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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Apropos of Nothing But Skinny Politicians

The Wall Street Journal recently graced its front page with an article asking if Senator Barack Obama is too skinny to be president. Actually, the premise was that Joe and Jody American, who are likely to be out of shape or hefty (the article notes a statistic that 66% of the voting-age population is overweight), are unlikely to vote for a beanpole. Anecdotal evidence might suggest, absurd as it may seem, that the article isn't far off the mark. After all, the last rail-thin dude to be elected president was one Abraham Lincoln, circa 1860.

But I wonder what would happen if the politician running to be leader of the pack were a woman? Would tall and skinny, the hallmark of success in Hollywood, work? Well, judging from the bulk of the females who are world leaders these days, when it comes to politics, there is not a gender double-standard when it comes to weight. Tall and skinny--definitely not in vogue among men or women politicians.

Being in vogue when it comes to fashion is also not stylish among female politicians. Look at Germany's Angela Merkel, who, when it comes to fashion, could be dubbed Fraulein Frumpy. IMHO, even though they've been made over, Hillary Clinton and Condolezza Rice lack in sartorial splendor. The president of Finland, Tarja Halonen, is best known in this country for being the doppelganger of Conan O'Brien, complete with a similar hair-do. Not the stuff of high fashion.

recently published a piece about stylish women in politics. Other than a few Italian and French (naturally) parliamentary ministers, the writer was hard-pressed to find chic politicians. He ended up citing French First Lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy, who is Italian by birth and a supermodel by trade. So of course she's stylish. But she's not a politician. She's just married to one. And certainly, there is no shortage when it comes to fashionable first ladies. Look at Jordan, where Queen Rania follows in the fashionable footsteps of her predecessor, Queen Noor. The wife of Russian president Dmitry Medvedev is heavily involved in fashion, promoting Russian designers around the world. Potential first ladies Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama are both striking women.

Why is it that being stylish and/or tall and skinny is fine for a first lady, but is anathema for a politician? Would it be impossible for a modelesque woman to become a successful politician? Underneath it all, do we believe that someone who can do style surely must lack substance? Please weigh in with your thoughts.

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