Jenice Armstrong: Nikki Haley isn't past her 'prime.' But Don Lemon said what a lot of people think

From the commentary: America needs to get over its obsession with women's appearance and age. Lemon felt comfortable saying what he did because he knew a lot of people would agree with him.

Newly announced Republican candidate for President Nikki Haley during a town hall on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Exeter, New Hampshire.
Newly announced Republican candidate for President Nikki Haley during a town hall on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Exeter, New Hampshire.
(Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/TNS)

CNN anchor Don Lemon said on air last month that GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley , 51, "isn't in her prime."

More Commentary:
From the commentary: With a return to many offices, young Americans are trying to enter the gray flannel world at a time when many aren't even sure what that world wears these days.
From the commentary: If anchorman Ron DeSantis has his way, freedom (of speech) loses. Liberty loses. And that's not a victory for anyone.
From the commentary: Mexico is not our enemy. It's a friend, ally, trading partner and good neighbor. In fact, Americans don't realize how lucky we are that — unlike many other countries around the globe — we don't have a hostile country on our border.

Since then, Lemon — who is six years older than Haley — has gone through "sensitivity training," and apologized for his comments.

But I'm still not over it.

Don Lemon
Don Lemon attends the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Hosts 2019 Ripple Of Hope Gala & Auction In NYC on Dec. 12, 2019 in New York City.
(Mike Pont/Getty Images/TNS)

Lemon's comments made me irate. Of course, women aren't past their prime at age 50. But his opinion was a true reflection of what many people feel, of the implicit bias against women that so many of us struggle with in the workplace and our personal lives.

Granted, Haley got tongues wagging after her recent proposal that presidential candidates over the age of 75 need to undergo mental competency tests. When he was chatting about it on CNN This Morning on Feb. 16, Lemon said talking about age made him uncomfortable. Then he went on to make the bizarre claim: "Nikki Haley is not in her prime, sorry. A woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s."


Coanchor Poppy Harlow said, "Wait, prime for what?" But Lemon didn't let up. "If you google when is a woman in her prime, it will say 20s, and 30s and 40s," he added.

As mad as I was, I didn't want to see him fired (I still remember him from his days at NBC10). Luckily for him, CNN initially didn't discipline Lemon too hard, other than taking him off the air for a few days. But the fact he felt comfortable making such an outrageous claim while seated between two female cohosts is troubling.

Regardless of how you feel about Haley's politics, there's no denying that she is an accomplished woman. A former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she also served as the first female governor of South Carolina. The last two men who ran for president were in their 70s. The idea that Haley would be past her "prime" at 51 is ludicrous.

Lemon's blunder was a reminder that, no matter how far they rise or what they achieve, women are judged primarily not by their accomplishments but by how they look, which is influenced by their age. Americans like to think we are so evolved as a culture, but the reality is that in many ways we are still in the dark ages when it comes to respecting women.

Madonna experienced that last month after she appeared at the Grammy Awards.

With her overly plump cheeks and lips, the 64-year-old pop icon was nearly unrecognizable. But the way that viewers carried on, you would think she had committed some egregious offense, like murdering someone onstage. Instead, her only crime was aging.

Madonna's only crime was aging.

It saddens me that the Queen of Pop appears to have drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid and resorted to plastic surgery, presumably to look younger. It would have been a boost to older women everywhere if the former Material Girl had showed up as herself at 64, wrinkles and all. Madonna being Madonna, she wasted no time in clapping back on Instagram, writing, in part, "Once again I am caught in the glare of ageism and misogyny [t]hat permeates the world we live in. A world that refuses to celebrate women past the age of 45 and feels the need to punish her if she continues to be strong willed, hard-working and adventurous."


Canadian news anchor Lisa LaFlamme caught it last year after she let her hair go gray during the pandemic. Before long, the 58-year-old was off the air. Her bosses denied that ageism had anything to do with it, but when's the last time that you saw a gray-haired woman anchor a newscast? (LaFlamme was replaced by a 39-year-old man.) Meanwhile, I can't recall a time when our beloved, former 6abc anchor Jim Gardner didn't sport a head full of gray hair. And let's not forget Anderson Cooper, whose gray hair doesn't seem to be holding him back.

Elevating the importance of a woman's appearance above everything she has accomplished is more than just unfair. LaFlamme may have lost her job because of it, despite being one of the most-watched newscasters in Canada. In her 2017 memoir, What Happened, Hillary Rodham Clinton estimated that, while running for president in 2016, she spent a whopping total of 600 hours just getting her hair and makeup done for public appearances. That's equal to 25 days that she could have devoted to other things.

"I'm not jealous of my male colleagues often, but I am when it comes to how they can just shower, shave, put on a suit, and be ready to go. The few times I've gone out in public without makeup, it's made the news," she wrote, according to an excerpt in Refinery 29. "So I sigh, and keep getting back in that chair, and dream of a future in which women in the public eye don't need to wear makeup if they don't want to, and no one cares either way."

More Opinion:
From the commentary: If Stormy Daniels were all he had to worry about, Donald Trump would be in better shape than he is. Stay tuned.
From the commentary: Increasing the deposit insurance cap and focusing on small business transaction accounts could stabilize midsize banks, reduce more deposit transfers out of those institutions, and shore up confidence in the banking system. If there is enough support in Congress, the Biden administration should submit a request for rapid approval.
From the commentary: Take springtime, season of quickening, season of equal parts shadow and light — the very equation at its astronomical heart, the vernal equinox marking the fleeting moment when earth’s axis aligns directly with the sun, and the planet is neatly halved with equal allotments of light, and the sun shines squarely on the equator.
From the commentary: During these times of increasing polarization, community conversations in libraries continue to show us there is so much more that connects us than divides us.
From the commentary: In the administration’s rush to appease the powerful oil industry, it has once again demonstrated that no matter which party is in power, it must kowtow to corporate interests who green-wash their way to record profits at the expense of our planet’s health
From the commentary: There is a way, meanwhile, politicians can put themselves in charge: They can buy the business.
From the commentary: Parents are witnessing the fallout from these political attacks on teachers as districts resort to substitutes and larger class sizes because they can’t hire enough staff.
From the commentary: The divisive rhetoric permeating the political landscape today is even filtering down to what used to be less partisan areas — like official White House and congressional accounts.
From the commentary: As bystanders in the political farce consuming much of the Republican race for president, we can give thanks that DeSantis has decided to battle against the sinister forces of wokeness and leave the important issues pretty much alone.
From the commentary: The fact that most Americans speak only English puts our country at an economic disadvantage and threatens national security if we cannot understand and analyze potential threats such as terrorism or contagions.

That's not going to happen any time soon. Just this week, Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke got dragged on Twitter after she posted a natural-looking selfie. She's only 36.

America needs to get over its obsession with women's appearance and age. Lemon felt comfortable saying what he did because he knew a lot of people would agree with him.

That's the part I just can't get over.

Jenice Armstrong is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. This commentary is the columnist's opinion. Send feedback to:

©2023 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

What To Read Next
Get Local