Would America elect a fat president?
Welcome to the hot topic du jour, which has been making headlines since New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was suddenly thrust into the political spotlight as the most favorable 2012 Republican contender in the GOP presidential race (even though he has officially announced that he will not run for the White House).
The issue of Christie's ample waistline has gone viral in a matter of days. It has been exasperatedly addressed by the entire gamut of both traditional and non-traditional (blogs, Facebook posts, tweets) news covering the entire spectrum of media. Clearly, Chris Christie is not going to make the list of People's "Sexiest Men Alive," but to plaster his face all over the news as the poster child for what a (potential) American president shouldn't look like is, in my opinion, completely unacceptable. The fact that we even have the audacity to raise the question out loud is absolutely mind-blowing to me.
Now, I'm not at all objecting to the reality that evidently Christie is struggling with obesity, and that we as well as he are all aware of it, but what I am appalled at is that we are making it a determining factor in identifying what qualifies a candidate to be eligible to run for president.
I find this discussion rather disconcerting, especially taken from the perspective of our principles and ethics. What is it fundamentally saying about us on a social and cultural level? Are we that superficial and shallow, or is common sense, as they say, well, just not common? Personally, I'm tempted to settle for the word "hypocritical."
After all, isn't it hypocritical of us to be launching massive anti-bullying and anti-discrimination media campaigns while publicly inflicting the very same treatment we're condemning on a man who not only is not officially in the race, but who also, and perhaps most importantly, has openly shared his pain and guilt vis-à-vis his weight problem? What happened to "practice what you preach"? I believe that essentially, it is very much the same form of discrimination as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- sharing the sentiment that a homosexual person is not qualified to serve in the military; similarly, how logical is it to claim that a fat person is not competent to run for the U.S. presidency?
What's even worse is that we've continuously been bullying and harassing this man, via venom-filled news reporting, for being heavy-set, with little concern for how this collective persecution might possibly be affecting him on a personal level. Take late-night talk-show host David Letterman, for instance, who had no qualms ridiculing Christie about being fat: "You know who the Republicans want as their candidate is the tubby guy across the river, Chris Christie," Letterman joked on the Late Show. Granted, Letterman later apologized for his offensive remark, but was it necessary to even go there in the first place?
As a publicist, I certainly understand the concept that image is everything. I've witnessed several times the monumental impact that visual aids have on the media. I can't tell you how often I've pitched a story sans visual image to no avail, only to resend (a few days later) the exact same email with the addition of a hot picture to then ultimately secure editorial coverage.
There's no doubt that we are an image-driven country. We have almost become programmed to strictly focus on outward appearance as a meter to form an opinion about someone or something. We're such a visual society that we immediately judge how good a person is from the first look. FYI, Ted Bundy, one of the most notorious psychopaths in U.S. history, was a devastatingly handsome man... I'm just saying!
Now, I'm no political pundit, but surely it doesn't take an expert to see what's fundamentally wrong with putting Christie's weight under scrutiny. If we want to focus on the image factor, then let's look at some of the basic aspects of our fashion-centric modus operandi: the man presents well. He's got the business suits, the wife and the two kids, the charismatic personality, and he's well-read and verbose. The only glitch? He's fat, and that bothers us because?
Does it hit too close to home? Michael Moore seems to think so. When asked by Joy Behar if Americans would "tolerate" a fat president, the filmmaker gave a categorical "yes," explaining that "they like somebody that's like them" and that "most of America looks like" him. There's no denying that obesity is a national epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one third of U.S. adults (34 percent) and approximately 12.5 million children and adolescents (17 percent) are obese.
Now, as some members of the media have already pointed out, beyond an image issue, it is first and foremost a matter of health and what it says about Christie's strength of character. But if we're going to pull the health card and connect Christie's weight to his self-control and discipline, then why didn't we make a big deal about Obama's nicotine habit?
To be honest, it makes me a little nervous to think that we are privileging appearance over competence. What happen to the notion of an educated vote? Since when did the presidential election morph into a competition, à la Dancing with the Stars? This is not a vote of popularity.
Perhaps it is naïve of me to believe that once in the polling booth, people cast their votes based on an intelligent, informed decision evaluated solely on the basis of a candidate's professional qualifications and modicum of skill for serving the public.
I'm still speaking theoretically, as Chris Christie is not running for the presidency. But regardless, the mere fact that for the past few days we've made a big fuss about the magnitude of his size shows how small-minded we are in giving little importance to substance over form.
The deciding factor for voters in this entire election process is fat vs. fab -- seriously?