Columns

Corvese ’15: Saving face

By
Opinions Columnist
Thursday, November 29, 2012

In their post-Election Day release, Bloomberg Businessweek attempted to envision the United States four years from now with a shocking image: President Obama’s face edited to make him appear aged. His hair is gray and his wrinkles are defined. His expression is not valiant, but rather it is that of someone laying down their arms after an arduous battle. Yet despite Obama’s alarming and unconventional appearance, he earns the public’s respect after fighting for the nation.

Not all politicians have had their appearances this well-received by the public. In 2008, a close-up of Sarah Palin on the cover of Newsweek drew attention not for Palin’s politics but for her visible pores and blemishes. And in summer 2011, people were shocked and disturbed by another Newsweek cover, this time featuring Michele Bachmann with a look in her eyes that was deemed crazy.

But what separates the Palin and Bachmann covers from Obama’s?

Certainly, the women are controversial politicians who hold beliefs with which many, including myself, disagree. On magazine covers, though, they are unfairly recognized for their looks alone. Like all politicians, Palin and Bachmann deserve our attention for the work they have done, but their photos only elicit criticism for not adhering to society’s extreme and problematic beauty standards for women. These covers, as well as the public’s outrageous reactions to them, demonstrate the sexist attitudes we hold toward female politicians in America.

If magazine editors can airbrush supermodels, why couldn’t they get rid of the unflattering marks on Palin’s face? And what provoked Bachmann to make those “crazy eyes”? Though these harsh comments seem like ones that could be uttered between bitter girls in a middle school fight, they were in fact used by television commentators, reporters, even members of the GOP who were embarrassed that their candidates had the audacity to not display perfect countenances on the covers.

The covers were ultimately deemed sexist since they presented women as ugly and undesirable – qualities considered unacceptable for American women. But the sexism here is not in the photographs, or the fact that the pictures of Palin and Bachmann are “unflattering.” The sexism exists in how these women are up against different standards than men in the first place. Judgments that are passed on the women completely disregard their political beliefs or accomplishments and only emphasize the alleged imperfections in their appearances. Regardless of opinions on Palin and Bachmann’s politics, it is unacceptable and unfair to them – and women everywhere – to hold them to such superficial standards.

These attitudes toward women are toxic and must change. It is disturbing that, after years of advancing rights and opportunities for women, we still witness female politicians being judged by the quality of their facial features rather than the quality of their work. Not only does it reduce a powerful woman to an object of society’s desire, but also it furthers other dangerous expectations of women: to either be beautiful or worthless.

As humans, we form opinions at first glance, and there is little chance of removing that ingrained part of our psyche. But individuals’ appearances should never be weaponized to lessen their accomplishments – like the cover photos have for Palin and Bachmann. Similarly, personal image should not be the sole standard to which female politicians are held. When we see a picture of Obama edited to be aged and hardened by time, we admire the battle he has fought for the nation. So why can’t we see the same for women? Politicians will be politicians, regardless of their wrinkles, scars or zits.

The last few decades have seen monumental achievements for women in politics, but there are still many roadblocks in the way of future accomplishment. If we truly want to treat women in politics as equals to their male counterparts, the needless objectification and judgment has to end. Women should not be bound by the way we look but incited by these instances of blatant sexism.

 

Gabriella Corvese ’15 will probably not defend Bachmann and Palin ever again and can be reached at gabriella_corvese@brown.edu.