The 400-pound hacker: Weighty issues in presidential debate increase body image focus

Hector Casanova, Kansas City Star

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump provoked a lot of reaction with his debate response to who is responsible for hacking into Democratic National Committee computers: “I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?”

It was one of several references to weight during the Trump-Clinton showdown, probably a first for any presidential debate.

Trump defended his past insults about comic Rosie O’Donnell, which have centered on her size. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton attacked his criticisms of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, charging that Trump called the woman “Miss Piggy.” (This morning Trump told Fox he did complain about the beauty pageant winner’s body, saying, “She gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem.” Trump owned the pageant from 1996 to 2015.)

The 400-pound hacker reference puzzled many people and set off a Twitter storm — “EASY, TRUMP! EAAAASSSY!!! MOST AMERICANS WEIGH 400 POUNDS.”

But there were serious responses to what some saw as body shaming. The University of Pennsylvania released this comment from mental health expert Linda Lucker Leibowitz, the associate director of Penn GSE’s Executive Program in School and Mental Health Counseling.

“When a presidential candidate makes an accusation that the hacking of information in our country might not be the Russians, but a 400-pound person (in bed), I believe this bullying rhetoric must be addressed. Bullies don’t change without hard work and counseling. Donald Trump’s history of verbal insults and attacks on a variety of people (women, Muslims, the disabled and more) demand that he be held accountable for his insulting words and how it will reflect on the millions of school-age students that school counselors are working hard to protect.

“Bullying has been a huge barrier to the academic and social/emotional growth of many of my students over the years. There should be zero tolerance for bullying and cyberbullying in the schools, and there are laws regarding this behavior.”

It is depressing that so many teens, both boys and girls, agonize over their bodies. I once thought young women would eventually face less pressure because they were now recognized for being athletes, school leaders and AP calculus students.

While girls are acknowledged for a range of accomplishments beyond appearance, the pressure to be a size 4 hasn’t eased and become more unrelenting due to social media where everyone is a judge and a contestant. Even Olympic athletes in Rio experienced body shaming on social media.

I have talked to parents, mostly mothers, whose daughters have faced hurtful remarks about their appearance. One mom discovered a social media list circulating in her daughter’s middle school of “Girls who would be hot if they weren’t fat.”

Several prominent news stories about suicides of teenage girls have reported they became depressed when a nude or semi-nude photo shared with a boyfriend went viral, and they were being taunted not only for how they looked but for being “sluts” because they sent the photo.

(I am surprised at the resurgence of the term “slut,” often now paired with “ho.” A student’s car parked at my local school once sported this charming bumper sticker: “My ex-girlfriend is a ho.”)

Body image affects boys as well. Research has found 33 to 35 percent of boys age 6–8 believe their ideal body is thinner than their current body.

A friend said her son will do anything to get out of PE because of the jabs about his weight. He begs to have all his orthodontist appointments during his PE slot. In taking groups of boys swimming, I’ve witnessed boys who wore their T-shirts in the water because they didn’t want to be ribbed for not having “six-pack abs.”

Here is a good list of the research on adolescents and body image.

I am not sure how we solve this. I think parents can follow all the smart advice to minimize negative body image, but it’s hard to overcome the social media and cultural obsession that has now found its way into presidential debates.

Any ideas?

Reader Comments 0

21 comments
quickdigits
quickdigits

If You Don't Want to Be "Fat-Shamed", then Don't Get Fat! I have worked Hard all my life to be slim and trim...it ain't easy, folks! Some people just don't care about the way they look....if they get criticized, they have no one to blame except themselves!

eulb
eulb

@quickdigits When you treat someone with contempt,  expect contempt in return --  not just from your victim, but from others  who observed your behavior.   You have no one to blame except yourself.  

quickdigits
quickdigits

It's Really Easy to Be Fat! It's Really Hard to Be Thin!

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@quickdigits Can you imagine for some folk it's really hard to be fat and really easy to be thin?  Can you imagine not everybody is like you?  Can you imagine "walking in someone else's shoes" and not making the situation about you?

weetamoe
weetamoe

Machado was a willing commodity of the pageant corporation which most likely had her sign a contract when she entered.  When she won, she was bound by the specifics of the contract --and since the competition emphasized appearance--well, pigging out was really not very smart.  

