“As a culture, we seem to reserve a special loathing for those daughters of the rich and famous who elect to dine out on their family names,” Spin magazine wrote of Ivanka Trump in 1998, back when the press chose to elevate Ivanka’s modeling aspirations by creating a debate around whether or not she was actually pretty enough to be a model. The answer, flat-out stated in Spin and suggested by the New York Times, was a resounding no. Her cheeks were too fat, her chin too weak, and most of all, even back then, her father was much too creepy.
But even as magazines questioned whether or not Donald Trump had bought his daughter spots on the runway, the press never loathed Ivanka, depicting her as polite, well mannered, and a little bit sad. They never failed to mention that she’d been shuffled off to boarding school; with her mother generally out of the country, Ivanka was left to RSVP to her father’s Thanksgiving dinner.
It was a narrative designed to build Ivanka up under the auspices of tearing her down. Feel sorry for her, but not too sorry, seemed to be the premise of every story on Donald Trump’s pretty but not pretty enough daughter, much like Cinderella in the original Grimm Brothers fairy tale. In that story, Cinderella is both wealthy but overlooked, invited to the Prince’s ball but not welcome. Yet through the benevolence of a magic tree growing from her mother’s grave on her father’s estate, Cinderella is given everything she needs to cloak herself in the trappings of wealth, and these trappings, along with her quiet, calm demeanor are enough to enchant the prince and win Cinderella her happily ever after.
In our current political narrative, the Trump princess who at one point supposedly could have been the Bachelorette sits at her father’s right hand, either whispering orders in his ear or balming his blistering ego, according to which reports of her role in the Trump administration one believes. And like her past as an unpretty fashion model or pitiable rich girl, Ivanka Trump is now painted as a “relatable” working mother who is also perhaps the pretty facade of America’s ugliest realities.
Like the Trump family, Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters are loud and cruel while its patriarch is wealthy and unobservant. In the press, Ivanka was, until 2015 or so—and occasionally even after her father’s election to the presidency—always the poor little rich girl, level headed and lovely among the brutes. This narrative is, of course, bullshit. At the same time the largest media outlets in America were focused on Ivanka’s good manners, her boarding school classmates say she was racist, classist, and generally horrible to be around, just as Cinderella’s stepsisters and many other, if not most, rich white teenagers are.
Ivanka’s adult face is different from the one that covered Seventeen magazine. Those oft-criticized puffy cheeks are hollow now, and the roundness the Times called “baby fat” has magically disappeared. The mannerly quietude remains, but the silence is punctuated by stories of Ivanka’s cruelty: the lastest tidbits about denying Secret Service members a place to use the bathroom alongside larger demonstrations of inhumanity, like her stance against fair living wages and numerous white supremacist dog whistles. At the beginning of the Trump presidency, there was lore around Ivanka as the voice of reason within the Trump family; talk show host James Corden revealed that he once drunkenly begged Ivanka to “do something” to which she reportedly responded that she was “trying.”
In Grimm’s fairy tale, the stepsisters tried too. When their feet wouldn’t fit into the shoe proffered by the prince, they cut off their toes and heels, jamming themselves into the princess costume. And the cruel stepsisters were each able to fool the prince for a little while, at least until he noticed the trails of blood left in their wakes. Ivanka has been playing at benevolent, level-headed aristocrat since she was 15 years old, but as the sun sets on her father’s rule, it’s impossible not to notice the blood trailing his favorite false princess.