A weighty issue for the USA: can a fat man be president?

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
The Conversation /
October 04, 2011 /

Click here to view original /

Of all the many health-related, stamina-centred, role-model unworthy criticisms of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie joining the Republican 2012 hopefuls, the most perplexing are allegations of his lack of self-control.

This oh so simplistic narrative supposes that being fat is merely a lack of discipline, and that this lack of discipline – this inherent character flaw – renders good leadership nothing but a pipe dream.

Sidelining my many concerns with the dime store pop psych (mis)understandings of obesity, I’m more interested in the even less convincing argument about self-discipline. Since when has self-discipline been a mandate for political office?

We live in a politically correct age where openly calling Governor Christie too fat would be perceived as bigoted. Instead, the same allegation gets made, only the slur is dressed up with faux-diagnostic platitudes.

Christie doesn’t get called fat, instead his weight is pathologised. Instead of blunt honesty reflecting society’s preoccupation with thin and pretty and our widespread contempt for heavy, Christie’s weight gets repackaged as a character failing. Calling him fat would be crass; instead he just gets called weak-willed.

Apparently an inability to be disciplined with food, with exercise, correlates with an inability to be disciplined in political office. And apparently, self-discipline, self-restraint, self-denial and self-abnegation are now thoroughly desirable attributes.

Such bizarre, such self-flagellating and such seldom ever seen characteristics evidently only become important when they might prevent a fat bloke making it to the White House.

The plushy, the masochist, the leather fetishist, the Captain and Tennille listener, each knows to keep their predilections secret. Knows that in our culture to out yourself as someone who, on occasions, dabbles in non-mainstream, non-openly acceptable pastimes can be professional suicide. Knows that a little weekend S&M renders you nothing more than a sadomasochist in the eyes of the narrow-minded majority.

That no matter all of your very many virtues, no matter your intellect, no matter your sense of humour or your kind-heartedness or generosity, that you become defined by that one fringe interest and everything else is irrelevant.

Regardless of every other attribute Christie possesses and no matter how good (or in his case, bad) his politics are, his fatness, his one supposed character flaw, has becomes the sum of him. That while I might suggest that facing the fat-loathing world daily illustrates bravado, confidence, triumph over adversity and chutzpah, to many, apparently it’s just all much less important than the fat. Chris Christie gets reduced to his obesity.

Overindulging in food or insufficiently exercising or being cursed with dodgy genetics can and frequently do (un)happily exist just like any other personality attribute: quietly in our backgrounds.

Each of us functions with our virtues and flaws and predilections and neuroses in tow. And we all manage normal, varyingly successful lives because we’re each more than any one of our issues.

To arbitrarily select fat as a trait that’s more egregious than any other is no more intellectual or insightful or any less prejudiced than simply admitting that we just don’t like fat.

To consider fatness as a result of a lack of discipline is hypocritical and overlooks endless examples where we all lacks restraint; mobile phones and online connectivity and breathing and sleeping being classic examples.

Ours is a culture that doesn’t like difference; certainly not of the kind that can’t be closeted, concealed or adequately suppressed. Evidently we’re just too polite to say so and instead rely on parroting ill-conceived diagnoses.

© Lauren Rosewarne