Chris Christie is not too fat to be president. Melissa McCarthy is not too heavy to star in movies. And who cares if Honey Boo Boo’s mom lost 100 pounds?
Get off the couch, America. It’s time for a real talk about obesity.
For proof, chew on these three recent stories that together make for a heaping helping of hypocrisy:
Christie jokingly gobbles a doughnut while David Letterman jabs him about his weight, prompting viewers to wonder again if the jolly New Jersey governor would be a bad fit for the White House in 2016. Never mind how the Republican Christie’s cooperation with the Obama administration in the wake of superstorm Sandy drew praise as the kind of bipartisan leadership this country sorely lacks.
Veteran movie critic Rex Reed labels the Emmy-winning McCarthy “tractor-sized” and “a hippo” while insinuating that her weight might have some negative bearing on the quality of her new film, “Identity Thief.” Pretty sure the success of mindless Hollywood comedies hinges more on their stars’ wattage than it does on their waistlines.
And yet Honey Boo Boo’s mother, Mama June – most famous for schlumping on a sofa, barking at her reality-show brood – is hailed for losing nearly a third of her body weight. Her contributions to society, besides letting voyeuristic America peek in on her train wreck of a family? Nil – the recipes for “Sketti” (spaghetti, butter and ketchup) and “Go Go Juice” (Mountain Dew and Red Bull) notwithstanding.
Are we really so concerned with the superficiality of physical appearance that we’d deny Christie the chance to lead and McCarthy the opportunity to act while simultaneously praising the exploitative Honey Boo Boo matriarch? In a nation where two-thirds of adults are overweight and 35 percent are obese?
Gary Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University, says no data exist suggesting that one’s physical size has any impact on the ability to act or to lead.
“If you’re looking at someone as a presidential candidate, of all the things to worry about, you’re going to worry about their body weight?” Foster said. “What about their ability to govern? What about their ability to balance a budget?
“It’s about a perception that somehow obese people are viewed as weak-willed or undisciplined. We’ve got to get past this as a society.”
Yes, obesity is a contributing factor to numerous diseases and early mortality. It is a serious problem heading in the wrong direction and needs to be addressed, but we can do so without summarily dismissing those afflicted.
“Melissa McCarthy is a gimmick comedian who has devoted her short career to being obese and obnoxious with equal success,” Reed wrote in the New York Observer, tossing aside the Plainfield, Ill., native’s list of achievements, which also includes an Academy Award nomination for her role in “Bridesmaids.”
OK, so McCarthy’s physique is not the stuff of traditional magazine covers, but plus-size stars can counter the barrage of starving, beanpole actresses twisting the body images of young girls toward emaciation.
“Sometimes I wish I were just magically a size 6 and I never had to give (my weight) a single thought,” McCarthy told Good Housekeeping last year. “But I am weirdly healthy, so I don’t beat myself up about it – it wouldn’t help, and I don’t want to pass that on to my girls.”
For Christie’s part, there’s no doubt he could do himself a favor by slimming down. We’ve not had an obese president in a century – not since William Howard Taft, who was remembered for ordering the executive bathtub replaced with an extra-large model. It’s endearing that Christie would eat doughnuts with Letterman, but it’s also akin to stealing a page from the playbooks of John Belushi, John Candy and Chris Farley – if you’ve got to play the role of the fat guy, might as well have audiences laughing with you rather than at you.
“If you talked to anybody who has struggled with their weight, what they would tell you is, ‘Every week, every month, every year, there’s a plan,’ ” Christie told Letterman. “The idea that somehow I don’t care about this, of course I care about it, and I’m making the best effort I can.”
Granted, Christie and McCarthy are not good role models for fitness. But if Michelle Obama can thrash her already-chiseled arms in the air in a call for healthier eating and more active lifestyles, couldn’t a president and an actress champion the same fight with the added personal investment of declaring, “I’m in it with you, America!”
We’ve reached a level of enlightenment where it is no longer acceptable to criticize others on the grounds of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, age or able-bodiedness. But we can still throw the overweight out with yesterday’s leftovers? As we lounge around, stuffing our faces and sitting in judgment of others?
“What’s sort of more remarkable about it is that in a climate of ultimate political correctness, that discriminating against people who suffer from obesity seems to be the last socially acceptable form of bigotry,” Foster said. “If it were anything else, people would be up in arms about it.”