Think back to any political cartoon criticizing President Trump you’ve seen recently. To hazard a guess, his double chin was grossly exaggerated, his backside inflated. While communicating a broad disgust with Trump, these representations nonetheless end up reaffirming a core value of Trump’s worldview: fat people aren’t fit for public life. The liberal message is clear. Trump literally embodies his inadequacy as a leader. How can a president who cannot restrain his body be fit to be president?
Liberals point out Trump’s weight in conjunction with his cascading failures. His body type offers ample evidence of his subpar political prowess: his love of fast food, his penchant for golfing, his inability to pass a health care plan. He eats fast food because he is gluttonous. He golfs because he is lazy. He cannot pass a health care plan because he is a failure. While there is legitimate reason for concern about his behavior, the troubling heart of this belief is a hatred of fat bodies.
When liberals laugh at Trump’s weight, they participate in his retrograde vision of the world. My friends’ and family members’ mocking of Trump is hauntingly similar to his comments about bodies. Trump infamously called Rosie O’Donnell a “fat pig.” He claimed that cybersecurity breaches could be carried out by “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.” For Trump, fatness is equivalent to failure. Body type is destiny. Liberals need to understand that they share this view with Trump.
Trump opposers responded to his comments with shock and disgust. They pointed out how hypocritical these comments were coming from a fat man, mocking his size. It is OK to shame Trump for his body, but unacceptable for him to do the same. This reveals both liberal hypocrisy and the pervasive marginalization of fat bodies.
This hypocrisy is not confined to the national stage. Last fall, the Star Tribune featured a front-page article about the decline of obesity in Minnesota (“How Minn. got a handle on obesity,” Sept. 4, 2016). Like most articles on the subject, it had an image of faceless fat bodies. When individuals are fat, their personal identities don’t matter. Their bodies become a societal problem: reflecting poorly on our communities, our state, our nation.
In Minnesota, obese people made up 26.1 percent of the population as of 2015. More than a quarter of Minnesotans are fat. Yet, we treat them as outsiders. Thin people live in fear of being considered fat. To say someone is fat is the ultimate insult: their body is worthless, unlovable, without value.
We internalize hatred of our bodies, externalize disgust at others’ bodies. Importantly, this is inherently gendered. There is a correlation between beauty and value on the female body. To be fat and female is to be worthless. It is no surprise this has contributed to the rise of eating disorders. In a report provided by local eating disorder clinic Emily Program, “52% of Minnesota high school females fast or skip meals to control weight.” Troublingly, “42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.” Girls are depriving their bodies of nourishment to conform to a toxic standard.
We do not have to look far for the cause: news clips showing faceless fat bodies with a headline about “the war on obesity,” magazines recommending diet after diet. The medical industry correlates fatness and health, ignoring people who are fat and healthy, thin and unhealthy. Medical views of fatness are tainted by cultural hatred of fatness. It may be true that large amounts of fat coupled with an unhealthy lifestyle lead to health problems, but it is harmful to all of us to hate fat. In today’s political climate, we need to think critically about how we talk about bodies, especially the body of our president.
What good comes from shaming a body-shamer? How is Trump’s rhetoric around bodies different from how we talk about ourselves, our friends, our children? We stand in front of the mirror and suck in our stomachs while our children watch. They learn from us to fear taking up too much space. It is easy to demonize everything Trump says, but much harder to accept that we may be perpetuating the same system of marginalization.
Sarah Hamilton, of St. Paul, is a student at Bennington College, Vt.