This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
In recent days, the significant girth of two prominent people has been a weighty issue in the news. The controversy that has been stirred up reflects much about Americans’ conflicted thoughts on body image and personal worth.
In a Feb. 5 review of the new movie, “Identity Thief,” critic Rex Reed refers to actress Melissa McCarthy as “tractor-sized” and goes on to use such terms as “humongous” and “hippo” to describe the character she plays.
Reed has been roundly criticized for his ungraceful comments, and many have come to McCarthy’s defense, citing her comedic talent as being more important than her appearance. Yet it’s widely acknowledged that actresses, models and women in other professions feel pressured to be slender to the point that many resort to dangerous diets, drugs and surgical procedures. The average American woman is a size 12; in Hollywood, a size 6 is considered chubby.
The message seems to be that in some cases, it’s OK to be fat – but you better have the goods to deliver at the box office.
Fortunately for McCarthy, an Oscar nominee in 2011 for “Bridesmaids,” her new movie is doing well despite so-so reviews.
More recently, a former White House physician commented about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s weight should he become president. In a CNN interview, Dr. Connie Mariano said, “I’m a Republican, so I like Chris Christie a lot. I want him to run. I just want him to lose weight. I worry about this man dying in office”
Christie – who described himself to David Letterman as “the healthiest fat guy you’ve ever seen in your life” – reacted defensively to Mariano’s comments, telling her to “shut up.”
But the doctor just said out loud what many people probably have thought – even if they’re among the 36 percent of American adults over age 20 who are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (another 33 percent are overweight but not obese). Christie himself has acknowledged that his “luck is going to run out relatively soon” if he doesn’t lose weight.
Will his girth be an issue should Christie run for president in 2016? Or will Americans have the same attitude as with McCarthy: If you’re good enough and likable enough, the added adipose isn’t a deal-breaker?
Many overweight and obese Americans probably identify with Christie and his admitted difficulties in sticking to diets. They may relate to him, but do they want someone who could be described as “a heart attack waiting to happen” in the Oval Office?
Americans might be getting more comfortable with plus-size models and entertainers, but it’s been a long time since they elected an obese president (William Howard Taft in 1908). If Christie’s aspirations include the White House, he should consider becoming a role model for millions of other obese Americans by embracing healthier habits.