The Most Political Thing for Women in Washington Today

By Erin Matson, NOW Action Vice President

Seven hours ago, a woman tweeted: I’m tired of looking and feeling fat. Maybe talking about it publicly will keep me on track as I try to be more disciplined. Off to the gym.

That woman was U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill.

This isn’t trivial, and neither is she. What woman reading this hasn’t “felt fat” at some point in her life? I mean, gee, it’s not like advertisers spend billions annually on a message telling women success is beauty, success is communicated by the shape of our bodies, that the best possible measure of our success or even worth as a human being is not the joyful news that we exist, and breathe, and dream (even if those dreams of getting elected U.S. Senator come true) … no, to be successful is to get your body under control.

Women are not at fault. This body shame is being forced upon us with a pernicious and overwhelmingly toxic media that uses unrealistic images and messages of beauty and body, and that overemphasizes the role of beauty and body in a woman’s life. Systematically women are trained to believe that we are worth less if we do not look “perfect,” and when in turn we acknowledge it, we are given a message that is almost equally insidious: it is our fault. It’s not.

Fifty percent of girls age three to six complain about being fat. By the fourth grade, more than 80 percent of girls have tried a fad diet. Research has demonstrated that after watching TV and reading magazines, women feel worse about themselves than before we started. This is not what equality feels like.

It’s time to value women for who we are: full human beings. I am deeply saddened to see Senator McCaskill is feeling the weight of the oppressive emphasis on women’s appearances today, yet I am also thankful she started this discussion. The personal is political. In so many ways, the undervaluation of women is the most political thing for women in Washington today.

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