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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Column: Obama’s body politics

When you combine misogyny and capitalism, you get our current cultural climate: being obsessed with the female body. How much it weighs, how wrinkly it is, how tightened, toned and tanned it is, whether or not the hair on it is “natural,” and how much of it there is.

I’m not going to rant about a culture that objectifies women the way ours does, because everybody’s heard that spiel (though it doesn’t hurt to reiterate, of course). But I’m curious, what exactly does it mean when the target of this kind of objectification is the president of the United States?

This week, Drudge reported that President Obama is “Barack ‘n’ Bones,” and wondered if he was “too thin” to run the country. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a big deal and it’s not that I want to make a mountain out of a molehill. The vast majority of people criticizing Obama are doing so based on his policies and actions, not his waist-size. Additionally, there are many people who are actually negatively affected by bodily objectification – just ask people who are discriminated against because of their gender, color, size, or sexual identification or the victims of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortions.

Like I said, in the grand scheme of things, there are issues that are infinitely more important than whether or not Barry is skinny. I’m interested in what Drudge’s coverage says about our culture, not the commander-in-chief’s body.

What does it mean when people think that our president is “too thin” to do his job? How does Obama’s appearance – and we’re assuming they’re making accusations based merely off of his appearance, since no one in the media has access to his medical records, nor should they – affect his ability to govern our nation?

Recently, there has been a push in the media to include a more diverse selection of female bodies represented. Can’t argue with that. But the editors of Glamour still questioned the end result of such inclusion: If other bodies besides those of idealized models were represented, “Would female readers, viewers and buyers want it?”

How Glamour’s question is framed is the most important sentence in this column. The attempt of the media to include women of size in its projection of femininity has nothing to do with improving the position of women. It’s not about your self-esteem or your value as an individual. It’s about finding the most efficient method of pumping money out of you.

Now the media (and the Drudge Report is a member of the media, no matter how ugly its website is) has attempted to undermine the president based on the appearance of his body. The paradigm has backfired. By convincing women of two things – that a) their bodies are inherently flawed, and b) their bodies are their most important qualities – the beauty-industrial complex can make money off of us. It’s nothing personal; it’s just business.

But what does it mean when this “business” spills over onto a powerful member of the government?

The various industries that make money off your manufactured insecurities (and we all have them – I shave my legs, even though I don’t feel like I should have to) have affected us to the point that we’ve targeted the body of a powerful, male politician.

I want to reiterate: it’s not Drudge’s claims that interest me, but what these claims are a symptom of. What the media chooses to produce is also symptomatic of the way our society has fetishized the human (particularly female) body. But you know it’s gotten absurd when the attention goes from the general, “acceptable,” targets – women – to the executive-in-chief.

Will this contrast finally bring people to their senses?

HALEY DAVIS knows it sounds really kumbaya, but everyone should love their body. If you want to sing “Kumbaya” with her, she can be reached at hrdavis@ucdavis.edu.


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