It took Alicia Machado a long time to speak about all her experiences with Donald Trump, and all that the year she spent working for the then Trump-owned Miss Universe pageant unleashed. Since the late 1990s, all that most people who are aware of Machado have known about her is that she was crowned Miss Universe in 1996, tangled with Trump over her weight and then moved on to a career in TV and movies.
As of Tuesday morning, some Americans have no doubt heard a bit more about Machado, a woman mentioned by Hillary Clinton on the debate stage Monday night. She is the woman, Clinton told the world, who Trump often referred to as Miss Housekeeping. And Trump did not deny it.
The Clinton campaign viewed Machado’s experience with Trump behavior as so damning that Monday night, the campaign released a new commercial – almost a short documentary – featuring Machado. Speaking in Spanish, Machado described Trump as a man filled with grudges, racism and frightening anger, a man who contributed to her struggle with an eating disorder and, in keeping with another Trump critique Clinton raised on the debate stage, the owner of the pageant that did not pay her what she was due under the terms of her contract.
Trump’s response followed on, “Fox and Friends,” Tuesday morning. He said:
“That person was a Miss Universe person, and she was the worst we ever had. The worst, the absolute worst. She gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem. We had a real problem. Not only that, her attitude, and we had a real problem with her, so Hillary went back into the years and she found this girl.”
That’s Trump’s point of view. Here is the rest of Machado’s story.
Machado, who hails from an influential, highly educated and politically engaged extended Venezuelan family, left college to compete for the crown and pursue what she hoped would blossom into a career in the U.S. entertainment industry. Trump purchased the Miss Universe pageant just in time to become her boss. At the time, all Machado knew was that Trump, a wealthy American businessman, had big plans to boost the pageant’s profile and profits.
In the end, she came to view Trump as an insensitive bigot, a misogynist who seemed to view the pageant and pageant contestants alike as his personal property, Machado told me in an interview earlier this year for The Washington Post’s Trump biography “Trump Revealed.”
“Now, 20 years later, I can not believe that piece of sh— could possibly be president,” said Machado. “It was a nightmare I wouldn’t want my daughter or any other little girl in this country to ever, ever encounter. This man behaved like a tyrant when I was Miss Universe and has behaved like a potential despot during this campaign. He lacks the basic skills to govern and is not a good human being.”
Over the course of the year that Machado held the Miss Universe title — and, as Trump often reminded her, worked for him — she would feel such intense pressure to shed the pounds Trump told many, many television reporters, viewers and magazine readers that Machado had gained. He considered it an outrage, a potential violation of her contract. That in turn prompted officials with the Miss Venezuala pageant system to also comment on Machado’s weight in both the English and Spanish-speaking international press.
The only upside that Trump could see: potential weight-loss related endorsement deals for Machado. Under the terms of her contract, The Miss Universe organization would get a cut. To drum up interest and keep the press focused on Machado’s weight, Trump set up a workout with a trainer at a Manhattan gym. When Machado arrived, the trainer, Trump and a bank of mostly male reporters and photographers were waiting. Trump insisted that she follow the trainer though a full workout. As Machado did jumping jacks, sweated her way though the trainer’s routine and rode a stationary bike, the photographers stationed just a few feet way snapped pictures and made comments, she said.
Soon, Machado felt so desperate to shed the weight she both binged and purged food habitually, she told me. Machado continued to struggle with bulimia for the next 20 years, she said. Some news reports at the time indicated that Machado had already engaged in long hours of exercise and severe food restriction to get in what Venezuelan pageant directors described as ideal shape. And, Machado admits, she became more difficult, less compliant, more willing to stand up for herself in the Miss Universe office, to reject appearances Trump wanted her to do and to demand that her handlers put more charity work on her schedule.
That combination was too much for Trump, Machado said.
It prompted Trump to ask Machado and Miss Universe staff – who Machado said were often aghast – “who she thought she was,” on multiple occasions. In both angry conversations and casual ones, Trump referred to Machado as “Miss Piggy,” “Miss Housekeeper,” and “Miss Housekeeping,” who should know her place and do as she was told. He said it to her face. And he said it to Miss Universe staff.
In the years that followed her tenure as Miss Universe, Machado went on to get parts in both English and Spanish language scripted television and movies and starred in a Spanish-language reality show. She also became a legal U.S. permanent resident, a green card holder, and mother of an American citizen daughter. Machado’s daughter, by the way, is also a Mexican citizen, her right as the daughter of her Mexican-national father.
When Trump declared that he would compete for the White House and, in the same speech, described illegal Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and “criminals,” Machado says she was alarmed and sickened. As his campaign developed, it became clear that Trump’s thinking, his attitudes and opinions had not really changed, Machado said.
“It became clear to me that hate and ugliness, disrespect for women, for Latinos, for African-Americans is part of this man’s political philosophy,” Machado said. “This is the way his mind works.”
In June, Machado joined Clinton supporter Delores Huerta at a press conference where she explained that her concerns for what effect a President Trump might have on America had prompted her to become a U.S. citizen who can vote in November. Her reasoning is both personal and political.
“He is a danger to this beautiful country,” Machado said, “which I love, and feel an obligation to protect from men like Donald Trump on behalf of my daughter, on behalf of women, mothers, Latinas like me. He is a threat to democracy.”
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