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!



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  • Tee October 10, 2011 at 11:53 am

    This reality in our society as a whole, speaks to the superficial mindset that plauges gender equality. Yes, let’s hope that the double standard will be removed.

  • Amy October 3, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Women definitely bear the burden of physical scrutiny more than men. However, Christie’s size should be an issue in terms of health. It is very unhealthy to be THAT over weight and it is a sizable burden on society. We have to pay a lot more in health care costs because of all of the ailments associated with obesity–hypertension, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.
    The president is the leader and am enormous responsibility to set an example for his fellow citizens. Plus he’s a huge schmuck.

  • Sally October 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    While I agree that a woman of the same heft would be scrutinized more, I must disagree with your premise that the press doesn’t harp on Christie’s size. Just in the past few days, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post and Michael Kinsley of Bloomberg have written that Christie’s size makes him unqualified to run for president. Frank Bruni devoted his op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times to the subject and there have been plenty of late night jokes. But we have come a long way since the first woman elected to state office in PA was greeted on the campaign trail with, “We don’t care if she’s fat, we’re gonna vote for Genevieve Blatt.”

  • Kate October 3, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Great point! It would nice if all campaigning and debates took place only on radio (or in darkened auditoriums?) so we really would focus only on the ideas. But maybe then the race would just go to the person with the most alluring voice.

  • Ruth nathan October 3, 2011 at 9:24 am

    I think the nail has been hit. The turn in the essay caught me by surprise and the more I read the more the argument spoke to my own behavior. I will say that being fat, in the ways Christie is fat, is worrisome only in terms if his health. The added stress of being President in this day and age could do him in quickly, though I must say I know several slim people who gave died suddenly. But, the point of the essay is well-taken and right on.

  • Gail McConnon October 3, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Interesting article. One thing you failed to mention, however: If an overweight woman ran for president, most of the sniping would be done by women. Sure, men would comment on her physical attributes. And some would be quite harsh in their assumed knowledge of all that might mean in their pictures of the world.

    Many women, on the other hand, would be down right cruel. We women do that. We pick each other apart as if by doing so we are somehow made more whole and righteous ourselves. We do it because we want men to like us…and how much better to like us if we destroy “the enemy” who most resembles us.

    These are lies we tell ourselves, but we don’t catch on. It’s an inner competition thing many of us never seem to outgrow. And so, rather than lifting the female candidate up because – overweight or not – she may be the best person for the job, we tear her down and settle for what’s left – a man. And then we sit around complaining about all the ways a women could do the job better.