Fat chance: if Christie runs, prejudice runs with him

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
October 03, 2011 /

Click here to view original /

Word is that despite his many emphatic denials, New Jersey governor Chris Christie is reconsidering joining the field of Republican hopefuls.

You know, because the bigoted pizza guy and the Stepford Wife and the ragtag posse of cashed-up crackers haven’t thrown enough hats in the ring.

“We need you!” cried overzealous fans at one of Christie’s very many this-ain’t-no-campaign-rally rallies.

My first ill-fated romance was with a New Jersey native. His accent reminded me of Bruce Springsteen, his company delivered some soft thrills and admittedly I’m very often smitten by novelty.

Less Springsteen and more Bobby Bacala, but I’m no less enamoured by Christie. And I’m truly hoping this chubby bloke gets a fair go if he does run. Even if he leans towards the devil’s side of politics.

Truth be told, the voyeur in me has always liked seeing Vlad Putin doing judo, John Howard busting out backyard cricket moves and Tony Abbott frightening marine life. I take perverse delight in watching middle-aged men kid themselves into believing that playing He-Man will distract Father Time.

But as amusing as it is to watch these blokes “prove” that they have the ticker for politics, their – ahem – athletic prowess has absolutely nothing to do with their ability to lead. That the media buys into this stupidity is a depressing indictment on contemporary political coverage. Worse, it spotlights just how very diluted our expectations of leaders has become.

It’s a tired point but a potent one: culturally we’re obsessed with looks. Charts are dominated by performers whose music talent is much less detectable than their ability to rock hot pants; the Academy Award only ever goes to the actor who dares feign ugly.

While the gift of being aesthetically palatable has absolutely nothing to do with political ability, apparently pleasing looks are integral for anybody aspiring to office. Of course being vaguely pleasing isn’t quite enough. Apparently we need our leaders thin too. And if they’re not, if they dare manage to get their plump selves to office, then their extra kilos will haunt their every moment in the public eye.

Just ask Kim Beazley. And Joan Kirner. And Christine Nixon. And Amanda Vanstone.

Heavier leaders will be subjected to the predictable, run-of-the-mill criticisms plaguing their skinnier counterparts, but then they get subjected to the extra digs too. The fat jokes. The cheap cartoons. The snide remarks, the endless speculation that somehow a higher body weight immediately renders a person less healthy, less able and less of a role model.

To make assumptions about Christie’s health based on his girth is simply gussied up fattism. Surprise, surprise, slimmer men – cue reports on Rudd’s heart issues and Obama’s dodgy hip and John McCain’s skin cancers – get sick too.

To make assumptions about Christie’s stamina based on his weight is merely a scarcely subtle way of claiming that he’s too fat for office. Shock horror, slimmer men – cue reports on Tim Fischer, John Brumby, and Lindsay Tanner’s resignations – get burnt out too.

To claim Christie’s weight makes him a bad role model is quite possibly the most egregious form of fattism. Slimmer men – cue reels and reels and reels of footage of every single politician ever caught with fingers in the till or an underage prostitute in the passenger seat– frequently make the dreadful role models.

Christie’s weight has absolutely nothing to do with his ability to govern and everything to do with a media obsessed to the point of distraction with window dressing. Policy has to take precedence over packaging. Regardless of pants size.

© Lauren Rosewarne