Why Trump's Body Shaming Impacts All Women
At the local public library of the Australian town I live in, I ran into a friend, who was laughing his head off at a video he was watching on his laptop. My curiosity got the best of me, so I wandered over and innocently asked what was so funny. He pulled out his headphones to let me listen in, and out came the familiar foghorn voice of Donald Trump. I don't remember the exact details, but I do know it was a clip of the Republican presidential candidate talking about how fat and pathetic some woman was that he was acquainted with. I looked at my friend in disbelief, to which he responded, "Oh come on, it's so ridiculous that it's funny. He's an idiot! An asshole!"
Of course, I agreed to the latter, but not the former. Trump bears a lot less significance for this non-American person than he does for me, so I can understand how this is something of a comedy show for him, as opposed to the very real nightmare it is for us U.S. citizens (which is why everyone is voting next month, right?!).
On the other hand, it made my stomach sink to see someone laughing so easily at these cruel comments, comments that encourage people to think of women as nothing more than physical beings who purely exist to look skinny and lovely, and entertain men.
Trump has been infuriating much of the country with his judgmental body-shaming remarks lately — and there sure have been a lot of them. Where do we even start? All the way back in 1991, he said in an Esquire interview, "You know, it doesn't really matter what [the media] write as long as you've got a young and beautiful piece of ass." Since then, he's made it perfectly clear that a woman's looks are the only things that matter. He's even immature enough to publicly rate women on a scale of 1 to 10. For example, he once said on "Howard Stern," in separate sittings, "A person who is flat-chested is very hard to be a 10" and "What is at 35? It's called check out time." In a 2015 interview with the New York Times, he also said of Heidi Klum, "Sadly, she's no longer a 10." Very poignant words coming from a presidential nominee.
Most recently, we learned that he employed the name "Miss Piggy" to refer to the 1996 Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado, he claimed Kim Kardashian wasn't beautiful but she was popular because of her "fat ass," and he said Rosie O'Donnell had a "fat, ugly face." Even more disturbing are the leaked comments from 2005 in which he spoke about sexually assaulting women. In a conversation with Billy Bush, he said because he's "a star" he can just kiss women whenever he wants and "grab them by the pussy."
Based on all these comments, it's not too much of a stretch to believe that Trump is obsessed with people's bodies (especially women's bodies), feels entitled to say or do whatever he wants with them, and seems to think that being fat is something to be ashamed of. It would be awful enough if this were just some jerk in your office fat-shaming women — but it's a different beast entirely when it's the person who could potentially be the next President of the United States (again, which is why we're all voting, right?!). Trump is arguably the most visible and listened to person in the country at the moment, and he's sending a very dangerous message to the world.
Our culture is riddled with body-shaming at every turn. Women are constantly told (by both the media and other people) that they need to be thinner and leaner, and appear taller whenever possible. The adjectives "fat" and "plus-size" still have a tremendous stigma attached to them, regardless of all the positive campaigning that has taken the Internet by storm. Girls take in all of this from a very young age, learning early on how to be embarrassed of the bodies they're born with, even though they couldn't be more perfect.
My weight has fluctuated significantly since I was in high school. I've been fat, I've been thin, I've been somewhere in between — many different times. A lot of this struggle has to do with the fact that I have binge eating disorder (BED), which, if gone untreated, can result in notable and unhealthy weight gain. But there's more to the story than that. Ever since I was in middle school, I felt like I was under constant pressure to look a certain way, and that my body type — short, athletic, stocky — couldn't possibly be deemed alluring by society at large.
This wasn't all in my head, or just from the glossy fashion magazines — it was happening in my everyday real life. For example, a college boyfriend and his whole family called me "Stumps," all because my thighs were supposedly bigger than average. A few years later, my roommate's boyfriend told me I would be so pretty if I just lost some of my muffin top. (My friends and I admittedly had very bad taste in men back then.) The body-shaming comments were coming at me left and right, and they only fueled my eating disorder to spiral out of control.
Many years and many hours of therapy have passed since I was brutally dubbed "Stumps," but the nicknames and fat-shaming still affect me in a profound way. I even have a visceral reaction when I hear other people being bullied for their physical attributes. It makes me feel sick to my stomach. It brings me back to the days on the school bus when the popular kids teased me for how much room my ass took up on the bench seats. It crushes my spirit and makes me want to retreat into a hole to hide away from the public eye forever.
To even think that the potential President of the United States would make me feel like that on a regular basis with his words is a terrifying prospect. Not only because my mental health would be affected by it, but because I can picture how young girls around America would process it. They get bullied enough at school for the way they look. They get pressured enough to be slimmer and more dainty. They don't need one of our country's leaders — someone children are supposed to look up to, someone whose conduct is supposed to set a standard for the rest of the country — telling them they're too "fat" or "ugly."
There is more at stake here than people's feelings getting hurt. Studies show that people who are bullied are much more likely to harbor long-term self-esteem damage, battle depression, and deal with other physical health problems. The risk is especially high for children who face bullying when they're young. The mental illness consequences are much heavier for them than those who are teased and taunted as adults.
If we continue to stand by idly as so-called politicians get up in front of thousands of people and put down women for the way they look, we'll only perpetuate the systemic sexism that women are forced to endure on a daily basis. We'll actually teach the younger generation that it's OK to value women solely for their looks. And we may be responsible for the declining mental and physical health of women everywhere.
When Hillary Clinton was asked about Trump's bigoted comments at a Family Town Hall in Haverford, Pennsylvania, she admitted that his disposition toward women was downright ridiculous. "We can't take any of this seriously anymore," she said. "We need to laugh at it, we need to refute it, we need to ignore it. And we need to stand up to it."
The crowd went wild, naturally. But cheering on Clinton when she said this isn't enough. And neither is simply laughing along with a friend when they watch an outrageous Trump clip. We need to speak up after the laughter dies down and remind people that his words aren't just harmless jokes. They have the power to seriously hurt women and young girls out there in long-lasting ways. And there's no way we should ever tolerate a President who carelessly puts half of country in such danger.