Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni: Female voters vs fear of fat

Obese politicians may find that women understand their weakness

Would enough people be prepared to vote for an extraordinarily fat man? Illustration / Anna Crichton
Would enough people be prepared to vote for an extraordinarily fat man? Illustration / Anna Crichton

This week in America, one of the contenders most likely to be the 2016 Republican presidential candidate defiantly ate a doughnut on late night television; it was a glazed and jelly-filled two-fingered salute to his critics.

The Republican was Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey; the late-night televised gabfest was the David Letterman show. And the "critic" who provoked the most ire from Christie was former White House doctor Connie Mariano, who in a recent interview said she feared the corpulent Christie would cark it in office if he was elected without getting his weight under control.

Shut up, Christie advised Mariano, adding that he was the most healthy fat guy his doctor had ever seen (the doctor had one caveat: Christie's luck would "run out real soon" - sort of proving Mariano's point).

Certainly, in his frequent, bombastic speeches and interviews and non-stop touring of his storm-ravaged state, Christie has shown little sign of letting his lard slow him down.

He appears vigorous, vital even, and his popularity soars with each doughnut devoured and critic chewed out.

But as an obese man - which he veritably is, rather than just slightly over the insurance-company ordained BMI chart average, like so many of us - should the United States, nay the world, worry about this man's risk of heart disease, stroke or diabetes were he to assume power?

That's one question, but perhaps it's supplementary to the main one: would enough people be prepared to vote for an extraordinarily fat man to become President?

Not if the recent past is any guide. Chester A. Arthur (21st President), Grover Cleveland (22nd and 24th) and William Howard Taft (27th) were on the portly side, but more modern Presidents have been mere shadows of those hefty predecessors.

All sorts of maladies could be hidden from public view until recent times (ie, a President with Addison's disease - John F. Kennedy). Even now, in these days of full disclosure, the US has twice voted for a smoker as President (and a socialist of Kenyan descent to boot) but still, obesity remains the last threshold to cross. And not just in terms of presidential elections but also in the everyday; in our workplaces and the schoolyards.

It is perhaps, as many believe, the last type of "permissible" discrimination left, pointing up a basic truth about human nature: we are conditioned to find certain things repellent, we the sheeple, and our visceral fear and loathing of fat is hard to dislodge, no matter what percentage of the population cross the line into obesity.

Women have it much worse. In New Zealand we've had our obese Prime Ministers and business leaders, and even Kim Dotcom is seen as a bit of a cuddly counter-culture figure rather than whaled on for his girth. But we could never have an obese woman as Prime Minister; even our largeish female MPs are subject to constant and needless references to their bodies (Paula Bennett's weight, for example, clearly an ever-present consideration on the mind of John "Front Bums" Tamihere).

It's a sad fact of life that the plump woman is the most vilified of all. But most women can empathise with the struggle against fat, and that might be why Chris Christie, he of the defiant doughnut, is currently enjoying his highest poll ratings ever. When politics and power is a popularity contest, fear of fat might just be pipped by the power of the sympathetic female voter.

- NZ Herald

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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