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Last week, everyone’s brain exploded over a couple of Newsweek Sarah Palin covers. One cover, which ran last week, was criticized for depicting the former Alaskan governor as too sexy (left). Another, which ran last year, was criticized for depicting the Republican vice-presidential candidate as not sexy enough (right).

The indignation accompanying the covers—-“How dare Newsweek present Palin as overly sexy!” and “How dare Newsweek present Palin as having stray lip hairs!” respectively—-miss the point. The problem doesn’t lie in Palin’s looks, people. The problem is Newsweek using Palin’s looks as a stand-in for her political failures.

Take the headline tagged to last week’s cover: “How do you solve a problem like Sarah? She’s bad news for the GOP—-and for everyone else too.” Placed alongside a photo of Palin posing saucily in running shorts, the treatment implies that Palin’s “problem” has got something to do with her killer bod. I think it has more to do with her radical right-wing political beliefs.

Last year’s Palin cover contained a similar treatment: “She’s one of the folks (and that’s the problem),” the cover announced, next to a zoomed-in close-up of Palin’s face. Some criticized Newsweek for unnecessarily exposing Palin’s lip hairs, blemishes, pancake make-up, and fine lines to the world. The real trouble with the cover is that Newsweek, again, used Palin’s physical appearance to represent her politics—-this time, to illustrate that her “realness” is a “problem.” Lacking political experience? That’s a problem. Lip hairs? Not so much.

The comments sections on the stories produced such helpful commentary as “NEWS WEAK HA; SARAH PALIN HAS A VERY NICE FACE SHE IS NOT A PHONY NEWSWEAK HA” and “Only un-evolved Neanderthals find her attractive. She looks and acts like a $20 coke-head hooker on a Seattle street.” Despite the deluge of body-snarking comments, I did find a bit of constructive commentary hidden between the cries of “hot!” and “not!”:

Jennifer, on Newsweek‘s zoomed-in Palin face, writes:

I honestly think the response to the cover is more sexist than the cover itself.

There have been plenty of closeups of older men with skin full or wrinkles on the cover and no one claimed them to be ‘flaws’ that should have been hidden in order to somehow help him maintain his integrity. The fact that the people crying wolf attribute a woman’s looks to something that can ultimately be a ‘flaw’ in her and her overall appeal in, not a beauty contest, but a political election, shows you a lot about their view of women.

We are all humans, and what happens to humans when they get older is that their skin wrinkles. There is nothing ‘flawed’ about that.

Katie, on Newsweek‘s running-short body shot, writes:

I’m not sure calling her an ugly hooker is any vast improvement over whatever winking sexual antics she’s responsible for in the past. The whole point, as far as I’m concerned, is that her looks have nothing to do with anything. Or they shouldn’t. I really don’t think she has “baited” sexist behavior. She’s gotten it because she’s a woman. She absolutely deserves criticism for being a ridiculous joke of a candidate, a recklessly misleading author, and a general nutcase.

. . . she doesn’t deserve criticism for being a woman who has legs and long hair and posed for a running magazine picture…in runner’s clothes. I’m not saying that’s what you’re going for. But I don’t think the answer to unnecessarily glorifying Sarah Palin is unnecessarily denigrating her.