March
16th 2009
“LOL! You’re fat!” Self-hating self-promotion and the future of the G.O.P.

Posted under: American history, Bodily modification, Gender, nepotism, women's history

meghanmccain

Meghan McCain

24 year-old Meghan McCain was one of the few bright spots of her father John McCain’s presidential campaign last year, and she’s deeply concerned about what she sees as the Republican party’s lack of message for young people.  (And personally, I think she’s right–although it’s not like the Democrats have all that many prominent young leaders in their camp, either.)  Well, 44 year-old talk radio host Laura Ingraham has decided that a trenchant critique of Megan McCain’s ideas is beyond her, so she has resorted to name-calling, as in, McCain is “too plus sized to be a cast member on the television show The Real World.”  Nice.  Well, this is what you get when you advance the eminently sane argument that Ann Coulter is a nutter, not to mention an ineffective spokesperson for selling the G.O.P. to the younger generation:  ” I find her offensive, radical, insulting, and confusing all at the same time. . . . if figureheads like Ann Coulter are turning me off, then they are definitely turning off other members of my generation as well. She. . . appeal[s] to the most extreme members of the Republican Party—but they are dying off, becoming less and less relevant to the party structure as a whole.” 

McCain is correct–the G.O.P. has a major youth problem, and based on conversations with my students, jumping up and down about gay marriage and Bill Clinton’s sex life in the 1990s is, shall we say, not the way to go, my friends.  The majority of people in their twenties don’t even understand, let along share, the animosity towards gay people and gay marriage that motivates the older end of the Republican base, and please recall–even 29 year-olds today were only eighteen when Clinton was impeached.  For better or worse, they just don’t care about the signal event that made the careers of right-wing pundits like Ingraham and Coulter. 

McCain responded to Ingraham’s insult with a well thought-out article asking, “after all this time and all the progress feminists have made, [why] is weight still such an issue? And in Laura’s case, why in the world would a woman raise it?  Today, taking shots at a woman’s weight has become one of the last frontiers in socially accepted prejudice.”  I’d say that taking shots at any ambitious or accomplished woman in general is still a “socially accepted prejudice,” and unfortunately, women can be just as aggressive in applying unfair and irrelevant standards to judge other women as men, and sometimes moreso.  Let’s hope that McCain will be able to articulate a new vision for Republican women–maybe even a feminist one?  Because Gen X Republican women like Coulter and Ingraham have always been more invested in self-promotion and putting on a particular kind of glamour that never meshed with how the majority of Republican women live their lives.  I certainly don’t care that Coulter and Ingraham have never married or had children, and that they’ve made themselves ultra-thin and blond and camera-ready.  That may be authentically who they are–but their images are more about advancing their own careers, not any particular policy positions and certainly not the fortunes of the G.O.P.  (Ingraham’s Wikipedia page reports that she began the process of adopting a child in 2008–will Dr. Laura attack her for sending the message that fathers are irrelevant, since she remains unmarried?)

McCain’s problem with Coulter and Ingraham may be that she actually seems to care about the G.O.P. and not just self-promotion.  Her family name gives her that luxury, of course, whereas Ingraham and Coulter are scrappers who have made it without family connections (so far as I know, anyway.)  To conclude, here’s why Ingraham’s chosen line of attack against McCain is so truly pathetic:  it reveals an obsession with just weight control, with a frenzy to shrink yourself down to a size that is sufficiently nonthreatening to men, to the media, and to the Washington establishment.  Ingraham’s comment reminds me of all of the women I went to college with who had eating disorders:  anorexics are the most boring people in the world, because they think and talk only about their weight, which is not only self-centered in extremis, it’s about the least interesting and least significant thing about oneself–irrelevant even in the tiniest of universes.  And that’s a truly pathetic place for a well-educated woman in her forties to be:  attacking a woman twenty years younger by calling her fat.

UPDATE:  Check this out from The View today (via The Daily Beast):

26 Comments »

26 Responses to ““LOL! You’re fat!” Self-hating self-promotion and the future of the G.O.P.”

  1. Notorious Ph.D. on 16 Mar 2009 at 10:22 am #

    Man, that’s sad. And congratulations to Meghan for writing a cogent response, standing up for herself and calling bullshit on the attack itself.

  2. Erica on 16 Mar 2009 at 10:22 am #

    I’m used to hearing not-well-reasoned discourse from conservative radio, but wow — Ingraham only made herself look ridiculous with that barb. Excellent response from McCain.

  3. undine on 16 Mar 2009 at 10:41 am #

    You mean there’s someone out there even more brainless than Dr. Laura and Ann Coulter, the attack-Barbies of the right? I had never heard of this person before your post. Although I’m not a fan of much that would strengthen Republicans, McCain’s response was great.

