Friday, September 30, 2011

Could New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's weight help him in running for President?

Paul Campos argues that Christie's weight could help him, in addition to hurting him:

Few things are more powerfully gendered in mainstream American culture than body size: Fatness in general is considered bad—and to some extent feminizing—but it is a more complex characteristic in men, and especially powerful men, than it is among women. While it’s true that it is bad for a man to be fat, it is unquestionably good for a man—and most especially a socially powerful man—to be big. Our language encodes this judgment in countless ways: For leadership we look to the big man, the man of substance, the heavyweight contender, the man who can throw his weight around, and so on. In this sense, [John] Corzine’s ad mocking Christie [for "throwing his weight around" to get out of traffic tickets] was inadvertently reminding viewers of a powerfully positive characteristic of his opponent. Indeed, I would venture to guess that a short, slim man who wanted to run for president would face more difficulties in regard to the cosmetics of power than Christie.

In addition, Christie’s weight could help him in another way, especially in the GOP primaries. In the context of contemporary American politics, an unapologetically fat body, at least a fat male body (again, it should be obvious that putting 50 pounds on Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin would instantly destroy their presidential aspirations), could well function as a kind of symbolic flipping off of the endlessly intrusive nanny state, so despised by both libertarians and cultural conservatives. Of course, this puts someone like Christie in a bit of a practical bind, since in order to take advantage of this sentiment he has to stop being a “good” fat person—that is, he needs to become unapologetic about his body, rather than putting on the shame-ridden performance expected of fat people by the health police.

So is Christie too fat to be elected president, or to at least win the GOP nomination? In my view, the contemporary politics of fat are too complicated to draw that judgment.