deciphering huma

Huma Abedin Is the Patron Saint of Women in Crisis

Photo: Kathy Willens/Getty Images

Easily the most fascinating part of Weiner, the documentary about the sexting scandal that derailed Anthony Weiner’s 2013 mayoral run, is his wife Huma Abedin. I have no idea how Huma managed to endure this nightmare — and if you’re looking to understand what makes Hillary Clinton’s right-hand woman tick, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere — but I do know that next time I find myself in the midst of a personal and/or professional shit-storm, I will be doing my best to channel Huma.

Here are some things I took away:

She stays mysterious.
Ever since the scandal broke, the public has been desperate to diagnose what exactly Huma’s issue is: She has Stockholm syndrome, or she’s a power-hungry shrew, or some other hypothesis people use to write off women that they don’t understand. Yet miraculously, after watching her onscreen for two hours, Abedin remains a cipher — an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a Prada power suit. Her body language and facial expressions are particularly fascinating to watch. Arms folded, lips pursed, eyes blazing with silent fury, she reveals nothing. What kind of agreement have her and her husband reached? Is it love, a political calculation, some combination? What goes on behind closed doors? Huma isn’t telling. And, while her husband continues to dig his own grave with his dissembling and bombast and penchant for verbal altercations, she manages to emerge from the muck with her dignity intact.

She knows her limits.
Huma stands by her husband through the first sextpocalypse, and dutifully revs into Good Wife mode when the second scandal breaks, delivering a somber statement of support at a press conference. But she also refuses to be used as a prop trotted out whenever the campaign needs her. (While she makes a few references to advice from “Philippe,” Clinton adviser Philippe Reines, the extent of the Clinton camp’s involvement in her decision-making remains a tantalizing open question). My favorite scene might be the one where Weiner is gleefully re-watching a clip of a disastrous altercation he had with MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell. Huma looks at her husband, aghast. “Sorry, I can’t,” she says, and leaves the room. Later, she declines to participate in a campaign ad (“Do I look camera ready?” she asks, eating a slice of pizza off a paper plate) and skips various campaign events, including voting day, despite her husband’s pleas.

She has nerves of steel.
Yet Huma is a fascinating mix of vulnerability — as she says at one point, she feels like she’s “living a nightmare” — and stoicism. There’s a remarkable moment in the film when Anthony and his team are gathered for a meeting to assess the damage wrought by the second wave of sexting revelations, and Huma, who has been standing silently in the corner, chimes in. “Just a quick optics thing,” she says addressing Barbara Morgan, Anthony’s (understandably rattled) communications director. “I assume the photographers are still outside, so you will look happy? I’m saying this for you.” Some people  might find this heartless. I think it’s glorious.

She eats a lot of pizza.
Of Huma’s many gifts, the most impressive might be her apparent ability to consume multiple slices of pizza on a daily basis while (a) having the BMI of a teenage triathlete and (b) keeping her lipstick perfectly intact. (No, she doesn’t eat it with a fork). Having personally attempted Huma’s diet, I can attest that this is not possible for mere mortals. Is comfort food the secret to Huma’s endurance, or is her boundless pizza tolerance just another facet of her superhuman disposition? Much like Huma herself, it remains a mystery.

Huma Abedin, Patron Saint of Women in Crisis