  4. Historiann on 16 Mar 2009 at 10:51 am #

    Undine–I’m not a Republican, but I’m a foe of the sexist undertow everywhere. Plus, I like the way McCain reported approvingly on “all the progress feminists have made…” without seeing a need to distance herself from “feminists.” That’s something I don’t see in a lot of 24-year old women on either the right or the left, so I thought it was worth highlighting and encouraging. If feminist values infiltrate a new Republican party agenda, how can that be bad?

    The G.O.P. is in trouble, and it can mean trouble for all of us when there is no effective opposition party. (Think back to the Dems on the mat in 2002-04–not so great, was it, for the U.S.A. or for the Republicans in the long run, who followed Bush over the cliff?) McCain appears to want the Republican party to be something other than the part of NO, so I wish her the best of luck.

  5. Another Damned Medievalist on 16 Mar 2009 at 11:25 am #

    WTF??? I listened to that, and really — it makes Malkin and Coulter look like intellectual and emotional heavyweights.

    Honestly, I can’t think of any way to describe it, except with some of the more unpleasant gendered epithets.

  6. Historiann on 16 Mar 2009 at 11:56 am #

    ADM–you are a masochist, aren’t you?

    I went back and re-read McCain’s column about Coulter, and she never, ever takes any shots at or even mentions Coulter’s appearance. She talks about Coulter’s ideas and her extremist stances only, just as she never says a word about Ingraham’s appearance or anything about her personally.

  7. Fratguy on 16 Mar 2009 at 12:38 pm #

    Coulter is a scrapper in so far as you need to be a scrapper to survive on the mean streets of New Canaan Ct., atttend Cornell undergrad and found a think tank funded conservative mouthpiece.

  8. Historiann on 16 Mar 2009 at 12:45 pm #

    Hey–she went out to the wild western frontier of Ann Arbor for Law School, and as anyone knows who has visited Ann Arbor, Michigan lately, it’s little changed since Tecumseh ruled and the days when the Chicago Road was just two parallel ruts in the mud.

    Say what you will: she is a self-made woman, not an inheritor of a family name in politics.

  9. Susan on 16 Mar 2009 at 12:58 pm #

    Size 8 or 10 fat? Oy. I’m sure lots of women will want to join a party where other women want to critique their weight.

  10. Indyanna on 16 Mar 2009 at 1:09 pm #

    The streets of New Canaan are even meaner today after the Hedge Fund massacre. Fairfield County must look about the way it did in 1643, I would think. You’d practically have to carb-up, hole up, and hope to survive the fiscal nuclear winter!

  11. undine on 16 Mar 2009 at 2:36 pm #

    You’re right about McCain’s feminism being a good sign, Historiann, and I’m glad you brought this to everyone’s attention.

  12. Historiann on 16 Mar 2009 at 2:52 pm #

    Thanks, Undine–and yes, Indyanna, the Mean Streets of New Caanan are threatening to spill over into Darien and Cos Cob! Seersucker suit riots this summer, for sure!

    Susan, the acceptable size range for women is down to about 3 sizes, if I’m following along correctly: 0, 2, and 4. Size 6 is OK for radio and on-line work only–the camera adds too many pounds. And even if you’re in that narrow range of sizes, we still won’t talk about your ideas.

  13. Susan on 16 Mar 2009 at 3:25 pm #

    There goes my TV career!

  14. Historiann on 16 Mar 2009 at 3:25 pm #

    Yours and mine, both! I’m too fat.

  15. Erica on 16 Mar 2009 at 4:14 pm #

    I’m put in mind of a line from “30 Rock”, when Jenna goes on some eating binge and goes to a size 10 or something — “She needs to either lose or gain 40 pounds. Anything in between has no place in television.”

    Personally, I’ve always loved Dawn French and Catherine Tate, neither of whom are stick thin. In fact, British actresses in general just seem to be a little more normal looking, or maybe I’m just watching the wrong shows. (or, rather, the right ones?)

  16. Historiann on 16 Mar 2009 at 4:55 pm #

    Ha-ha–that’s perfect. “Either lose or gain 40.” I think that’s right–either way, you really have to work on achieving a partcular “look.” Average bodies or average dumpiness are not manufactured-looking enough.

  17. Another Damned Medievalist on 16 Mar 2009 at 5:05 pm #

    Historiann, I think you might have misunderstood me? Or I’m a masochist because I actually listened to it?

    No, I think one of the things that is impressive is that McCain really does address the issues, and Ingraham??? I mean, she was just so malicious and juvenile.

  18. Historiann on 16 Mar 2009 at 5:23 pm #

    Yes–just teasing you for listening;)

    McCain looks extremely mature and issue-oriented next to shrieking vacuous creatures like Ingraham. Your comment inspired me to return to McCain’s columns to see if she mentioned the other women’s appearances at all, and she doesn’t–just their ideas.

  19. Lilian Nattel on 16 Mar 2009 at 6:03 pm #

    A recent study shows that highlighting a woman’s appearance, even in terms of discussing her as more attractive, reduces perceptions of her competence. Link here.

