In modern televised politics success is often determined not by what a politician says, but how they say it. Delivery is one of the five canons of rhetoric and is related to how the rhetor’s communication feels and looks to the audience. Delivery goes hand in hand with visual rhetoric, as the way a rhetor presents themselves visually has a large influence on how they are perceived and what messages they communicate.

In American politics visual delivery is markedly gender biased, in this FiveThirtyEight video originally posted to the course blog by BrieDanielle, a panel discusses experiments performed on American elections in which scientists studied split second reactions to images of certain candidates. When the scientists in the video compared these reactions to actual election outcomes, overwhelmingly the candidates who were perceived to be the most masculine won political races. It is clear then, that in the American psyche, a president is expected to look like an older male, usually white, with a strong jaw line. Thus, any candidate who does not fit into this mold, whether for gender, race or other reasons is subject to heightened scrutiny, otherwise known as double standards.

Image Via Slate Magazine

On the double standard and gender, fellow student, adelakolenovic notes:

I mean we can take a look at males in politicians such as Chris Christie. I highly doubt the female counterpart of Christie would have garnered the same amount of success retrospectively.

This comment explains how, in American politics, female candidates are not only expected to be both good leaders and good women, but they are also expected to dress and look a certain way. Male candidates, like Chris Christie, are allowed to be overweight but America has yet to see an oversight female candidate. As a veteran politician, Hillary Clinton has become an expert at navigating these double standards and succeeds in using them to her political advantage in several cases.


Image Via PBS

It is clear that Hillary Clinton’s visual delivery has evolved significantly from her term as first lady of Arkansas, to her time spent as the first lady of the United States, through the 2008 election to the current election cycle. Clinton has time after time rebranded herself visually to become more likeable and appealing in her delivery. This Frontline video highlights Clinton’s deliberate change in visual rhetoric first began after her husband, Bill, lost his reelection campaign for Arkansas governor, partially due to criticism over his wife’s nontraditional gender role. In response to this criticism, in 1979, Clinton went from having darker curly hair, pronounced glasses, light makeup and flare leg pants to dying her hair blonde, styling her hair straight, switching to contacts, wearing more pronounced makeup and wearing dresses.


Image Via ABC News

Notably in 1979, Clinton also adopted a slight southern accent, making her delivery more alluring to Arkansas voters, a great complement to her new, more universally accepted gendered image. Unsurprisingly, after Hillary’s rebranding, Bill won his next campaign and she once again became first lady of Arkansas. This dramatic makeover shows how Clinton took the double standard and made it work for her politically, using it as a mechanism through which to gain more voter support.


Image Via Getty Images

Clinton has evolved her visual delivery further and notably there has been a shift in the jewelry worn publicly by Hillary Clinton from 2007 to present. In this article “Jewel Purpose,” Anne McElvoy examines Clinton’s jewelry from 2007- 2016. As first lady, Clinton used to wear diamonds and large sapphire or gold earrings. In light of the current political climate regarding income inequality and criticisms of her large fortune, Clinton has toned down her public wearing of expensive jewels. Instead, Clinton has shifted to wearing small hoop earrings, a small chain and a bracelet that contains pictures of her granddaughter Charlotte.


Image Via ABC News

It is clear that Clinton is using jewelry to send a message, specifically to communicate that she is relatable, many grandmothers wear lockets with pictures of their grandchildren. Clinton is also not overtly extravagant, her small pieces are attainable for the average American and thus do not draw criticism. Before the presidential election in 2008 Hillary wore jewelry representative of a first lady, but in the current election, she has shifted her look. This shows a clear knowledge of the double standard of delivery, and shows how she is using this to her political advantage to appear approachable and warm. The subject of politics and jewelry is especially interesting, as, jewelry can be used to send a rhetorical message, but also is not traditionally worn by men in politics.

It is evident that Clinton has managed to use certain aspects of the double standard in delivery to her advantage, as she has successfully used clothing, makeup, accents and jewelry to communicate to the American public ideas of relatability and acceptability. An appreciation of Clinton’s avarice is shown through some of our class comments, as most students believe that she is simply playing the political game with all of her resources. On the “For Hillary in Arkansas..” post, Pmurphy comments:

…she understands what is expected of women, and uses it to her advantage.

and Rgelmoser adds:

While I most certainly do not approve of the “visual rhetoric” that restricts women, I do indeed credit any woman who shows resilience within a confining public arena

At times these deliberate political makeovers could possibly ring false to some voters, as one could easily view Clinton’s carefully crafted public identity as disingenuous. In contrast, however, perhaps Hillary’s navigation of the double standard seems absolutely genuine to women across America, who are oppressed by double standards in their everyday lives. Hillary’s experience with the double standard in visual delivery thus is the ultimate relatability factor for the female demographic.

Feature Image Via Bloomberg