Looks, Looks, Looksby Denise Lee on Oct, 28 2012
Last year, Tim Gunn—someone who made his career on one catch phrase: “make it work”—criticized Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, for neglecting to upkeep (by his standards) an acceptable female appearance. He claimed that she dresses like “she’s confused about her gender.” Problematic as this already is, he went on to criticize her for not properly accommodating her attire to her “cankles.” Like, get a grip, Hil; God forbid you let your governmental duties impose on your innate womanly duty to maintain a presentable exterior for the visual pleasure of men– straight or not.
More recently, Huffington Post posted an online article that, while celebratory and not at all critical, featured a look book of Hillary Clinton’s outfits throughout the years in honor of her 65th birthday, titled, “Hillary Clinton’s Fashion: 65 Looks for 65 Years!” What about 65 things she’s accomplished for the betterment of the nation in those years?
I feel like a broken record saying all this, because it has all been said before. Yet, it is clear that the criticism and close attention to female aesthetics continues to overshadow intellectual achievement and capacity. Women are ceaselessly judged not by the content of their brains, but by the color of their scrunchies and the shapelessness of their pantsuits.
When it comes to first ladies and potential first ladies, critique on their appearance is certainly not a new phenomenon. Look at Jackie O, who is remembered primarily for her fashion sense and grace.
New York Magazine‘s fashion blog “The Cut” has kept close track of what First Lady Michelle Obama wears, presenting a look book of the outfits she has worn over the years (which actually isn’t saying very much considering they have look books for many a celebrity). There are also articles that break down Lady Obama’s and Ann Romney’s outfits on the same debate night, and analyze which of the two looks more “feminine” and, more importantly, more “American.” Their choices of attire are understood as containing subliminal messages to the public (i.e. MObama recycled a previously-worn dress; Ann Romney wore an expensive Oscar De La Renta dress, and do these reflect their spouses’ respective economical stances?). People attempt to come to conclusions about these women’s spouses based on their choice of attire, as if that makes a difference in voter’s opinion.
This election season, however, has proven that the media attention to the aesthetics in politics does not just rest on women; as there has been much focus on the appearance of the male candidates of the Republican party. Let’s take a look:
1. Mitt Romney’s Hair
With a capital “H”. It has its own Facebook page. There are articles that deconstruct Romney’s hairstyle. Here’s one that reveals five essential facts about the hair style (including how it is referred to as “the Mitt” by hometown locals) and provides opinionated quotes from his hair stylist. Riveting.
HuffPo showed this photo-shopped picture—made by a Twitter follower—of the two presidential candidates with swapped hairstyles:
The chosen attire of the presidential candidates in this debate–notably, the choice of tie color and the difference in size of the American pins they both donned – also stirred (mostly satirical) analysis. It was interesting to see how the same observation about Romney’s larger pin was made and twisted depending on political party. I saw Romney supporters make the conclusion (however humorously): bigger pin= more American= better candidate, while Obama supporters would make the same statement yet with complete implicit sarcasm.
2. Mitt Romney’s tan
Also, refer to “11 Shades of Mitt Romney”
3. Paul Ryan’s widow’s peak…
One of Ryan’s most distinctive features has been poked fun at on a Saturday Night Live in a debate sketch and by Jimmy Fallon on Late Night. Both highlight the widow’s peak as a prominent distraction. Fallon exaggerated just how distracting it is, by expressing that he felt like it gradually grew throughout the debate, to a point where it ultimately took over his face:
4. …and his P90-X physique
I’m certain you have seen this photo. It is possible that the purpose of these photos were to communicate the Ryan’s views of the importance of fitness to the audience, but he looks like a teenager/ frat bro – more specifically (as many have pointed out), Screech from Saved by the Bell.
There is a difference, though, between the close attention to the female figures and that of these male figures. While the criticism about the women’s appearance is often given accusingly as crimes against fashion and in conversations about gender expectation, the appearance of male politicians is approached with total satire and lightheartedness. It is possible that this attention given to these Republican candidates — relatively new figures to the public eye — is a way for some people to distract themselves from the real issues at hand. I suppose a little entertainment that comes with the absurdity of this attention to looks doesn’t hurt. It momentarily distracts oneself from the rage with which one reads the absurd statements surrounding gay rights and women’s health that the chauvinistic members of the G.O.P continue to dish out.