The biggest losers: Weighing Christie’s America


I love fat guys. They make me laugh. Until they die young. And then I’m sad.”Brian Doyle-MurrayRaising Hope, 2/5/13

Like many Americans, my mother has spent a good part of her life being concerned about her weight. For a time, she worked as a lecturer for Weight Watchers. I would occasionally accompany her to work, sitting next to the scale as one dieter after another received the bad news that she had lost not a single ounce in the preceding week. My mother would usually utter some words of comfort; I recall “retaining water” as a big favorite.

Once, on the way home, I noted how unfair it seemed that a certain nice lady who said she was following the program religiously still wasn’t seeing results. How could she be so good and still not lose weight?

“Because she’s lying!” my mother seethed. She knew the drill; nobody was going to put one over on her.

This guy will probably die before you. HAHAHAHA! (Wait, what?)
  • This guy will probably die before you. HAHAHAHA! (Wait, what?)

This guy will probably die before you. HAHAHAHA! (Wait, what?)

Chris Christie is lying. He’s lying when he says he’s tried to get down to a safe weight, but that nothing works for him. He’s lying when he says (somewhat contradictorily) that he’s going to make a fresh effort to slim down, but that he’s not guaranteeing us results. And he’s lying – or at least setting up a very low standard for achievement -- when he says he’s “the healthiest fat guy you’ve ever seen.”

Were Christie merely somebody’s tubby uncle, this would be none of our business. But he’s an almost maniacally public figure who just might be seeking the highest office in the land, and he’s so far been spectacularly dishonest in addressing a personal condition he had to know would be front and center.  That decision has consequences for more than just his family or the residents of his state (where I myself used to live): It’s preventing us from having a genuine conversation about what it means to be big in America.

The subject is a minefield to begin with, if only because prejudice against the overweight is so virulent (ironically, as ever more of us qualify for the designation). Also, being fat falls somewhere in the no-man’s land between luck of the draw and personal choice: A person’s exact weight isn’t genetically inevitable like his race or sexual orientation, but neither is it something over which he has complete control. There’s simply no way to look at a stranger and say just why he weighs what he does (even if we had a morally defensible reason to do so).

But just because absolute judgment is off the table doesn’t mean we can’t identify some extremes, double standards and false equivalences. As is so often the case, class just happens to be the (so to speak) 800-pound gorilla in the room. At the risk of sounding harsh, there is almost no good reason why someone with resources like the ones Christie possesses has to be morbidly obese. It might be in his DNA to be thick around the middle, but he couldn’t remain at his current, phenomenally hazardous heaviness without making some very poor and selfish choices. If he sincerely wanted to get his problem under control, he could easily afford the tools by which to do so – healthy food, access to workout equipment, etc.

The sound of 1,000 arteries just snapping shut.
  • The sound of 1,000 arteries just snapping shut.

The sound of 1,000 arteries just snapping shut.

In contrast, the great American middle and lower classes that Christie clearly seeks to lead have a far narrower window of opportunities. The food they can afford to eat is largely the most toxic sludge, and the jobs they’re lucky to hold down are likely to leave them chained to a desk all day long. The lifestyle into which they’re locked is quite literally destroying them from the inside. When they go home at night, they get to watch Christie shove a donut in his face on Letterman, making light of his situation while he’s on his off hours from denying them health care. It’s a wonder they don’t choke. (Him, too.)

Clearly, this avatar of personal responsibility is just seeing what he can get away with. He’s betting that he won’t really have to make any significant changes if he keeps stringing us along with sob stories and carefully qualified “promises.” He may even believe that, politically, there’s no reason to alter his profile – that his pronounced girth makes him more accessible to the electorate. Professional yes-men may be assuring him that Regular Joes and Janes look at him and think “He’s one of us.”

If he believes that, he’s an even greater fool than I’ve thought. Here’s a little secret: We don’t respond positively to our public figures because we think they’re “just like us.” We do so because we either find them just superior enough to trigger our aspirational impulses, or inferior enough to console us in our perceived failures.

This is why almost no one on TV or in the movies has the sort of body that’s found on the average, healthy human being. Most of our stars are thin and toned to a degree that’s just absurd enough to bring out our masochistic appetite for unfair comparison and ill-fated competition – thus ensuring a lifetime of struggle, shame and dejection, even if we can swing it financially.

Admit it: You'd gladly trade.
  • Admit it: You'd gladly trade.

Admit it: You'd gladly trade.

But we also keep around a regular cadre of funny fatties, and they’re the ones we really like. We can laugh contemptuously at them if we’re mean, or cluck our tongues in sympathy if we want to appear compassionate (the enlightened narcissist’s version of superiority). Either way, deep down, we aren’t thinking “That’s me all over.” We’re thinking “I’m no Kate Moss, but that guy has a problem!”

It’s real bread-and-circuses stuff, and the bread never stops coming. We’re stuck in a cycle of ill health and inadequate protection, with bloated buffoons like Christie for divertissement. That would seem to invite a national panic, but I guess it’s easier to just watch the clown show. It’s easier than focusing on the fact that our leaders are politely looking the other way while our commercial food producers do their level best to fucking kill us, leaving the private insurance industry to decide who gets saved and who doesn’t.

If you want to know who the biggest losers are in that scenario, just look in a mirror. And make sure it’s one of those three-way jobs.

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