Former President Donald Trump has a history of voicing his dissatisfaction with unflattering photographs of himself. In 2016, he complained about NBC using a photo that showed him with a double chin. In 2017, he took to Twitter to criticize CNN’s book cover for featuring what he deemed the “worst photo” of him. Trump’s obsession with his public image extended to social media platforms like Truth Social, where he accused Fox News of purposely selecting unflattering pictures of him. He has also expressed frustration that Vogue never featured his wife, Melania, on its cover during his time in the White House. Trump understands the impact of visuals on the public perception and is aware that images can shape the narrative around him.
The latest addition to Trump’s collection of unflattering photographs is his mug shot. Mug shots have historically been used to imply guilt and shame, as seen in the case of O.J. Simpson, whose mug shot featured on the cover of Time. However, they have also become symbols of defiance and pride for those fighting against abuse of power, as demonstrated by Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and Jane Fonda, whose mug shot from a 1970 protest became an iconic image for feminist activism. The mug shot of Trump reflects a situation beyond his control, as it cannot be airbrushed, filtered, or altered. Its interpretation and use in shaping public perception remain uncertain.
For an electorate accustomed to consuming visual media on TV and social platforms, images leave a lasting impression. Trump is acutely aware of this and has constantly sought to control his image. While words may be easily forgotten, imagery holds considerable power and communicates across language barriers. Trump’s preoccupation with his appearance and public portrayal stems from a deep understanding of the significance of visuals in shaping public opinion. However, now faced with a mug shot that he cannot control or manipulate, the former president’s image and its subsequent interpretation become a question mark.