Elizabeth Edwards died of breast cancer yesterday at the age of 61. Edwards' passing provided the Washington Post with a rare opportunity to remind readers of its obsession with her body weight, and what it all means. Four paragraphs into the Post's Edwards obit, the paper describes her as having possessed a "real-woman figure" and "serious intellect" (in that order). Later, the Post gets more explicit:
Their difference in appearance—the candidate was derided by opponents as "the Breck Girl" for his good looks, while she clearly struggled with her weight—attracted supporters as well, and John Edwards's commitment to her in her illness seemed to indicate that theirs was a marriage that mirrored many couples' ups and downs.
What, no measurements? Last year, Robin Givhan, professional body-shamer of successful women everywhere, called Edwards "a woman whose figure is devoid of sharp lines and who always seems to be dressed for a parent-teacher conference." Givhan marveled at Edwards' ability to act as "self-involved" as a thin woman, one with "the body of a marathoner and the wardrobe of Carrie Bradshaw." Earlier, in 2004, the Post's Donna Britt went long on Edwards' "chubbiness", congratulating herself for focusing exclusively on Edwards' weight, and then claiming it as a positive:
It wasn't that Elizabeth Edwards, 55, isn't attractive—because she is. Nothing about her was different from millions of other smart, energetic and giving women whom we all know. My visceral reaction was based entirely on the unexpected fact that Mrs. Edwards is what a male friend refers to as "a big girl." Meaning she's a bit overweight.
Okay, she's fat.
. . . Many have commented privately on Elizabeth Edwards's weight. Yet the media have been largely mum—even though part of what charmed many Americans who watched the Edwardses celebrating with their three kids at the Democratic convention was that they don't fit stereotype.
In fact Elizabeth Edwards's chubbiness is less troublesome than Hollywood's size-zero superstars, who set an unattractive, and dangerous, example for young girls. I'd even suggest that Edwards's weight gives her husband, well, heft.
Great-looking people often are dismissed as shallow, dumb. In a world in which penniless men who haven't worked in years leave their wives for younger, thinner types, a wealthy hunk appears deeper and smarter for standing by his once-thin wife.
These deadline-pushing, pageview-baiting observations are generally scrubbed from obituaries, whether out of a paper's respect for the dead, or its personal shame that it ever published stuff like this in the first place. The Post has apparently opted to remember Edwards in death as it knew her in life: As a successful lawyer, health care advocate, author, campaign adviser, mother, and woman who was fatter than her husband.