Fat Jokes & Chris Christie: What If He Were a Woman?

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is a big man with a big personality – and he knows it.

He’s well aware of the jokes and jibes others make about his girth at his expense. And there are not many politicians in America that would take that mocking and play it up on national television. But that’s exactly what Christie did on “The Late Show With David Letterman” recently. Taking on Letterman, who never tires of poking fun of Christie for his weight with often-cheap shots, the governor one-upped the talk-show host, pulling out donuts to eat while he talked about his love for Dave. He was a good sport – there’s no argument about that. And, in fact, it left Letterman looking less-than-professional.

And, of course, the ensuing kerfuffle between Christie and former White House physician Connie Mariano, who essentially said he could easily die in office if elected commander-in-chief.

As most of us know by now, Christie has fought back, saying he’s ”the healthiest fat guy you’ve ever seen,” and told his critics to “shut up,” since they are causing his kids to think he’s going to drop dead any day now. There are plenty of people getting on the bandwagon of “Christie is overweight” and “he’s delusional” for thinking his weight doesn’t affect his performance, but his support bandwagon seems a bit smaller. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee did recently tell the Newark Star Ledger that “people ought to leave Governor Christie alone,” since he, too, battled weight issues all his life and ran Arkansas when he was at his heaviest.

But here’s some food for thought: What if Christie were a woman? Would we be so willing to criticize a potential female presidential candidate for her weight? Is it more acceptable to criticize a man in his political position for his girth than a woman? Why or why not?

Many have recently come to the side of women like funny lady Melissa McCarthy (“Bridesmaids,” “Mike and Molly” and “Identity Theft”), who was the target of ruthless and downright rude criticism from film critic Rex Reed, who actually referred to her as “tractor-sized,” “a humongous creep” and a “female hippo.” First off, the man should be maimed for calling anyone such horrid names publicly. But the fact that McCarthy is much beloved in Hollywood and extremely talented has many – like actors Chad Lowe and Eric Stonestreet (“Modern Family”) – rushing to her defense, aiming their ire publicly at Reed instead.

Other actresses and TV producers like Lena Dunham (“Girls”) have also has comments made publicly about her weight, but Dunham, along with Mindy Kaling (“The Mindy Project”), are writing their weight issues into their scripts – sending a message to their critics that they’re not skin-and-bones and they’re OK with that, they’ve got more pressing issues on their minds. Or that they – like millions of other Americans – do struggle with their weight and they don’t shy away from that struggle. It makes them more like real women – and men for that matter. These women are hailed as intelligent, witty pioneers who are sending the message that women who wear higher than a size 2 are very much a reality and that they should be judged on their merit and talent, not what the scale says.

However, these women are not running for the highest country in the land – but neither is Christie, as of now, anyway. Christie has said he has tried many times to lose the weight, and, like many Americans, hasn’t succeeded. Of course being overweight makes one more at risk for multiple health issue – but so does smoking. Have we forgotten that we elected President Obama to office when he was a smoker? He quit in 2010 but smoking absolutely puts one more at risk of disease – and even death. So where was this debate when he was running for office?

What if McCarthy were a fast-rising politician who many thought would run for the highest office in the land in 2016? Would we find it acceptable for Letterman or anyone else to publicly blast her for her weight – a painful issue for many, no matter their gender? Would we see more people rushing to her defense than we’ve seen come to Christie’s?

When it comes to weight, we rightly argue that women should instead be judged on their merits, their intelligence, their potential – no matter what the industry or the profession. So if we want that argument to be taken seriously, then shouldn’t we judge men by the same?

Contributor Liza Porteus Viana is a journalist with more than 12 years of experience covering politics. She also covers business, intellectual property and homeland security for a number of media outlets, and is editor of genConnect.com. Like many other moms, she is always trying to find that oh-so-elusive work-life balance as a full-time freelancer with a toddler at home in New Jersey. She previously worked at FOXNews.com as a national and political correspondent, and National Journal as a technology policy writer in Washington, D.C., and her work has appeared in publications such as Worth Magazine, Portfolio, Politics Daily, The Huffington Post and Forward Magazine. Liza tweets at @lizapviana and is on Facebook. She also blogs at lizapviana.com.

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  • I agree that people should lay off the issue with Christie. It’s not substantive at all. But I don’t think people would be more protective of a woman in the same circumstance. They would be harder, much, much harder on a woman, if she even GOT to that position. Looking at the women in Hollywood who you mentioned. The fact that they’ve had to be defended when male comedians their size don’t even register as a negative is the gender problem. Look at the physical critiques of Hillary. Look at the physical packaging behind Palin, Bachmann and other frontrunning women. A larger woman at that level of politics would be shredded–that’s why there isn’t one already there. Christie is lucky he’s a man or the treatment would be infinitely worse, not more respectful.

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