Thursday, September 4, 2014

Should we care about Kirsten Gillibrand’s weight?

Kirsten Gillibrand, a US Senator from New York,  has a new book out called Off the Sidelines. Much of the press surrounding the book has focused on her weight. People Magazine had the headline “Porky in Politics” and NY Daily News led with  “Kirsten Gillibrand talks weight struggles and sexism in new book”  Of course I read this coverage with interest.
Part of me thought she’s a US friggin’ senator and we’re focused on her weight and then quickly I corrected myself. It doesn’t matter if you’re a senator people care about weight and the vast majority of people personally care about their weight and image too. In Gillibrand’s case there were the countless comments colleagues (I should say other politicians) made. This one was priceless, a male colleague’s comment when seeing Gillibrand at the congressional gym, “Good thing you’re working out, because you wouldn’t want to get porky!” Gillibrand’s response: “Thanks, a—hole.”

Gillibrand says she’s been every size from a 4 to a 16 and in a testament to my belief that the busier you are the more you get done she managed to lose 40 pounds while running for election. Yes, senators (and CEOs and celebrities) keep food journals. Gillibrand also emailed with her sister for support and has seen a nutritionist. So there’s something private and relatable about Gillibrand’s transformation. She has talked about her children saying, “I hope I’m setting a good example for them by making health a priority.” She has talked about her husband’s support in making sure she had time for her morning run.“If I find an hour a day for myself, I’m a better mom and senator.”

But there’s another piece of this and that’s what happened to Gillibrand’s approval ratings with her weight loss. The Post summed it up this way “Senator Kristen Gillibrand went from plump and obscure to thin and popular.”  And though there’s been talk of Chris Christie’s weight, this Washington Post writer summed it up best “appearance matters in politics, for male and female candidates. But it is an inescapable fact of political life that for female candidates, appearance matters more.”

Politics is a game, Gillibrand seems to be playing it well but playing it with integrity. While weight loss may have boosted her you can’t lose weight without really putting the time in and doing the work. And you can’t keep weight off for a job or because you “should”.
Were you aware of Gillibrand's weight loss? Do you think weight matters in every profession? Do you think it's different depending on your gender? 


  1. I think you're right that weight matters in every profession, or at least almost every one. But it's definitely different for women. We're just more likely to be judged based on our looks and not much else, unfortunately. While we all naturally judge people based on their appearance, I think a man is more likely to be judged based on merit as well. Also, mens' clothing does a better job of hiding an extra 10-20 pounds than womens' clothing does. Women just can't get away with it as easily - it isn't fair but I don't think it will change anytime soon.

  2. I think there's a big difference in what's going on here in terms of public judging of public figures, vs judging by people in your own workplace? Public figure or not, the people who made these comments to her are the people she has to work with on a regular basis, and some of them are more senior than she. And how often do you think senators and representatives make comments to male senators and representatives about their appearances/weight *to their face*? Women in these positions are apparently having male senators and representatives (who are often more senior) make demeaning comments about their appearances *to their face*, and it's appalling that they feel it's their right to do that - as though these women deserve to hear these comments directly and should be valuing their opinions. While it's hurtful for public figures to hear this kind of criticism of their appearances in the press or coming from the general public, I would think it's a totally different thing to have a more senior colleague make condescending, demeaning comments to you about it in person, and it doesn't seem that that's something that male senators/reps have to face. In that way, it's a way for her own colleagues - with whom she actually has to work every day - to tell her she doesn't matter (or that her brain doesn't matter, because they're focusing on her appearance), which is just, well, hateful/nasty/cruel/vile - take your pick.

    I also don't think it's okay for us to always feel so free to criticize people's appearances/weights, unless they're putting it out there as something to be scrutinized. In politics, it's just not relevant if the person isn't claiming to be an authority on health/nutrition, and most men don't ever get the same level of criticism on appearance that women do (how many male politicians other than Christie have gotten so much attention for this? and how many female politicians have their appearances discussed, by contrast?). Weight is a real struggle for so many people, for so many different reasons, and I think flat-out criticizing someone when we don't know what they're going through can often carry and make it harder for other people around us when we might not actually mean to do that. It's how it seeps throughout the culture. It's one thing to make comments like, "they seem to be struggling," but to just disparage them outright for appearance is a hard thing for me to get behind. I admire Gillebrand for saying that she hopes she's "setting a good example for [her kids] by making health a priority" and for saying, "If I find an hour a day for myself, I'm a better mom and senator."

    Yikes. Sorry for the rant!

  3. Love a rant, why do you think I have a blog? Great point about colleagues saying something- totally discredits other work. I credit Gillebrand but do question why she chose to make weight such a big part of her story/press of the book.

  4. Definitely a gender bias but the making time for wellness, setting a good example for kids is universal. Thanks for commenting Jen!