I broke one of my own rules: I read the comments.
Like many watching Monday’s presidential debate, I was bewildered to hear a presidential nominee insinuate that our cyber security could be put at risk by “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.” What kind of fresh hell are we living in when this candidate can’t make it through one evening – on a national stage – without fat shaming? Then, at a commercial break, I listened as Alicia Machado described this same presidential nominee’s treatment of her during her reign as Miss Universe.
According to Machado, she’d gained 18 pounds after being crowned, and he began ridiculing her in the press, calling her “Miss Piggy” and sending reporters to film her working out.
The pressures to remain beautiful in the eyes of the world – not to mention in the eyes of a textbook narcissist – sent this 19-year-old woman into a rabbit hole of anorexia and bulimia.
A blurb from The Guardian put it best: But when she put on weight soon after winning, Trump turned what should have been a golden year into the most traumatizing one of her life. It wasn’t just that Trump shamed her about about gaining weight, calling her things like “Miss Piggy” and “an eating machine”. It wasn’t even that he did so publicly. It was that he did it with the biggest audience he could find, in an attempt to sear her weight fluctuation into the public consciousness, forever changing how she would be remembered.
I read the articles about Alicia Machado, and then I read the comments. Never, never, ever read the comments.
Listening to Trump’s words and reading the fat-shaming filth from the worst America has to offer took me to a dark place. I was no longer a 36-year-old, self-actualized woman. I was a self-conscious teenager, trying to remain invisible in the hopes that she’d make it through a day without being made fun of for her size 14/16 frame.
As I read the comments criticizing Ms. Machado’s numbers, I went over my own numbers:
- 5 – my age when I first remember being teased for my weight, while wearing a swimsuit.
- 13 – my age when I was chosen to be an 8th grade cheerleader.
- 3 – number of hours before I began fielding prank calls congratulating “the chubby girl” on making the squad.
- 17 – my age when, after three tries, I finally made my high school drill team.
- 1-2 – number of dress sizes I was told to lose if I wanted to be allowed to perform during half time.
- 45 – number of calories in an orange, my preferred lunch senior year of high school.
- 18 – my age when I began to binge and purge.
- 0 – the number of people I told.
One off-hand comment when I’d been on this earth for five years was enough to implant a permanent fun-house mirror in my brain for the next 31.
One off-hand comment from this presidential nominee is enough to begin picking at the scabs we allowed to form over our childhood wounds. One year of campaigning later, the scabs are gone and the blood is gushing.
I’ve never met this presidential nominee, but I know him. He’s the guy who used to prank call me. The woman who made me order uniforms a size too small and told me to spend the summer finding a way to fit into them. He’s the frat guy at a crowded bar who would ask for my phone number, as his buddies howled with laughter behind him. And he’s one reason why my self-esteem dropped so low that for years I thought my only source of control was to throw up or over-exercise to prove my worth.
His words matter because a new generation is listening to a presidential nominee tell them they are not enough. That they should be hidden. That they are lazy, dangerous, undesirable, a joke, and that their value is conditional. And if they are by chance enough right now, they better hope to God something doesn’t happen to change that.
When you’re looking to November 9, assuming the worst and ugliest is behind us once the election is over, remember that words have a long-lasting impact. Even when they’re past tense. It will take a while for the scabs to form again.