A politician’s body is fair game, as long as he’s male
Why NOW’s naked Rob Ford cover exemplifies a dodgy double standard
On this week’s cover of NOW Magazine, a Toronto alternative weekly, a ballooning Rob Ford stands gleefully in nothing but a pair of printed boxer shorts. The Toronto mayor’s head has been photoshopped onto a fuzzy, overweight body, complete with protruding stomach, hanging package, supple bosoms, and the slightest hint of a farmer s tan. Why? Well the coverline brings it all together, gallantly proclaiming: The Naked Truth About Rob Ford. Har, har. It s no surprise an alternative weekly would go for something so bold, especially one where columnists describe Ford as a “nasty mofo.”
But why the magazine has deemed it acceptable, and indeed funny, to exploit and objectify the Mayor based solely on appearance is harder to understand. After all, Ford’s drawers have nothing to do with the content of the article, which decries Ford’s role in a supposed neo-con revival. Yet if the top guy at City Hall was instead a top gal, stripped down to her undies with cellulite and rolls aplenty, would we find the cover image just as hilariously funny? (Then again, given NOW’s backpage source of advertising, it’s questionable whether or not a barely dressed lady would draw much notice at all.)
Some male politicians, and indeed this one in particular, are no stranger to attention based on physical appearance. Back in October, the Globe and Mail printed a story in its Saturday city section titled, “Rob Ford’s not popular despite being fat. He’s popular because of it.” Freelance Globe contributor Stephen Marche described how “The mounds of fat that encircle Rob Ford’s body [. . .] are truly unprecedented in Canadian politics,” going on to explain how “Ford’s angry fat is perfectly our time.” Though the online edition was disappeared from the Globe site not more than a day later, cached versions continued to circulate as Ford naysayers lapped up the beefy piece.
Of course, the attention is not always negative. When then president-elect Barack Obama was snapped strolling shirtless in Hawaii back in 2008, for example, he made the front cover of the New York Post, which cheekily captioned the photo “Fit For Office: Buff Bam is Hawaii hunk.” Female politicians, too, occasionally garner attention based on their physical appearance, but in those cases we’re quicker to call it out as unacceptable.
Take the comments that circulated when Belinda Stronach defected to the Liberal Party from the Conservatives in 2005. Speaking with Toronto s CFRB Radio, former Ontario cabinet minister Bob Runciman called Stronach a dipstick, adding, “An attractive one, but still a dipstick, with what she’s done here today.” Alberta Tory Tony Abbott also said that she “whored herself out for power.” The comments immediately elicited a response from the Liberal Women’s Caucus, who demanded an apology based on the “sexist remarks.”
Then of course, there’s Sarah Palin, whose looks have been a consistent hot topic since her nomination in 2008. While her branding as a “Caribou Barbie” and a “Bush with lipstick” have been less than droll, they have by no means been ignored, even prompting a study about the relationship between objectification and the perception of competence, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2009.
A more recent example involves the Toronto Sun’s coverage of the Helena Guergis affair. An April 2010 cover ran with a photo of the former Conservative MP alongside a picture of a black dog and the coverline “TWO DOGS.” Readers and pundits across Canada were quick to call out the cover as unacceptable, and rightfully so. But why aren’t we as valiant when it comes to demanding a male politician’s public image remain separate from his physical appearance?
Instead of defending his right to be free from physical objectification, as would likely be the response if Ford were a woman, the consensus, at least from NOW, seems to be “Aw, buddy you can’t take a joke?” “The only thing that is offensive is the way Rob and Doug Ford are running this city,” NOW editor/publisher Michael Hollett remarked. “The mayor refers to himself as 300 pounds of fun, well, he’s 300 pounds but he s sure no fun.”
Still, something tells me 300 pounds in the form of a female politician, plastered nearly naked on the front cover of NOW, would be perceived as a little less jovial.
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