In the final minutes of the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton attacked Donald Trump's sexism. "This is a man who has called women pigs, slobs, and dogs, and someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers," Clinton said.
She then called attention to one woman in particular, who, next to Clinton herself, would emerge as the most famous following the debate. "And one of the worst things he said was about a woman in a beauty contest - he loves beauty contests, supporting them, and hanging around them - and he called this woman 'Miss Piggy.' Then he called her 'Miss Housekeeping,' because she was Latina."
"Where did you find her, where did you find her?" Trump interrupted, but Clinton pressed on: "And she has a name, Alicia Machado, and she has become a U.S. citizen ... and you can bet she's going to vote this November." The audience, against the debate's house rules, burst into applause.
Machado quickly affirmed her support for Clinton on her Twitter feed.
Translation: Thank you, Mrs. Clinton. Your respect for women and our differences make you great! I'm with you!
That moment made Machado a face of not only the victims of Donald Trump's well-documented sexism, but also a face of those who Trump refused to pay for services rendered to his companies. Within hours of her comment on the debate stage about Machado, Clinton released a video featuring Machado, a former Miss Venezuela who was crowned Miss Universe in 1996, the year that Trump bought the Miss Universe organization (he sold it in 2015), talking about the ways the Republican nominee demeaned her. Speaking in Spanish, Machado explains, "As Miss Universe, I participated in more ad campaigns than most. In a year, I earned the company a lot of money. By contract, I should have earned 10 percent on all the commercials and work I did. I was never paid." The video includes infamous footage of Trump bringing reporters to watch her work out after she gained weight. "She weighed 118 pounds or 117 pounds, and she went up to 160 or 170," Trump told them at the time. "So this is somebody that likes to eat." Machado goes on to describe the crushing humiliation of becoming, after that moment, "The Fat Miss Universe."
Yet Machado is determined not to be seen as just a victim, risen from the ashes of Trump's destructive business dealings. Trump's presidential race may have thrust her into the public eye in a bigger way than ever before, but Machado wants you to see her as a woman with her own talents, one who is not defined by victimization at the hands of one of the most controversial major party presidential candidates in American history. As she sees it, if the 2016 election has given her anything, it's the opportunity to reclaim her past and rewrite her story in her own words.
One week ago, Machado, 39, discussed Trump and her acting career while getting ready for a photo shoot in the Cosmopolitan.com office. While a stylist blow-dried her gold-highlighted hair, she interrupted, "Darling, let me give you my brush..." She later took over makeup application, using the mostly drugstore products she brought with her in a large black suitcase. Machado speaks with a thick accent, dotting her English with Spanish colloquialisms - "sí, sí" and "mira." She joked that she hopes to improve her English by one day dating a guy from Ohio.
As she prepped for her portrait session, Machado recalled another incident of Trump's fat-shaming. Toward the end of her reign of Miss Universe, she was writing thank-you cards in the Los Angeles Miss Universe office when he asked her what she wanted to do next. "You'll never be an actress," he told her, "because you are too fat to be an actress, and nobody wants fat girls on TV shows."
"I was so sad. I was quiet," she said. "That was his attitude: OK, I have a new toy. I have all the beautiful new girls for me," she said of Trump's frequent comments about her weight and appearance.
"These are totally baseless and unsubstantiated claims by Ms. Machado, who lobbed a public smear campaign in order to gain notoriety at the expense of Mr. Trump's name and reputation," Trump campaign's Deputy Communications Director Jessica Ditto said in an emailed statement to Cosmopolitan.com. "Hillary Clinton will continue to use these false distractions like Ms. Machado and Mark Cuban to easily deceive the biased media, but will have no impact on Mr. Trump or the voters who are concerned with real issues."
On Fox & FriendsTuesday morning, Trump characterized Machado as the "absolute worst" they ever had at the Miss Universe pageant. "She gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem."
Whenever she discusses Trump, whom she frequently refers to as a "clown" or simply "that guy," Machado's eyes widen and then narrow to a squint. She impersonates him by gesticulating with her hands, lowering her voice to a guttural, nasal sound, and occasionally making a spitting noise.
Though she can joke about him now, the public humiliation and body-shaming sent Machado into serious depression. Having previously struggled with bulimia, Machado relapsed and spent the next several years combating eating disorders. "Sometimes I didn't want to go out anywhere," she told me over lunch of minestrone soup, chicken and broccoli, and a Diet Coke at an Italian restaurant, saying she slimmed down to a size 2 (Machado is now a size 6). "I was all the time in the bathroom. That is horrible." Trump "changed my life forever," Machado said. "I never been the same person after that experience."
After years of therapy, the model and actress slowly rebuilt her self-esteem. She played major roles in popular Spanish-speaking telenovelas like Samantha and La Madame, and starred in a series of films and musicals. In 2006, she felt so confident that she modeled nude in a spread for Playboy's Mexico edition. Eight years ago, while pregnant with her daughter Dinorah, she launched a fashion line that sells everything from iPhone cases to perfumes. In 2013, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, a battle that she told me made her more "mature."
