Fat and Famous

Louis XVIII

New Jersey governor Chris Christie had “lap-band” surgery three months ago, and has since lost 40 pounds. He didn’t really intend to make headlines over this particular topic, but some pesky reporter called and said they had the story, and wouldn’t he like the opportunity to tell his side? Incredibly, this personal health choice ended up being the subject of a 40-minute press conference which the governor, to his credit, called ridiculous and silly.

Christie told the press he had tried “a whole bunch of other things” and also that the decision to have the surgery was more of a health and family issue than a political one. Maybe so, but it might be the most important political decision he ever made, because he wants to run for President next time around, and one of the things that has been stalling his political career, according to some advisers, is that he has been overweight his whole adult life.

Apparently the governor’s personality is not the most dulcet, and political enemies have taken advantage of that, plus his bulk, to characterize him as “throwing his weight around.” But he (or one of his image consultants) does have a sense of humor. Kate Zernike and Marc Santora reported for The New York Times:

In February, about a week before the surgery, Mr. Christie made light of the issue by munching on a doughnut in an appearance on the ‘Late Show With David Letterman.’

Going for the Homer Simpson fan demographic? Indeed, some supporters seem to regard the governor’s heft as part of his “brand,” making him “relatable,” and lending the “Everyman appeal.” A couple of days after the Christie press conference, Michelle Obama was a guest on the “Today” show. Like the classy First Lady she is, the leader of the Let’s Move! campaign declined to say more than that the governor’s surgery was a very personal matter, and proceeded to take the opportunity to make her own point:

We want to start working with kids when they’re young, so that they don’t have these challenges when they get older.

The NYT journalistic team also wrote:

The political pressures are real in a country that has not elected an obese president since William Howard Taft more than a century ago. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas lost more than a hundred pounds before seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. Former Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi told reporters interested in whether he would seek the 2012 Republican nomination to watch his waistline for clues.

Christie’s detractors are not the first to turn a politician’s weight problems against him. History is replete with rulers who were mocked, or maybe even despised and reviled for their fatness. King August III, known as Otyly, “the overweight one,” ruled Poland back in the 1700s and is mainly remembered for importing French chefs who made better doughnuts than the traditional Polish item. Described by historian Simon Winder as “pitiful” and “a helpless and catastrophic figure,” he nevertheless fathered 15 children while driving his country into ruin.

Louis XIV of France was called the Sun King, or Roi Soleil. Later on, Louis XVIII (pictured above) came along and was called, in mean-spirited rhyme, Roi Foteille. It means Armchair King, derived from the fact that because of his amazing girth and the gout he suffered from, servants carried or wheeled him around in a chair.

The Mongol leader Subedei, known as Genghis Khan’s Dog of War, was the only invader who ever conquered Russia. No horse could support his huge weight, and he had to be hauled to a position overlooking the battlefield in an iron chariot.

A ruler with a similar inability to ride a horse was Sancho I, king of Leon (part of Spain) back in the 900s. He couldn’t even draw his sword properly, because his flab got in the way. The nobles believed his obesity to be a sign of moral turpitude, and kicked him off the throne. But then… Here is how Tamim Ansary describes the situation, in his book Destiny Disrupted:

Sancho then heard about a Jewish physician named who reputedly knew how to cure obesity. Hisdai was employed by the Muslim ruler in Cordoba, so Sancho headed south […] to seek treatments… Abdul Rahman the Third welcomed Sancho as an honored guest and had him stay at the royal palace until Hisdai had shrunk him down, whereupon Sancho returned to Leon, reclaimed his throne, and signed a treaty of friendship with Abdul Rahman.

Olaf II of Norway was known as “The Stout” or “The Fat,” but he later became an official saint according to the Catholic Church. So take that, skinny people.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Weight Led Governor to Surgery,” The New York Times, 05/07/13
Source: “First Lady: Christie’s struggle with weight,” NJ.com, 05/09/13
Image by Wikimedia.org.

Comments

  1. I’ve been watching a close friend die a slow and painful death from obesity. He was even told that lap band surgery might reverse his diabetes, but would not consider it.

    I don’t care one bit how weight impacts someone’s appearance but I know from personal experience that weight can mean life or death. Losing 50 lbs saved me from dying of congestive heart failure brought on by chemo.

    • Pat Hartman says:

      Hi Kate,
      Everybody who’s connected with you on Facebook has good reason to be so glad you lost those 50 lbs.

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