Success and beauty work

Throwback to week 2, when I couldn’t publish this on the blog!

A google search of Hilary Clinton will provide many articles regarding her potential 2016 presidential campaign, but inevitably it will also produce articles regarding her age,  notably her wardrobe choices.  In 2010, Hillary Clinton responded to a question about her favorite clothing designers in a radio interview with “Would you ever ask a man that question?’. The interviewer admitted that indeed he probably wouldn’t. It begs asking, why is Hillary Clinton’s beauty and style part of the discussion? Joe Biden or Mitt Romney would never be asked a question like that, or have their personal appearance become part of a larger political discussion. In this week’s readings we see how beauty and a woman’s success has been linked in through advertisements. In “Narcissism as Liberation”, Susan  Douglas highlights the ways in which a woman’s beauty is used as the true measure of success.  Douglas mentions an advertisement for Hanes, the advertisements were part of a series called “Reflections On…” She says “In one ad, the admiring male voice said,’She messes up the punchline of every joke; can tell a Burgundy from a Bordeaux; and her legs… Oh yes Joanna’s legs.’” In another ad, the woman, ‘Emily’ can recite Hemingway, and imitate Groucho Marx, but her legs are out of this world. If we look at this advertisement we see a perfect example of a pattern constantly repeated. These women’s intellectual accomplishments are nothing in comparison to their physical beauty. It is their legs that are the subject of admiration, not their minds.  While the  advertisement is supposedly intended to play into the feminist ideals of the 1980s the message is altogether different.  What is valued is not in a woman’s intelligence, humor, love of Hemingway,  knowledge of wines, it is their beauty.  The message is clear — intelligence and personal accomplishments are important, but beauty is much more significant. If we think of the ways in which a man’s success is measured their jaw line or choice of suit is rarely seen as significant.   So this takes us back to Clinton. By all measures she is an intelligent, successful, and educated woman, yet that is not enough. For her to be truly successful she must also be beautiful and stylish. Her undying love of colorful pant suits is made fun of incessantly. Even her age is seen as a weakness.  Her decision to wear glasses during a hearing on Benghazi made headlines and eventually lead some news outlets to report that Clinton was too old and question her ability to be president in the future. This would never happen with a man. While for men with age comes power, for women, being perceived as old is a character flaw, enough of a flaw to not to be a presidential candidate. What we gather from all of this is that the only way a woman can be perceived as equal to a man in success is by also achieving the impossible, being beautiful.


One thought on “Success and beauty work

  1. God save women in glasses. Did you know that there’s also a COLORING BOOK?
    Yes it’s true you too can DIY Hilary pantsuit and negate all the triumphs she’s made as a politician! And don’t even get me STARTED on that hair cut *rolls eyes*.
    It seems that women in government simply cannot escape the dark cloud of fashion even when they are attempting to change the world. A great article for further reading on the subject is this one
    Unfortunately this relationship is a marker of the inherent sexism in our political system and indicative of how tough the fight really is to have women’s voices respected and listened to within our government. While many of the people in power still see women as an entity to be seen and not heard, particularly if those women are saying something those people in power don’t like. Until that time when those priorities are flipped it will continue to be those women who embody a neoliberal spirit and are essentially men with vaginas and blowouts who will make it to the top.


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