Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie dashed the hopes of many a frustrated golf playing white guy when he announced yesterday that now is not the time for him to vie for the Republican Presidential nomination. In the weeks leading up to his announcement, speculation swirled about his policy positions and viability as a candidate, but also we spent a lot of time talking about how fat he is.
While the topic of Christie's weight was being discussed on The View's, Elisabeth Hasselbeck had a rare moment of semi-coherence when she pointed out the discussion would be different if Chris Christie were a woman. Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post goes even further, arguing that if Chris Christie were a woman, we wouldn't even be discussing her Presidential prospects, because America would never consider voting for a fat female Presidential candidate. A fat female politician, she points out, "would never have been governor of New Jersey in the first place."
Why? Because, she asserts, for female candidates, appearance matters more, as evidenced by simple observation. Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, while they leave much to be desired in the realm of meaningful experience, analytic skills, and ability to form coherent sentences, fit perfectly into the physical mold cast by voter expectation. South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, while not as prone to dramatic public gaffes as their aforementioned Tea Party sisters, are also svelte and well-put-together. According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, over 60 percent of American women are "overweight," but one would struggle to find that fact reflected in the appearance of female politicians.
Further, being physically flawed is seen as a sign of regular guy-ness in male candidates. Marcus writes,
There is an Everyman aspect to a pudgy male pol. He can lament his weight without being humiliated by it.
Christie's obesity offers a regular-guy contrast to Mitt Romney's chiseled chin and perfect hair. "I weigh too much because I eat too much," he confessed after being treated for an asthma attack this summer. "And I eat some bad things too." Who can't identify with that?
Americans love their politicians relateable, in other words, but only men are allowed to relate to us by being physically imperfect.
Female politicians are also discouraged from publicly remarking on their own bodies; to do so would go against an unspoken code that implies the female politician's body is there for public discussion and comment, but not to be owned or controlled by the woman herself. When Vogue interviewed New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand, she shied away from discussing her recent weight loss on the record.
When President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, some concerned onlookers (who I'm sure only cared about her health, because they always only care about health when telling women how their bodies should look.) implied that perhaps Sotomayor was too fat to serve on the Court, and that any woman who didn't possess the self-control and intelligence necessary to remain svelte was probably unfit to occupy a position of power.
The unpleasant truth is that women in all roles, and not just political aspirants, are judged more harshly for their weight. Until the underlying reality changes, any heavy woman who hopes to serve as America's first female President better invest in some Spanx and vertical striped pantsuits.