  20. Professor Zero on 17 Mar 2009 at 1:27 am #

    Well, someone sent my blog a GREAT fashion website so I looked at it and the sizes. According to them, an 8 is LARGE and a 10 is EXTRA LARGE. Hm.

  21. Historiann on 17 Mar 2009 at 9:07 am #

    Lilian–thanks for the link. This is so sad, and yet so predictable! I’ve read psychological studies like this before that show that attractiveness works only for men in the workplace–handsome men get promoted or considered for better positions than homely men, but beauty is no advantage to women competing for professional positions because people read women’s beauty as a sign of their unseriousness or incompetence. (And, being a homely woman is no advantage, either.)

    Prof. Zero–for a while there about 10 years ago, I noticed a major inflation (or deflation) of American women’s clothing sizes, so that although a size 6, I was all of a sudden fitting into clothes marked size 4. But it seems to have normalized again–maybe that’s what’s happening at that fashion website (their size 8 is really a size 10-12, their size 10 is really a size 12-14?) If it sells very expensive clothing, it might be that they just don’t make clothing for women larger than size 10–I’ve noticed that with very high end fashion I’m a total fatty–size 6 or 8 is as big as it goes. They don’t want to make clothes for larger women I guess because it might damage their “brand” somehow.

  22. Indyanna on 17 Mar 2009 at 2:02 pm #

    The “plus size” trope/equivalent for men gets buried under the more ambiguous but presumably less pejorative euphemism of “big and tall.” (cf “wide and rangey.”) Imagine dismissing your school’s starting right tackle, with bellyfat hanging out and drooping down over his belt, as “too big and tall to be cast on _The Amazing Race_” even if it was partly true?

  23. Elf on 18 Mar 2009 at 1:49 pm #

    I love your blog–it’s witty, insightful, thought-provoking, and all that good intellectual jazz. However, I was disappointed to read your condemnation of anorexics as “boring”. I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of Ingraham’s attack on McCain’s weight, but I wonder: if it should be unacceptable to poke fun at a woman’s weight, why do you lump all anorexics in one unfair category? How is that different from attacking a woman as overweight? While I agree that public figures like Coulter may maintain slim figures in order to project a glamorous, media-ready image, for many, anorexia is a terrible and protracted illness. My 16 year-old brother nearly died of anorexia this summer. He was hospitalized in a children’s treatment facility, where children ages 3-21 were struggling with eating disorders. Do these children deserve criticism and belittlement? Research has shown that anorexia is a brain disorder, not a choice. I hope that you investigate this website: http://www.kartiniclinic.com, which may prompt you to reevaluate your views.

  24. Historiann on 18 Mar 2009 at 2:13 pm #

    Elf–fair enough. I meant to suggest that people (like Ingraham) who only think and talk about their bodies and their weight (or other people’s weight) are boring. This in my experience is something I’ve seen mostly in anorexics, but there are normal-weight and overweight people who do this too. It was more a critique of self-obsessed people than of anorexics as a whole, but I take your point here.

  25. cgeye on 20 Mar 2009 at 12:36 am #

    Sure, anorexia is a serious illness — but when untreated anorexics insult and deny the right of larger people, especially larger women, to their own social humanity — AND THE REST OF THE CULTURE SUPPORTS THEM IN THEIR ILLNESS-BASED OPINION — well, yeah, it’s a problem.

    No matter how much sympathy I might have for an individual sufferer of an eating disorder, I can predict three sickening behaviors society still supports:

    The anorexic will be seen as just outside of normal, but still be a heck-of-a-gal to be around;

    Neither the anorexic or the normal-sized people around her will see herself and any fat person on the same eating disorder continuum;

    And the fat woman will be jeered at by normal-sized and anorexic-sized people, whether or not she’s out of earshot.

    When years ago I received two surveys concerning eating disorders, and they were all about the binge-and-purge cycle and still used the model that underweight people only suffered eating disorders, I saw the cake icing on the wall — the big business was in treating anorexic women because they were considered to be tragic heroines in severe body-mod cycles, while obese women were just slovenly and too stupid to have self-control. To this day, I bet I could call up 10 eating disorder centers and they’d have no bariatric component.

    That’s why I’m angry. It has nothing to do with Elf’s brother, or anyone else who is trying to dig out from under illness. It’s the society that considers the less-extreme versions of that illness as normal, and divides and conquers between anorexic and obese women as a matter of course.

  26. Historiann on 20 Mar 2009 at 6:56 am #

    I think a big–the biggest perhaps–reason that anorexia and obesity aren’t treated the same is class. Anorexia–or at least the stereotype of it–afflicts mostly upper-middle class teenagers and young women (and some men), and is psychological disorder that’s all about control. Obesity afflicts people of all incomes and classes, but since the stereotype is that people are fat because they’re out of control, have no discipline, have no self-respect, etc., its modal class identity is lower-class/poor.

    The people I knew or observed with anorexia were from middle-class or affluent backgrounds. I don’t think that children who deal with food insecurity suffer from anorexia–but I could be wrong.