Oh, what a time to be a woman in America! When asked this week whether Donald Trump could be stopped, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell predicted that women, stung by Trump’s comments like “You can’t be a 10 if you’re flat-chested,” would turn out in droves to vote against him.
Then Rendell, who’s affiliated with the Clinton campaign, uttered the understatement of the century: “There are probably more ugly women in America than attractive women. People take that stuff personally.”
It’s almost quaint that Rendell thinks that being called “ugly” is a phenomenon related to the rise of a boorish presidential candidate rather than the lifelong status quo for every living, breathing woman. Every time we open a magazine, turn on the television, or flick through Instagram, we get strong messages about what is and isn’t attractive. And most of the time, that message says we aren’t living up. By patriarchy’s measure, we’re all major uggos.
Rendell has been roundly mocked for commenting on the vast numbers of ugly women in America. But turning the conversation about women in politics into a beauty contest is pretty standard. Why wouldn’t it be? Making women question their worth and legitimacy by critiquing their bodies and looks is a time-honored advertising technique. And here’s where Rendell is correct again: We do take it personally. Even the most self-accepting woman is lying if she says she’s never felt insecure about a body part. It’s impossible to live in this world and not absorb the message that our appearance matters as much as our skills and abilities.
Here, a brief rundown of types of women considered ugly by mainstream, traditional beauty standards — and, of course, by Donald J. Trump — with some notes on just how big a population we’re talking about in each instance.
Older women, or really any women with wrinkles and droopy skin and thigh dimples and varicose veins. “We’re going to have to tell them you’re 17,” Trump reportedly told a Miss Universe contestant, because her actual age (um, 21) was too old. It only gets worse from there! Women are rendered invisible by nearly every media outlet after their last fuckable day, and Helen Mirren is the exception that proves this rule. Just this week, a legislator in Louisiana proposed an amendment that would require strippers to be no older than 28 years old. Life imitates Trump.
Estimated population: According to the Census Bureau, 41.8 percent of American women are over age 45. The other 58.2 percent of us have some creases and cellulite of our own — and we’re only getting older. So I’m calling it 100 percent.
Women who have body hair. “Uhh, I mean a little stubble isn’t an issue. But please, no forest,” says Trump. Just kidding — that quote is actually from a broad-minded contributor to Reddit’s AskMen thread on women with leg hair. It’s our own fault for being so mammalian, really.
Estimated population: 100 percent of American women have body hair. Even the Lizard Woman couldn’t escape this fate.
Women who are not white. Trump is happy to count white supremacists among his supporters. And mainstream beauty standards, when it comes to race, favor whiteness as well. OkCupid data reveals that with regards to messages sent on the site, “Black women reply the most, yet get by far the fewest replies.”
Estimated population: 36.3 percent of American women are not white.
Women with “blood coming out of their wherever.” Sure, you might encounter the odd “blood hound” who doesn’t find menstruation ugly. But most of us have received pretty strong social messages from puberty onward that periods are gross and should be kept hidden.
Estimated population: Roughly 17.3 percent of women between menarche and menopause have their period at any given time.
Women who are not skinny. “You like your candy,” Trump reportedly commented to one of his female employees, who was apparently not up to her boss’s Mar-a-Lago poolside standards. The body bias goes way beyond Trump, of course. Fat women are treated cruelly on a daily basis. In one mock trial study, men were even more likely to convict fat women of a hypothetical crime.
Estimated population: The average American woman wears clothing between size 12 and 14. Which means many of us are bigger than that.
Women who were labeled male at birth. Trans women are often portrayed not only as ugly but as downright dangerous — especially when they have to pee. It’s a gender identity that has been twisted into an insult so regularly that far-right wingnuts are currently claiming that Michelle Obama is trans.
Estimated population: Statistics are hard to come by, but of the 135,367 likely trans people who changed their names with the Social Security Administration last year, 35 percent were women.
Women who are angry. You’ve probably heard that “You catch more flies with honey.” And nothing drives them away quite like pointing out gendered double-standards, entrenched sexism, and economic disadvantages faced by women. Even those of us who meet the acceptable-hotness standards of Fox News (cough, Megyn Kelly, cough) can only win praise once we decide to smile and play nice — not when we’re asking hard questions.
Estimated population: 53 percent of us say we’re angrier than we were a year ago. Hmmm, I wonder why?
While Rendell’s comment was rather bumbling, it contains more than a hint of truth: When you consider how rigid the traditional standards of attractiveness really are, most of us are ugly. And maybe it’s time we embrace our collective not-hot-enough status. The designer and illustrator Tuesday Bassen, who publishes a zine called Ugly Girl Gang, explains why she loves the adjective: “First, it’s about being unconcerned with your physical appearance while kicking ass at what you do. Second, the content of my work focuses on themes of empowerment and revenge through unpleasant, violent, and disagreeable women. I love the duality of ‘ugly.’ Ugly is powerful.”
Especially when ugly women are united against a common enemy.