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

On the issue of " Fat shaming " a lot of fat people are lard a$$ because they eat everything in sight and sit on their butt all day simple as that

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

I advised my Grandson some years ago when he was little about bulling, I said " Never be a bully but never be bullied " he understood and had a few dust ups but at 6' 4" and 220 he takes care of himself pretty well. Parents need to let their kids know that the majority of bullies are cowards and if you bust their nose, they will leave you alone

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@eulb: “There seems to be an endless supply of cruel people flaunting their hatefulness, using the internet for human target practice.

“Is the problem mostly just here in the USA?  Or is this a world-wide phenomenon in every culture, every language?”

Consider the problem is a consequence of competition so deeply inculcated as to be thought natural, the way the real world works.  It has always been beyond me to understand why anyone would believe competition learned in one aspect of life or context does not transfer to and become active in other aspects of life or contexts all too often for the worse.  USA, Number One!  Always!  Body shaming, bullying, school shootings, police shootings, multidirectional racism, APS cheating, Wells Fargo cheating, and many other instances of winning at the expense of others… and all of them just manifestations of competition, deeply inculcated.

Just think, parents as employees of corporations are subjected to all manner of competition in misguided motivational efforts.  Again, think Wells Fargo cheating.  Think APS cheating.  Why would anyone believe US corporate-style competition will not be brought home from work to infest the family hence the children who grow up to pass the competition mindset on to their children, and so on through generations?

When, as an invited guest presenter at a conference of public theologians a few years ago, I broached this question with the audience, lightbulbs started going on all over the place.  Many in the audience freely admitted it was not in their conscious mind that they were bringing corporate competition mindedness home from work but, upon reflection, said that is exactly what they were doing.  Thus simplistic, reductive rants such as “education starts at home” and “single-parent families is the problem” seem such tiny bits of a bigger picture. 

macfalfan
macfalfan

Hillary called those who accused her husband liars and worse. And he did do what they said. Aren't we suppose to believe women when they say they have been sexual assaulted or rape. So does she really support women? 

SK60
SK60

@macfalfan  My guess is you are a man and have no clue what you are talking about.  What does this have to do with Trump's insults on people's bodies?  You folks NEVER want Trump to take ANY responsibility for his lies and insults.  What is wrong with you?

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

What about Hillary's lies? She never takes responsibility for them instead using the " I don't recall " answer, what's good for the goose is good for the gander

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Just for perspective, let's see a photo of trump in 1996 next to one of him now.  No "fat shaming," just a photo.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

You have to raise up a very strong child who can be minimally affected by this--one who is self-confident and does not buy into what others think just because they say it out loud. I've known a few with that kind of self-assurance.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Wascatlady And no one is exempt. Ariel Winter,  the teenage star of "Modern Family," has had to deal with this, once saying: “We live in a day and age where everything you do is ridiculed. The Internet bullies are awful. I could post a photo where I feel good, and 500 people will comment about how fat I am and that I am disgusting."

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Wascatlady What I hate about these social media ambushes is that a kid can have a great moment and have it snatched away with cruel comment, sometimes from someone they hardly know. A teen on a Facebook recently addresed negative comments she got on family beach photos and it was heartbreaking. I know the sensible advice -- which I try to follow -- is avoid posting personal stuff, even family photos, but teens live in this open world of Instagram and Snapchat and that is their town square. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaureenDowney @Wascatlady I guess what I mean to say is you teach your children, you model for them constantly that other people's words have only as much power as you give them.

eulb
eulb

@MaureenDowney "The Internet bullies are awful."  So true.  And it really doesn't matter so much whether it's 500 bullies or 50 or 1.  One intentionally hateful remark can do lasting damage.


There seems to be an endless supply of cruel people flaunting their hatefulness, using the internet for human target practice. 


Is the problem mostly just here in the USA?  Or is this a world-wide phenomenon in every culture, every language?





redweather
redweather

@MaureenDowney @Wascatlady But if you are so interested in publicizing your life, you open yourself up to criticism and Internet trolls. That's the lesson that too many people can't seem to learn, or accept.

bigpop
bigpop

@MaureenDowney @Wascatlady Trumps comment has nothing to do with bullying. First off teens are not watching the debate because their not old enough to vote and don't really care anyway. If you're not the hacker and don't weigh 400 lbs then don't worry about it. If you do weigh 400 lbs then you should try and do something about it. You're way off on this one.