This morning I caught MSNBC’s Morning Joe, which was looking at N.J. governor Chris Christie’s obesity and whether it makes him unqualified to be president someday.
I’ve struggled with obesity in the past. Some of the struggle was the result of being on Prednisone, which stretched my appetite to horrific levels. I would work out to try to control the weight gain, but it wouldn’t last long. I have friends who are far more disciplined with their workout regimens than I could ever be. They tend to hold the belief that there are few legitimate excuses for being fat, that most of the typically given reasons are the talk of lazy people who need to grow a set of balls.
Most of my struggle, though, was because I was a binge eater who lusted after junk food as an alcoholic does vodka and whiskey. Eventually I had to quit flour and sugar to deal with the problem.
My personal experience makes me prickly toward those who criticize someone’s weight problem. I don’t see the subject as black and white. In my own case, there have been periods where my weight ballooned because I was simply stuffing myself with junk all the time. But there have been other times when the complications of Crohn’s Disease, a bad back and other maladies forced me to derail my fitness program.
Let’s look at the governor for a moment: That he’s obese is not debatable. Pictures of him standing next to a fit President Obama in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy are almost freakish looking, though when you put a fat person next to a thin one, the watcher’s perception is knocked off balance. Do I think he’d live longer if he lost weight? Sure.
But I don’t believe for a second that people should judge a candidate on his or her girth.
Being overweight comes with health risks, but so does being underweight. The diseased and incapacitated come in all shapes and sizes, as do the more sturdy among us. The dumbest and smartest among us are fat, thin and in-between.
We’ve had presidents who were obese. William Howard Taft and Grover Cleveland come to mind. History has handed both men a mixed assessment. We’ve had physically fit presidents with mixed records, too. George W. Bush was and still is a fitness fanatic. JFK looked glamorous and healthy, but he was sick most of his life and landed on death’s doorstep more than once before he was president. Addison’s disease gave his skin an odd, bronze color that he managed to pass off as a healthy tan. Then there was Teddy Roosevelt, who was both an athlete and advocate of “the strenuous life” but was also a glutton with some serious girth. Despite his health problems, including the weight and serious childhood asthma, he managed to do pretty much everything and carved a lasting legacy.
The point is that a person’s physical appearance and imperfect health should not disqualify them from anything, including public service.
I admire and am inspired by friends who have lost weight after embracing intense workout regimens. They also happen to have razor-sharp minds. But I don’t know if I’d vote for them if they ran for the White House.
I’ve accomplished much during periods of obesity and have failed during times of top physical form, when I would walk four miles a day no matter how dangerous the weather was at the time. I’ve also had successes as a thinner guy and failures as a fat guy.
We tend to oversimplify things when the talk turns to weight. We do so at our peril.