh in.
"Whenever people put their feet on something, it shows ownership—it shows a lot of ownership," she says. In Conway's case, she appears "very casual, very comfortable doing that, like she owns the place. "
The other thing that's really interesting, Brown continues, is Conway appears to not be participating in what's happening behind her, either by choice or because she's been told not to. "Like she's different from the people who are there," Brown says. "She either doesn't have respect or doesn't feel like she belongs. She's put herself in a different spot than everyone else ... she's lower than everybody else. And if you look at her facial expression as she looks at her phone, she's kind of like a kid in the candy store with the pictures she's been able to take."
For comparison, Brown also analyzed a photo of Obama with his feet on his desk, surrounded by his advisors. She says his pose offers a different message than the one gleaned from Conway's. "He's got his feet up and he's leaned back—it's almost a superiority move." While the same could be said about Conway, Brown says "she's not doing it in the same way. If she feels superior, it's because she's ignoring everyone. If he feels superior, it's because he's paying attention to everyone."
Deciphering a person's body language can tell you what's on someone's mind, but it doesn't tell offer any explanations as to why, Brown says. "Maybe [Conway's] been in heels all day and her feet are just tired. We don't know exactly why she's gotten there, but we know that that's definitely not a respectful position."