New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is dominating headlines this week, after news broke that his administration may have authorized the closure of a major bridge as a political act of revenge against a Democratic mayor who didn’t endorse him for re-election. Like many news stories that center on Christie, however, the public outrage is quickly devolving into unrelated criticism about his weight.
Chris Christie’s size is frequently subject to public discussion, leading to widespread speculation that he’s not healthy enough to run for higher office. Just in the past several months, conservative pundit Glenn Beck called him a “fat nightmare,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) suggested he could participate in a “fried Twinkie summit,” former Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) said it’s only natural for people to mock his “extreme” weight, and Time Magazine was widely rebuked for putting a photo of Christie on the cover along with the caption “The Elephant in the Room.”
The fat shaming is back this week. Predictably, the New York Daily News — which has a long history of putting jokes about Christie’s weight on its cover — made the most explicit references to the governor’s size:
Other outlets took a more subtle approach, but still indirectly called attention to Christie’s size. Talking Points Memo posted a headline that said simply “Big Trouble” atop an unflattering photo. The Huffington Post declared that Christie was a “bridge troll.”
The vitriol is especially heating up on Twitter, where users are mocking the scandal as “Fat and Furious” and suggesting that Christie blocked traffic by sitting on the bridge. On Thursday morning, an individual who called into Glenn Beck’s radio show mentioned that the joke was taking off, prompting the conservative pundit to jump in and tweet a “Fat and Furious” graphic:
Christie certainly is in the midst of a scandal that could be deemed big or large. But many newspapers across the country succeeded in conveying the news without resorting to language that subtly references his size, opting instead for headlines like “Bridgegate Bombshell,” “Christie in a Jam,” and “Bridge Scandal Engulfing Christie.”
The media often struggles to avoid body shaming, particularly when covering public health efforts to reduce the United States’ ongoing obesity epidemic. In reality, however, focusing on weight is an entirely ineffective strategy to encourage healthfulness. Fat shaming actually heads people to gain more weight. Public health experts recommend focusing on nutrition, rather than body size.
New Jersey’s governor has forcefully rejected suggestions that his weight is evidence that he’s neglected his health. “The idea that somehow, you know, I don’t care about this — of course I care about it. And I am making the best effort I can,” Christie said during a 2012 appearance on David Letterman. Last May, Christie announced that he had secretly undergone lap band surgery — a popular and reversible weight loss procedure that temporarily shrinks the size of the stomach — which helped him 40 pounds in just over a month.