I’ll be entirely honest: when I saw Hillary Clinton, one of the first things I thought after “wow, that’s Hillary Clinton” was “wow, she’s so pretty.”
Hillary has been attacked for her appearance an awful lot throughout her career. She’s been called ugly, “too” masculine, fat and so on. Allow me to be clear: even if I personally found Hillary Clinton to be the ugliest person on the face of the planet — and obviously I do not — that’s still no good reason for anyone to debase because of her physical appearance. And mocking someone’s features is not only juvenile and mean-spirited, it’s about as far as you get from a genuine political argument. On the other side, if a politician is someone who would be considered very conventionally attractive, “hot” even, it would not be okay to debase her because of her appearance either — you know, calling her stupid because she’s pretty, or making crude sexual comments. None of this is okay — and it’s something that is done far, far more often to women in politics.
The question of why our culture mocks and judges women based on their appearance is a well-worn one. I think we know those answers: it’s a means of keeping women in their place, outside of political discourse and rendering them nothing more than sexual objects for public consumption. Basic stuff.
But when considering this, my mind went elsewhere. The question is not why Hillary Clinton is judged on her appearance, it’s why she’s judged so negatively on her appearance. Why is she called ugly? What’s up with all of those “fat thighs” jokes?
(FTR, I wear a size 10, and Hillary was definitely thinner. I’d say that she wears a size 8 at highest, but more likely a size 6. And I note this only because while using “fat” as an insult is never okay, and neither is using weight as a measuring stick of worth, it’s frightening that this is what now passes for being “too heavy.”)
I write this post — and this is why I was wary of putting it in the other one — not to try to flip the coin and judge Clinton on her very nice appearance. I also realize that we’re at risk here of slipping into that territory. But I’m using her as a case study, because simply seeing her in person — even though I’d certainly never agreed with the “ugly” remarks — so powerfully hit the point home for me. Those of us reading this may be aware of and critical of concepts of conventional beauty, but I think it’s important to acknowledge, as I’m trying to do now, that we still see appearance, we still feel sexual attraction based on looks, and we still admire beauty without sexual attraction. I don’t think that there’s anything inherently wrong with this. But it’s interesting and important to ask where our opinions on these matters come from beyond the obvious “the media tells us that only women who are thin and have big boobs are attractive,” and to recognize our own biases. (That I’m writing this, I think, is evidence that I’m becoming more consciously aware of my own.) I’m just asking some questions about “why?”
Once the shock of having met Hillary Clinton wore off, all I could think of is how we as a culture devalue the sexuality of “older” women and don’t know how to appreciate beauty based on anything other than youth. The idea is seemingly not a part of conventional thought. And it’s not only that we don’t appreciate such beauty — no, that’s not enough — we have to actively and preemptively reject it. I’m usually pretty bad at judging ages, but I’d say that Clinton more or less looked hers. Up close, you could tell that she had a lot of fine lines on her face. And you know what? Still radiant. Truly, I’m not exaggerating or complimenting for the sake of complimenting — she was lovely. But all of those anti-aging commercials and the lack of women with lines being portrayed as attractive people suggests that something ought to be unusual and/or confusing about this.
Furthermore, I think that the physical appearance of women in power is also regularly degraded. Women who are assertive, who don’t take shit? Women who can outsmart most people around them, including the guys? Well, they’re just bitter because they’re so damn hideous — regardless of how they actually look. Yoko Ono, another incredibly beautiful woman who has regularly been derided for her appearance (I will discuss this more in the Yoko posts if I ever finish them) springs to mind.
And like with Yoko, while understanding that such comments wouldn’t be appropriate no matter what I thought of Clinton’s looks, I just had to ponder “how the hell does anyone call this woman ugly?”
This is my answer. What’s yours?