These days, with the rise of the body-positive movement and a cultural shift toward chastising those who pick apart women’s bodies, it’s safe to say that talking about a woman’s weight is a no-no in politics. (Unless you’re Donald Trump — but that’s another story.) And yet, in Maine, body-image issues and the self-esteem of young girls is campaign fodder in a congressional seat race.
It started last week, when Republicans released an attack ad against a female Democratic candidate, Emily Cain, accusing her of sponsoring a bill that would have required children to be weighed in school. The women in the attack ad stand alongside young girls while deriding the bill as “a violation of our kids’ privacy” and another way to weigh “our teenage girls.” The message: Look at this bad candidate who sponsored a bill that would have body-shamed our young, susceptible girls.
The only problem, of course, is the attack ad is a little misleading. And Cain wasn’t having it. So she released an ad on Wednesday addressing her own body-image struggles. In the ad, she says: “Like a lot of women, I’ve struggled with my weight. It’s hard. It’s very personal. So for the special interests backing Bruce Poliquin [Cain’s opponent] to exploit the insecurities of teenage girls, it’s just a new low.”
It’s not the first time that Cain has been called out on the bipartisan bill she sponsored; Republicans went after her in 2014 during her first race, according to The Guardian. To be clear, the mandatory weighing in schools was part of a bill aimed at helping the state combat childhood obesity. While that measure failed, similar legislation was later passed. But the attack ad struck a particular nerve with Cain. “The issue of women and girls, and body issues and self-esteem, is a core issue of mine,” she told The Guardian. Perhaps that’s owing to having grown up with plenty of women. Cain, after all, grew up as the eldest of three sisters and said she wants to be a good role model for women, she told Allure. “Speaking up quickly was important because the ad is false and hurtful,” Cain said, later adding, “We need women from all backgrounds to feel empowered and valued, not demeaned and judged.”
Correction: This article misidentified Cain’s first name. It is is Emily, no Kelly.