By Brittany Cullen--Did Hillary Clinton have plastic surgery? Will she bring back the scrunchie? Does she look presidential? Hillary Clinton, an accomplished female politician, frequently takes harsh criticism from the media concerning her appearance.
Successful and influential women are constantly judged for their looks, but do the same standards exist for men and are these standards even relevant?
The latest remark against Clinton came up in a discussion about her ability to run for the presidential office in 2016. Ed Klein stated to Fox News, “She'll be 69 years old. And as you know -- and I don't want to sound anti-feminist here -- but she's not looking good these days. She's looking overweight, and she's looking very tired.” The host responded, “Looks like she’s not trying, to be honest.” How Hillary Clinton looks has nothing to do with her potential and yet again her success is being evaluated on her appearance. It is no wonder why teens have begun to internalize these messages from the media.
Tim Gunn supports this integration of fashion and politics, articulating that women are evaluated based upon how they present themselves. On the Gayle King Show, he condemns Hillary Clinton's fashion choices but suggests that she is a woman living in a man’s world so maybe she feels she has to dress androgynously.
On another occasion, he states, "Why must she dress that way? I think she's confused about her gender…No, I'm really serious; she wears pantsuits that are unflattering.” He then mentions her political contributions but says he wishes she would send a stronger message about American fashion. Gunn criticizes Clinton because he feels that her appearance discredits her accomplishments as Secretary of State. This is problematic as it is obviously not part of her role, but since she is a woman that responsibility is placed upon her.
While Clinton is scrutinized for not looking feminine enough, Sarah Palin faces the problem of being seen as too sexy and therefore unprofessional. The appearance of female politicians is valued in our society and is critical in elections as the Republican National Committee spent more than $150,000 on clothes and accessories for Sarah Palin during the presidential campaign. Fashion magazines and tabloids follow her commenting on makeup, hair and clothing. Even Time magazine has a photo essay titled, “The Fashion Looks of Sarah Palin.” Michele Bachmann received similar media attention as the campaign spent close to $5,000 on her hair and makeup, and Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, received criticism for eating too much cheese at an official dinner.
This double standard is perhaps another barrier that prevents women from seeking public office. The glass ceiling is hard enough to break through and when a powerful woman is thrown into the spotlight, she is bound to be criticized for being either too feminine or not feminine enough. I hope that a greater awareness of this conflict will encourage voters to be informed and vote based upon their stance on issues rather than a candidate’s appearance. When you hear about unrealistic expectations of beauty in the media and your friends engaging in it, don’t be afraid to speak up about it.
A version of this post originally appeared on Coming to Terms with Popular Culture