Specifically, he knows how to use them to incite either rage or rabid agreement, no matter what the topic. Last week, his weight-shaming statements on former Miss Universe Alicia Machado resurfaced thanks to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who pointed out that this was just one highlight in Trump’s rich history of female degradation.
This time, though, no great divide emerged. Our response was fairly unanimous in saying this was cruel. At least, I saw no Trump-leaning journalists or outlets arguing the opposite — only offering a virtual shrug. And while I’m heartened to see so many people outraged at what Machado has suffered, personally, I’m standing with the shruggers. This is not shocking, and this is not a Trump problem.
While I’m heartened to see so many people outraged at what Machado has suffered, personally, I’m standing with the shruggers. This is not shocking, and this is not a Trump problem.
The Washington Post took a slightly more guarded angle four months later, with “Miss Universe, Sizing Up Her Reign,” while assuring readers that, “She's skinny again, though not quite as skinny as when she won her title.” Well, that’s too bad, but phew!
“Hot Mama! Bar Refaeli Shows Off Post-Baby Body Six Weeks After Giving Birth!” This People headline ran just a few days before the presidential debate, which brought the Machado incident back into the spotlight. The story ran under a photo of the model (evidently on a shoot) “rocking a sexy piece of lingerie like only a model can.” You can read the whole story under People’s BodyWatch category, which, as the name implies, is an entire section devoted to coverage of women’s bodies.
People is hardly alone in this coverage, of course. The New York Post has a Celebrity Weight Loss section, featuring such stories as: “Up and down: Stars whose weight fluctuates” (a photo roundup comparing the weight changes of different celebrities — all women); "These pregnant celebs really took ‘eating for two’ to heart"; and “Fat kid from TV is now less fat,” (this, on a story about 9-year-old Honey Boo-Boo).
Fast-forward two decades, and plenty of outlets (including CNN) have taken Machado’s side. But looking at the big picture, little has changed in the way that media watches women’s weight.
Trump has not revealed anything but an ugly truth within our culture (another thing he’s good at). He is a particularly repugnant symptom of a vast, internalized prejudice that stains all of our lives — Trump’s included. All those naked, big-bellied statues did was bring out the ugliness in the other side, as Trump-haters posed with them gleefully for selfies. Just ask your not-thin, not-cis friends what they thought about those hilarious photos.
I’m a not-thin woman; I’ve written hundreds of articles and a whole damn book about these body issues, and still the bias lives inside me, and it is well-fed.
Over and over again, we are shocked but not surprised by Trump’s success. Each time he says something bigoted or slanderous, we look around and say, “Can you believe this?” only to see that many, many people do. This is the alarming undercurrent of Trump’s rise; it’s a daily wake-up call to the things we know but look away from — and the things we think but do not say. I say "we" not in solidarity, but because I can’t deny it: There are enough of us who believe in this man that "they" cannot reasonably be called a "they" anymore.
And the more he speaks, the more he reveals, not about them, but all of us. With this so-called “plain talk,” he has made more visible a problem that we prefer to keep cloaked in concern, fear, and backhanded compliments. That doesn’t give him a pass, but more importantly, it doesn’t give us one either. Here is one of many outrageous, undeniable facts about who we are: We don’t like it when women gain weight. Just because we don’t call them names doesn’t mean we aren’t saying it. If you can’t hear that, then you’re simply not listening.
Kelsey Miller is a features writer, the creator of The Anti-Diet Project, and the author of Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got a Life. The views expressed here are her own.