Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and Nairobi and the author of the forthcoming book, “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Jill Filipovic: In doubling down on his fat-shaming of Alicia Machado, Trump shows he's out of touch
She says today more Americans self-identify as fat AND worthy of love and respect
Filipovic: Public figures can no longer get away with using weight as a tool of sexist humiliation
Donald Trump has a message for the American people: No fat chicks.
And America has a message for him: That kind of crass sexism may have sold tabloids in the ’90s, but it loses you elections in a more feminist, body-positive 2016.
His poor performance at the first presidential debate was brought into even sharper relief by a stunning show from Hillary Clinton, who pointedly brought up Trump’s chauvinist treatment of women.
“And one of the worst things he said was about a woman in a beauty contest – he loves beauty contests, supporting them, and hanging around them – and he called this woman ‘Miss Piggy,’ then he called her ‘Miss Housekeeping’ because she was Latina,” Clinton said.
That woman, Clinton said, “is Alicia Machado. And she has become a US citizen and you can bet she is going to vote this November.”
Trump called into “Fox and Friends” early Tuesday morning to defend his debate performance. He was particularly fixated on Machado, upset that she had the nerve to act like a real human woman and speak for herself, instead of playing the role of a silent, malleable doll.
The former Miss Universe, he said, was “the worst we ever had. The worst. The absolute worst. She was impossible.” He continued, “she was the winner and you know, she gained a massive amount of weight and it was a real problem. We had a real problem.” The “Fox and Friends” hosts sat in a kind of stunned, uncomfortable silence
You can’t blame Trump for thinking he would have a receptive audience – Fox, after all, was run for years by Trump friend and possible political advisor Roger Ailes, who recently left the network amid allegations of sexual harassment. (Fox had to pay $20 million to former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson to settle her lawsuit.)
And it’s well-known that Trump has long treated the women in his private and professional life as primarily decorative, commenting crudely about the figures of his progressively younger model wives and even his daughters, calling women he dislikes slobs and pigs, and running beauty pageants that were unabashed about rewarding sex appeal over substance.
Back in 1997, Trump was the Miss Universe pageant’s executive producer, and when the holder of the crown put on a few pounds he demanded that she diet and exercise until she again fit his ideal aesthetic. He ambushed her at the gym with reporters and photographers in tow, a humiliation Machado says has followed her all her life since.
But even though Trump intentionally demeaned Machado, a teenage girl back then, there was no significant media backlash. As happened with so many of his other decisions, Trump saw no consequences.
Until now. Trump, it seems, doesn’t comprehend how much the United States has changed in the past 20 years. He realizes that blue-collar white men are angry, and certainly plays to their resentments of increasingly successful women and people of color. What he’s missed, though, is that women have changed, too. We aren’t going to cower – not even if you call us fat.
Fat women still face pervasive prejudice – they get paid less and are less likely to be hired for a job than their thinner counterparts, and in much of the country, it’s still perfectly legal to discriminate based on size.
But a reinvigorated feminist movement and its overlap with movements for fat acceptance mean broader awareness of the harms that narrow beauty ideals can cause, and a more generalized disgust at men who feel entitled to judge women’s bodies. Beauty pageants are on the decline. Companies increasingly tout the use of “real women” in their ads, or their refusal to airbrush photos of models. Americans are, in general, larger than we’ve been in the past.
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That means more Americans know the sting of anti-fat bias, and aren’t laughing along when Trump calls a beauty contest winner an “eating machine.” There is also strength in those numbers: The more Americans self-identify as fat and refuse to accept that being fat makes them less worthy of love, respect, and being treated with basic humanity, the less public figures like Trump can get away with using weight as a tool of sexist humiliation, and the more antics like this will hurt him in November.
It is not a coincidence that Trump doubled down on his sexist, sizist remarks right as polling showed that voters crowned Hillary Clinton, and not him, the winner of the debate. Trump is a sore loser who loves to play king. But as any of his pageant contestants could have told him, you don’t show up on stage outgunned and underprepared – and if you come at the queen, you’d best not miss.