Okay. What. The. Frick? After reading a very thoughtful piece done by Sweet Machine over at Shapely Prose, I found this little nugget of an article on Yahoo’s main “Featured News” page: “Fresh Look at Martha Washington: Less First Frump, More Foxy Lady“. That’s right. And in case you’re leery of where the article might go or have some foolish hope that maybe the title is just a clever play on words, let me put your mind at “ease” with a direct quote of the first paragraph:
This just in: Martha Washington was hot. Or at least hotter than we thought.
Yup. Now it isn’t enough to glamorize or fetishize or paparrazi-ize over the 5 pounds Jessica Simpson might have gained by not being a slave to an image standard. Now we get to use “Technology” like age regression software to reassure America that our first First Lady wasn’t some “First Frump” as the article so lovingly refers to the images we’re used to seeing of Martha Washington; she was a smexy hottie! I mean yeah she did all this STUFF too (She capably ran the five plantations left to her when her first husband died, bargaining with London merchants for the best tobacco prices.), but she wasn’t like FAT y’all and she was a human being with needs and stuff and liked to read silly fluff books and like… like…um….maybe she was really hot too!
Okay. Come ON! Now, from someone who hated the structure of almost every boring, mindless fact-regurgitating history class I every had the misfortune to get dragged through, I can certainly see the appeal in trying to make history interesting (gee, maybe less focus on memorizing dates and more focus on real people and passions and actions might affect that a tad, but what do I know). What I don’t understand is this need to re-vamp the world’s image of this amazing woman, degrading her from the perhaps plump and amazing First Lady of America’s new system of presidency, to a “Va-va-vooom” 20-something who was “blessed” with more than George for suitors; one of whom seemed to indicate through their correspondences that he was sexually attracted to her! Ya know cause us humans just can’t fathom ANY man, let alone a leader of a foundling country, being sexually attracted to a plump, dowdy old woman, the ” mousy, fat, rich widow that dashing and virile Washington married only for money.”
Perhaps the most head-shakingly crazy-making part (aside from the whole obsession with some purple wedding shoes) is the image that this article is trying to break out of our mindset. THIS is what the renditions of a smoking hottie Martha are up against:
“Martha Washington was neither beautiful nor brilliant. She lacked artistic skill, except perhaps in fine needlework. The letters she wrote were an incoherent jumble of affection and gossip.” That was James Flexner, the preeminent Washington scholar of the 1960s and ’70s. He describes Washington’s marriage to Martha as an “escape” from the burden of his passions for Sally. The 40-year union, he wrote, “began badly.” Martha, he wrote disdainfully, was “diminutive and plump.”
That sets off revisionist historians such as Brady. Although it is true that Martha had borne four children by the time she met Washington, only two of whom survived, she hadn’t packed on the pounds yet.
Yeah. Because, again, it is completely impossible to believe that even HAD she already come into the marriage with those pounds “packed on”; that any other human being, especially one with so much power, would like her, be attracted to her, love her.
I can’t decide what makes me sadder and just more confunded. The reflection that this sort of drivel has upon our obsession with youth (we can’t be satisfied with having an old matronly First Lady, sh emust be YOUNG! BEAUTIFUL!), the clear and almost frantic attempts to assure us that she was trim and slim and not *gasp* 200 pounds (no one wants a fattie in the white house!) or the back-peddling done to convince readers that not only was/is history interesting and fun, but it is filled with SEXY LADIES TOO!
Though, perhaps it was a tad encouraging to read some of those comments because it is from them that I drew this gem, with which I’ll leave you and your thoughts:
This is an elitist attempt at commercialization of American history. A “hey look, Martha Washington was a size 4, attractive and wore silk sequined shoes!” Let the real history of the era speak for itself and let’s not try to market and reframe every aspect of American history for the sake of tourism.