No Debate: Body-Shaming Doesn’t Belong in Presidential Elections
By Tori James--There are several issues that are hot topics of debate throughout every election season. There is one topic that is not usually discussed and is of critical importance: body shaming. It is so common in the media that it cannot be avoided in election coverage. This year the amount of body shaming that has taken place has reached alarming rates.
Note: Opinions expressed are solely the author’s own and do not represent the views or opinions of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and Proud2Bme.
With a woman in the race, it seems as though the focus on appearance has skyrocketed. The fact that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s appearance is a constant topic of discussion illustrates the media’s obsession with how women look rather than their intelligence. Problematically, media commentators talk about what Clinton wore to the debate rather than the issues discussed. Clinton isn’t in the race to win a beauty contest; she’s there to be President of the United States.
Other politicians, including Republican nominee Donald Trump, can’t seem to accept that fact. After the first presidential debate, former Miss Universe Alicia Machado of Venezuela, spoke up about the insults Trump hurled at her after gaining weight during her reign. Trump, who ran the contest in 1996, called her names such as “Miss Piggy” and “an eating machine.”
After winning the crown, Machado did put on some weight, which seems normal for a woman who had to obey a strict eating/workout schedule in order to compete in the pageant. In January 1997, Trump put Machado on a strict diet and exercise regime. He scheduled a trip with her to a gym where members of the media filmed her jumping rope, lifting weights and pedaling a stationary bike. This humiliating experience for the recently-crowned Miss Universe created the notion that she was only worthy of her crown if she maintained a certain weight.
During this time, Machado’s weight gain was by no means unhealthy, but rather a natural adjustment back into her normal lifestyle. What she weighed during the Miss Universe pageant was under what is considered a “healthy weight” for her height and body type.
All of these words and actions exemplify the issue with the so-called “concept of beauty” society faces today. We see women in these beauty contests that have supposedly “perfect bodies,” which creates the idea that that is what is considered beautiful. This suggests that even if the woman crowned “most beautiful in the universe” gains a little weight, then she is no longer considered beautiful.
What we don’t see is what happens behind the scenes. Pageant contestants starving themselves, purging their meals, over-exercising to the point of exhaustion, ultimately convincing women that their looks and body are a battlefield in which they must compete to fit this “concept of beauty,” and only in the eyes of men.
Think of what these ideas teach women, young and old – not only that we must fear gaining weight, no matter how natural or healthy, but that having this “beautiful image” is the only way to have value as a human being. As soon as the scale reaches a certain number, we are no longer beautiful and our value diminishes to nothing.
Because of the publicity of Machado’s weight gain and constant pressure to lose the weight again, she had her own battle with eating disorders. The recently-crowned Miss Universe battled anorexia and bulimia because a man took it upon himself to tell her she wasn’t good enough because of her size – she was no longer valuable. It took her five years to fully recover from her eating disorder, and today she works to speak out against these ideals and inspire teenagers to love their bodies.
“No matter what, no matter who tells you that you don’t look good, that is only outside,” Machado stated. “You are more than some weight. You are more than some phase. You are more than if you are short or tall, or you are black or you are white, or you are skinny or fat or whatever. Your value is how you can work, how you can feel for the people around you.”
Clinton recently produced a commercial with quotes from Trump saying phrases like, “a person who is flat-chested is very hard to be a 10” while showing videos of young girls looking in the mirror. This video was able to accurately capture the misogynistic effect that not only Trump, but the media culture we live in, has on the youth. When certain ideas about body image are put into the minds of women by men who claim themselves as their superiors, problematic thinking begins. It is these types of concepts that can permanently affect the way women think, act and eat. These ideals are what create the notion that every woman must look a certain way to have this so-called “perfect body,” and Trump unapologetically owned up to his actions by saying, “she deserved it.”
The media has a tendency of pushing beautiful, intelligent, accomplished women to self-hatred because of a number on the scale, and this election season is no exception. This misogyny is exactly what we must work to avoid in the world we live in. We must create an America where a woman’s value is not measured by her weight and her appearance, but rather her intelligence, her accomplishments and her heart.
Header image courtesy of Cosmopolitan.com