Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sarah Palin calls Newsweek's reprint of her Runner's World photo sexist

I have some ambivalence about covering this story at all, but I think we have something to learn here, so I will. By now, you've probably seen that this week's cover of Newsweek features a photo of Sarah Palin in running shorts and sneakers that originally appeared in Runner's World magazine, under the headline "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sarah?"

Ms. Palin called this use of the photo "sexist" on her facebook page, a claim that Tina Brown counters in the clip above (or in this article, almost verbatim) as being no worse than provocative photos of Bill Clinton or Elliot Spitzer in the recent past. I agree with that comparison, and also with Brown's conclusion that Ms. Palin's outrage is largely for effect.

But as I said, we have something to learn here. Why is this photo embarrassing? It's not because she's wearing short running shorts. There's nothing wrong with them, actually, and she has a great figure. The problem here is the context in which she's wearing them. Even though this photo was taken for a running magazine, she's not running. She's not at a gym or outside. She's posing like a beauty queen, leaning on an artfully draped flag. It's a portrait, and no one should show that much leg in a portrait. If she were running down a road, or running on a treadmill, or even standing on a treadmill as if she had just stopped running, the photo would not have the same effect. There would be no story here. So the moral of the story is not that you should never be photographed in anything other than a jacket and pearls. It's the same as everything else - you simply need to wear the right clothes for each occasion.

And did you notice her warm up jacket? It's red.

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