Then Donald Trump became a serious contender in the presidential race for a country that had become her home. "This is a joke. Why is he coming back to my life, this guy?" she recalled thinking. "Oh no. No, no, no. It was like a bad dream. A really bad dream."
Trump's sudden and unexpected rise as a political figure has jolted Machado into action. After the New York Times called her for a story that ran in May detailing dozens of women's allegations of sexual harassment, she realized she needed to speak up more about her experience with him and warn Latinos about a man she fears will bring on "the third world war." "It's not revenge for me. It's just, I feel that I need to share my experience with this guy, because the Latin community, they listen to me a lot," she said. "I know who he is, this guy, and what he can do and how he can think."
In Trump, she sees a mirror of Hugo Chávez, the populist leftist (and onetime beauty pageant organizer) who charmed his way into a calamitous and violent dictatorship that led to Venezuela's economic collapse in the early 2000s. "Maybe [Trump] can be an owner of casinos and hotels and beauty pageants, but this is not a reality show. This is a country. This is a nation. A lot of people depend on his decisions," she said.
In August, Machado became a U.S. citizen specifically to vote against Trump, though she notes that she really does support Hillary Clinton and would like to see the first woman president. "I have a daughter, she's American, she's born here. And she has rights and I want to be here. And I want to vote, and I can't say to my community, 'OK, we need to be stronger,' or 'We need to be together' and 'We need to go in to vote,' if I can't vote," she said. She has appeared at a campaign event with Bill Clinton and joined civil rights leader Dolores Huerta for an anti-Trump event hosted by People for the American Way. And she spreads her message about the campaign to her 815,000 Twitter followers and 373,000 Instagram followers. On an image of Melania Trump kissing Donald, she used the hashtag #PrayForMelania.
Though Melania, like her, is an immigrant and former model, Machado waves off the comparison immediately. As the wife of a political figure, Melania's job is "to help everybody around you," she said. "It's not to make yourself rich or more powerful" Melania made an appearance at the presidential debate but has largely ducked out of the spotlight since the RNC, where she was accused of plagiarizing parts of Michelle Obama's speech in her own address. "I think I speak more English than her," Machado said. "I don't see anything about this girl. She's a doll. She's a decoration. That is how I see her."
Machado is well-aware that the American media's current interest in her revolves around Trump, but it has also coincided with Machado's year of reinvention, during which she has tried to expand her career from the Spanish-speaking market and break into Hollywood. She cites Sofia Vergara, Penélope Cruz, and Salma Hayek as inspirations. "Of course a lot of American media are more interested in me, and I thank you very much for that, and I want to use that in my plans, for my career," she explained. She is currently looking to produce plays and films focused on Venezuela's political turmoil that she can market to a broader, English-speaking audience. "There is a lot of Mafia that works high in the world, and nobody knows or nobody wants to talk about it," she said, referring to the rise of drug dealers and prostitution in her home country. "You know, all the powerful guys love beautiful girls." She also has roles in two upcoming American films, she said, though she wouldn't reveal any details, and she recently pitched a book about dieting and cooking to editors in New York.
As Machado tells it, she always had one dream: to become an actress, and beauty pageantry was simply a means to that end. Upon encouragement from a friend, she entered a local pageant at 17 and won, sending her on the path to win Miss Universe a little over a year later. The support from fans in countries like Spain and Russia kept her from dropping out in the face of Trump's comments. "I never left the crown or left my job because the people in that moment were supporting me a lot in other countries," she said. After years of going back and forth between Miami and Mexico City, she moved to Los Angeles six months ago and has been studying English intensively for the past four months. "You'll see in a few months - I will be speaking English without any accent," she said.
Among the numerous projects Machado hopes to undertake in the coming year, she said she will write a book detailing the abuse she allegedly suffered by Trump, though when asked about it in a follow-up call, she said she doesn't have the information about the publisher or publication date. And she emphasized that she doesn't need to write this book. "The truth is in that moment that was 20 years ago and, you know, he was just a business guy and my boss in the Miss Universe company, and that's it … that was only one year or one episode of my life. I don't want to focus my life in this country talking all the time about this guy. This guy is in my past, it's over, he's shit for me," she said, "I don't need to talk more about Mr. Trump."
Even if Trump does become president, Machado plans to forge onward with her career as if he does not exist. "I'm not the only beauty queen that wants to be an actress. [Trump] is not the only thing I have to share," she said. "In the Hispanic market, everybody loved me and they believe in me." Her Miss Universe days are long behind her. "Maybe for the rest of the world, that episode was something stupid," she said. "I know that, but after 20 years, I'm not the stupid beauty queen anymore."
This story was updated on 9/27, 1:13 p.m., when Cosmopolitan.com received a response from the Trump campaign.
Source: Cosmopolitan Magazine, 9/27/2016