Trump, Reebok and the infernal compliments debate

During his state visit to Paris in celebration of Bastille Day, Donald Trump complimented the French first lady, Brigitte Macron, on her figure, telling her and her husband, President Emmanuel Macron, that she was ‘in such great shape… beautiful’. Naturally, the comment sent social media into meltdown.

Sports brand Reebok tweeted a handy flowchart explaining ‘When it is appropriate to say “you’re in such great shape… beautiful”’. Which, according to Reebok, is only when you’ve rediscovered a forgotten action figure from your teen years. Working out next to a woman in the gym, or sharing a lift with a woman, are no-go situations for complimenting a woman’s figure, says the chart. It got more than 50,000 retweets. Actress Debra Messing tweeted: ‘Thank you Reebok. Donald Trump is such a misogynist, foul, crass, horny pre-teen. An embarrassment to our country and an affront to all.’ Another Twitter user also saluted the move: ‘Next time, remind me to buy Reeboks.’

But not everyone was impressed with Reebok’s lecture, and many were quick to point out the brand’s hypocrisy. Collective Shout‏, a campaign group against the objectification of women in the media, tweeted a picture of a recent Reebok ad which featured a leggy model wearing only knickers and Reebok trainers on her lower half. ‘Reebok has made headlines today: criticising the objectification of women, after years of objectifying women in their ads #notbuyingit’, it tweeted.

In truth, both the hysterical reaction to Trump’s comments and the criticism of Reebok’s lecturing point to problems with today’s sexism debate. Sure, Trump’s comments were cringe-inducing, but Reebok’s suggestion that it is never appropriate for a man to compliment a woman’s ‘shape’ is insulting to both men and women. Meanwhile, Reebok’s critics are patronising women, suggesting that women feel objectified and insignificant upon seeing the image of toned, photo-shopped calves – this points to a common perception of women as weak, sensitive individuals.

Both sides of the debate infantilise women. How insulting it is to suggest that women’s self-esteem can be so fragile that they can be damaged by a pretty model in an ad or, even worse, by the flippant comments of Donald Trump.

Izzy Lyons is a writer based in London. Follow her on Twitter: @LyonsIzzy

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