Clinton’s call to girls: Stand tall and be proud

New York Times News Service

HAVERFORD, Pa. — The teenager leaned into the microphone, pausing for a beat. She had a question for Hillary Clinton, about her high school and Donald Trump.

“At my school, body image is a really big issue for girls my age,” began the girl, Brennan Leach, 15, who had a red bow in her hair. “I see with my own eyes the damage Donald Trump does when he talks about women and how they look.”

How, she asked, could Clinton help girls understand “that they are so much more than just what they look like?”

Briefly, Clinton appeared ready to rocket out of her seat.

“Thank you!” the candidate shouted, as the crowd cheered Brennan. “Thank you!”

Brennan Leach, 15, right, and Allyson Schwartz, center, a former congresswoman and gubernatorial candidate, during a town hall with Hillary Clinton at the Haverford Community Recreation and Environmental Center in Haverford, Pa., Oct. 4, 2016. Leach opened the questions at the event asking   Clinton how she could help girls understand “that they are so much more than just what they look like?” (Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

Clinton had been holding forth on Tuesday in a Haverford community center gymnasium, beside her daughter Chelsea and the actress Elizabeth Banks, for a town hall — a “FAMILY TOWN HALL,” according to the blue block letters behind her onstage — speaking to a largely female crowd in the kind of Philadelphia suburb that could decide this critical state.

Response: Brennan’s question was the first of the day and, for Clinton, the most potent.

Since last week’s debate, Clinton has brought attention to Trump’s history of making disparaging remarks about the appearance of women, particularly his comments about the weight of the 1996 Miss Universe, Alicia Machado. Even before the debate, Clinton’s team had released an evocative ad that featured girls looking anxiously in their mirrors, scored to a selection of Trump insults.

On Tuesday, Clinton said she was “so proud” of Brennan for asking the question. Trump, she agreed, “has taken this concern to a new level of difficulty and meanness.”

She reminded the room that “young women begin to get influenced at earlier and earlier ages” by social expectations of body image.

“My opponent insulted Miss Universe!” she said, to laughs. “How do you get more acclaimed than that? But it wasn’t good enough.”

'Stand up to it': She went on.

“We can’t take any of this seriously anymore,” she said, her voice building. “We need to laugh at it. We need to refute it. We need to ignore it. And we need to stand up to it.”

She spoke of the “many young women online who are being bullied.” Some were hurting themselves, she said. It had to stop.

“We’re not all going to end up being Miss Universe, I hate to tell you,” she continued, wrapping up. “So let’s be the best we can be. Let’s be proud of who we are.”

Forum: Throughout the afternoon, the forum, which included many parents and their children, seemed to play to Clinton’s strengths. While she can at times appear less comfortable at rollicking rallies, her campaign has long believed that more intimate interactions with voters suit her well.

Fielding sympathetic questions from supporters, Clinton brandished her range.

Hillary Clinton, with her daughter, Chelsea, and the actress Elizabeth Banks, during a town hall at the Haverford Community Recreation and Environmental Center in Haverford, Pa., Oct. 4, 2016. Clinton spoke to and took questions from a largely female crowd on Tuesday in Haverford, the kind of Philadelphia suburb that could decide the critical state. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

She was wonky, true to form, engaging attendees in a less than catchy call-and-response exercise: “Do you have an interest rate on your student debt that is 8 percent or higher?” she said, asking for a show of hands.

She was sympathetic, responding to a mother who said she had lost a son to gun violence and then another to suicide after his sibling’s death.

“Thank you for being so brave,” Clinton said.

And she was playful, smiling as a middle school questioner said she had won a recent mock presidential debate while arguing Clinton’s side. “Thanks for winning,” Clinton replied. “That makes us 2 and 0.”

Chelsea: All the while, Chelsea Clinton sat at the ready, eager to chime in to trumpet her mother’s credentials.

“I wish that people really understood that ‘Stronger Together,’ that putting families and children first, isn’t rhetorical for my mom,” Chelsea Clinton said at one point, reciting her mother’s campaign slogan. “It’s what I’ve watched her do my whole life.”

She was not the only daughter in the room talking up a parent.

After the event, Brennan said that her father, a state senator, had helped her form the question that had so excited Clinton. (The Clinton campaign said questions had not been vetted.)

Brennan said she had lost a friend to suicide last year. Trump’s candidacy, Brennan said, has heightened her concerns at school.

“It’s really hard for me throughout school to see the pain Donald Trump inflicts on my friends,” she said, citing examples of bullying, “especially at such an insecure time as middle school and high school.”