Although plenty of Republican Presidential candidates have thrown their hats in the ring, the party faithful continues to yearn for additional choices. Some are urging New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to enter the race. They enthuse about his plainspoken manner and conservative fiscal policies. But they’re careful not to mention the elephant in the room — the fact that Christie resembles an elephant himself!
Christie is fat. He has talked about his weight in interviews and speeches, but his supporters rarely mention that their man is larger than the average candidate. (Although, to put the matter in historical context, he’s not as big as President Taft, who weighed in at 300 pounds.) The press doesn’t harp on Christie’s size. They mention it and then move on. And that’s as it should be. It’s his ideas and abilities that matter, not his girth. But can you imagine what would happen if a fat woman ran for President?
Press coverage about her size would be nonstop. Her eating and exercise habits would be critiqued. The media would scream every time she was photographed with a donut in her hand. Every comic in America would be cracking jokes about her tush. Political opponents would argue that her inability to control her food intake was bound to translate into an inability to control Congress. Magazine covers would show her looking her worst. The press attention to this “weighty issue” would be relentless. Why? The sad fact is that an unattractive man can run for office (and win.) But an unattractive woman better think twice.
When Hilary Clinton was running for her party’s nomination in 2008, both the press and the public endlessly scrutinized her appearance. Her pantsuits got almost as much popular press as her policies. Unprintable jokes about her looks circulated on the Internet. More recently, opponents of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi compared the Speaker’s appearance to that of the cartoon villain Skeletor. We’ve read as much about Michelle Obama’s muscle tone (those fabulous arms!) as about her politics. And it’s no surprise that both Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann get positive press for being, as some commentators have put it, “smokin’ hot babes.” If you’re a woman in the public eye, attention will be paid to your looks.
When women first struggled to win the vote, one argument made by opponents was that women voters wouldn’t take this obligation seriously — we’d simply vote for the most handsome candidate! Actually, recent research does support the notion that everyone — men and women — when given a choice will tend to favor the more attractive candidate, whether it be in hiring, courting, or voting.
This tendency to fall for a good-looking candidate isn’t about to change overnight, but maybe it’s time to think about changing our ways. While we look critically at the candidates, let’s also take a look at ourselves. Democracy shouldn’t be a beauty pageant. Both women and men should be free of the burden of passing a beauty test before the electorate gets to judge them on their ideas and abilities.
We think it’s great that people are examining Governor Christie’s programs and not focusing on his size. We just hope that when an obese woman decides to run, she’ll get equal treatment.
To put it another way — it ain’t over till the fat lady runs. And wins!