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Is Chris Christie Fit To Run For President?

No pun intended.

The Supreme Court’s new session starts today, #OccupyWall street protests continue in lower Manhattan, and the legal debate is raging after last week’s targeted assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, and yet all anyone wants to talk about is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie … and his weight. Lately, it seems there have been more stories in the mainstream media about Christie’s bulging waistline than any other topic.

It’s time to start focusing on Christie’s policies as governor.

First there was David Letterman’s fat-joke-laden Top Ten List last Tuesday. Then, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson’s advice to Christie to “eat a salad and take walk.” Then Michael Kinsley’s pledge not to support Christie until he “goes on a diet and shows he can stick to it”. And finally, the Atlantic’s plethora of stories which have filled its homepage everyday for the past week.

Concern over our president’s weight is nothing new. Don’t forget the media blitz surrounding Al Gore back in 2008, when his fluctuations in weight became the subject of speculation about a possible presidential bid. Yet this time around, it seems as though fatness has taken center stage.

The preoccupation with Christie’s weight can be explained by the mere fact that for better or worse, fatness is always fodder for jokes; it’s no surprise that late-night TV hosts have gone to town on Christie these past couple of weeks.

But, all jokes aside, the media’s preoccupation with Christie’s size is also a product of the new cultural and social stigma that surrounds obesity. From NBC’s hit-show The Biggest Loser, to Michelle Obama’s crusade against obesity in public schools, weight is on everyone’s minds, but always in a negative way. As obesity rates continue to rise in the U.S., it is becoming increasingly unacceptable to be fat, and there are a host of new studies documenting that overweight Americans say they feel more discriminated than ever.

Criticism of Christie on the basis of his weight is rooted in this larger problem; with the rise of anti-obesity initiatives has come the objectification of fat people.

Here's how we can move forward more productively.

First, rather than focusing on Christie’s weight, let’s focus on his policies as governor and track record as a leader. Have Christie’s aggressive budget-cutting initiatives succeeded? Will his record on education make him a leader on national education reform? Let’s not let Christie’s size distract from a real and serious questioning of whether he should be the face of the GOP.

Second, it’s time for a strong national conversation on the obesity crisis. Arm-chair punditing on Christie’s weight will not lead us to the creative and outside-the-box solutions we’ll need in order to curb obesity and country-wide. If all the media attention on Christie went toward opening up a real conversation on what’s behind our addiction to food, imagine how much faster we’d be able to address the problems we face.

Sadly, Christie’s current weight would make him more representative of the American people than any other GOP candidate. That’s the problem we should be addressing.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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