The first time I doubted my looks and worth was in kindergarten. I hadn't even made it to a grade with a digit before a boy knocked me off the slide and told me I was ugly. By the time I picked myself off the asphalt, I had already accepted what he said as truth.
That little boy may have been the first, but he wasn't the last. And when I wasn’t on the receiving end of the insults, others around me were. "Fat" and "ugly" became part of my language to describe others in the same way it was used to describe me. If it was true about myself, it had to be true about others, right?
As I became more deeply rooted in that idea, I began to look critically at myself. I started slipping to the bathroom after meals to purge. When that became more difficult, I stopped eating altogether. The words "fat" and “ugly” ran through my head, and I wanted to mold myself into something else — something that was desirable. My self worth became so wrapped up in my outward appearance that I never stopped to consider that maybe it was the language that was ugly, not me.
This cycle continued for seven years before I was hospitalized. My body was finally shutting down, tired from the abuse and starvation. I no longer had to worry about beauty — I had to worry about staying alive.
I entered into an eating disorder program, and after two years, I began to disentangle my worth from others' perception of my appearance. I learned "fat" was not bad and "ugly" was not OK. I learned that women, or anyone, should not be measured by appearance. I began to find beauty in my strength, my determination, and, yes, my appearance as it is. I then made it a personal mission to help other women find the same inner peace and decided to pursue a degree in politics.
In politics, I saw the promise of growth and hope. My grandmother used to tell me, “Being a driving force for change can be difficult if no one is poised to listen.” And I was ready for change. Politics can provide a platform to recognize voices that are often disregarded. I spent such a large portion of my childhood feeling powerless and voiceless. I was tired of others trying to dictate my worth on my appearance and gender. So I began to pour my heart and education into the political realm to be part of that platform.
When I began watching political ads for my degree, I felt an array of emotions: irritation, disbelief, confusion. Political ads are supposed to provide insight into a candidate or policy initiative, but I always found them largely ineffective and dismissive. There is a general lack of context regarding soundbites that can be frustrating.
Photos of poverty are used as a selling point to drive legislation proposals that never happen. A stock photo model is used as a representative of a community rather than seeking out actual community members. Still other ads promise an end goal that I, being well versed in the politician’s platform and current political schema, know they can’t achieve. But perhaps the most disenchanting ads of all are the ones that don’t provide a voice for the marginalized but rather for the celebrity of the candidate.
As my degree progressed, I started to seriously internalize and analyze these types of ads. By the time I graduated, I had viewed so many that my emotional response began to dull. I stopped feeling and started looking for the formula, the policy plan, and intent behind the ads. But when I watch Hillary Clinton’s latest ad, “Mirrors,” I have to take a moment. I can still analyze the content and intent, but I do it with tears in my eyes.
It should come as no surprise that I, like many other women, find the comments from Donald Trump over the course of this election (and his life) deplorable. A problem that comes with analyzing a lifetime of disgusting slurs is that it can be hard to pick out certain examples to focus on because the number of appalling options is overwhelming.
The ad shows girls looking at their reflections, with samples of Trump's more notorious comments overlaying the images. When the girls look in the mirror as we hear Trump talking about her "fat, ugly face," I think back to that boy who not only degraded my worth but also violated my personal space and well-being by tossing me aside like trash. I think about coming home to my mom and asking why I was ugly. When Trump talks about a woman who "ate like a pig," I think about how I would gorge on food just to purge minutes later, hitting myself in the stomach in frustration. When Trump talks about a woman without a "good body" but a "fat ass," I think back to wrapping a tape measure around my hips, crying because they wouldn’t shrink.
And I am not alone. Thirty million people in the United States live with an eating disorder. Even more live with poor body image and self-esteem. When I watch the ad, I think about Trump's toxicity. His rhetoric supports a system where my story is not unique; it is commonplace. And deadly.
“Mirrors” is going to be one of those ads that we reflect on for years to come. It doesn’t make promises, and it doesn’t propose what ifs. Instead, it highlights the absolute lack of respect Trump has for women and how that destroys us before we even reach the polling booth.
I've heard people say, “Well, I respect women, and I am voting for Trump because he is the best choice." I think this ad succinctly makes a case for how empty and false that statement is. To me, if you cast that Trump ballot in November, you make a statement: You are willing choose to support a man that reduces me to my flat chest and fat ass instead of my arguments and character.
So when I find myself crying as I watch these young girls stare into the mirror, I tell myself it's not from weakness. It's from anger and determination.
I am angry that any woman, or any person, should be torn down and reduced to features that should not be shunned.
I am angry that in 2016, swaths of the country could support this rhetoric and readily tear down others bit by bit.
But perhaps more than anger, I feel renewal. For every person who supports Trump, I will point out that you cannot separate this sexism from your support, and for every woman who looks in the mirror with doubt, I will help provide support in reinforcing your worth. My tears are acknowledgement of my joy in our unceasing strength, as we continue to weather the sexism and push back to create communities that celebrate us for the dynamic individuals we are.