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The Wednesday Weigh-In

9th June 2010

The Wednesday Weigh-In

by Rachel

Margarita Tartakovsky of the blog Weightless interviews Cheryl Kerrigan, author of the new book Telling ED NO! and Other Practical Tools to Conquer Your Eating Disorder and Find Freedom.

Fat Lot of Good blogger Bri weighs in on a recent study that found that children whose mothers were chronically abused by their partners were more likely to be fat by age 5.  Because being fat is so much more pressing of an issue than being victimized by domestic violence.

Urban Outfitters removes what many are calling a pro-ana t-shirt from its website, but the “Eat Less” shirt remains available in stores.   Outraged?  Join the Girlcott Urban Outfitters group on Facebook.

Should appearance-based discrimination be treated with the same weight as we give to other -isms like racism and sexism?  That’s the question Deborah Rhodes tackles in her new book, The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law. Read Dahlia Lithwick’s review of the book on Slate.

Just when you thought the insanity would never end…  It’s not enough that some parents lose custody of their obese children because of their weight.  Now a British animal welfare council has seized custody of an obese dog.  The pudgy pup Gucci is said to now be on a strict diet and exercise regime at a special canine fat club.

FEAST has launched its Around the Dinner Table Plate Drive through June.  The fundraising initiative supports the group’s mission, which is to empower families and support parents and caregivers in helping loved ones recover from eating disorders.

The British Mail’s Lucy Taylor ruminates on on how she gave up running and learned to simply enjoy the journey.

Oprah.com contributor Karen Salmansohn looks at the Fox and ABC refusal to air the sexy new Lane Bryant lingerie commercials in a different light: “The fact that a TV network would find this Lane Bryant spot far more sexually enticing than Victoria’s Secret spots — which air all the time — simply shows they’re acknowledging the extreme sexiness of voluptuous women!”

Comments?  Any links to share?  Add your two cents in the comments below.

posted in Anorexia, Body Image, Body Politic, Body-Affirming, Eating Disorders, Fat Bias, Feminist Topics, Legal Issues, Mental Health, Non-profits, Politics, Pop Culture, Rachel | 12 Comments

22nd April 2010

Was your health insurance policy canceled after an eating disorder diagnosis?

by Rachel

Reuters, via MSNBC, today has an absolutely heart-breaking story on women whose insurance companies found ways to drop their coverage shortly after being diagnosed with breast cancer.   WellPoint, which has the most policyholders (33.7 million) of any health insurance company in the nation, is one of the worst offenders — it specifically used a computer algorithm to target  newly diagnosed breast cancer victims and then triggered a fraud alert for aggressive investigation with the intent to find any pretext, no matter how flimsy or relevant, with which to cancel their policies.  Women who had paid their policies faithfully for years suddenly found themselves without insurance just when they needed their coverage the most.

The process of canceling one’s coverage shortly after a diagnosis of a life-threatening, expensive medical condition is known as rescission.  Insurance companies have used the practice for years and while cases of such have been well documented by law enforcement agencies, state regulators and even a congressional committee, laws restricting the unethical and illegal use of the practice aren’t enforced as they should be.  As one former federal prosecutor explained, “The industry just has these tremendous financial, legal and political resources that others don’t.  In my own state (Calif.), regulators are often afraid or unwilling to go up against them.”

According to the article, the two conditions that most commonly trigger rescission both affect primarily women: breast cancer and pregnancy.  Breast cancer can be costly to treat and pregnancy holds the potential for a child born with a disability, so policyholders with these conditions are scrutinized and probed more closely for possible rescission.  Other conditions are targeted, too.  Assurant Health was ordered by courts to pay millions of dollars in settlements after it was determined that they similarly targeted HIV-positive policyholders for rescission.

The article left me both enraged and curious…  Some 11 million people are afflicted by eating problems, ranging from anorexia and bulimia to binge eating, according to the NEDA.  And eating disorders can be very costly to treat, especially anorexia and in cases requiring in-patient treatment.  The self-pay cost at the Renfrew Center’s Philadelphia treatment center, for example, runs a staggering $8,050 per week!  We’ve heard of families suing their health insurance providers to cover more of the costs associated in eating disorder recovery — these suits, in fact, helped fuel the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 — but I haven’t heard of a case yet in which an insurance company targeted a person or family for rescission following an eating disorder diagnosis or request for coverage in the treatment of an eating disorder.

But just because we haven’t heard of one doesn’t mean that the practice doesn’t exist.   In the case of the women with breast cancer, one woman seemed to become aware of the pattern only after joining a breast cancer support group in which four of the five women in the group saw their policies canceled as the result of their diagnosis. State agencies can and do conduct audits on health insurance providers, but companies like WellPoint have fought “vigorously” to keep incriminating information from prying government eyes.  An investigation last year by the House Energy and Commerce Committee determined that WellPoint and two of the nation’s other largest insurance companies — UnitedHealth Group Inc and Assurant Health — made at least $300 million by improperly rescinding more than 19,000 policyholders over one five-year period.  But when committee investigators asked for contact information for some of the records grudgingly produced by WellPoint, the insurance company refused to give it.   Investigators then suggested that WellPoint itself could inform the ex-policyholders that a congressional committee had interest in their case and WellPoint declined to do that as well. If you aren’t aware that a pattern of criminal behavior exists, that you’re a victim of it and that there are others like you, how do you even know to fight back?

I’m curious as to whether anyone here has had their insurance policies canceled as the result of an eating disorder diagnosis or even because of their weight or other health conditions.   Share your health insurance horror stories in the comments below.

posted in Eating Disorders, Legal Issues, Mental Health, Rachel, Recovery | 7 Comments

25th January 2010

Fight now or pledge allegiance to the United States of Exxon

by Rachel

An Examined Life will continue this week, but I wanted to bring to your attention a very important matter with political implications for all Americans.  Last week the Supreme Court effectively deregulated the American electoral process by striking down a century-old ban against corporate spending directly on political campaigns in federal elections.  With that 5-4 decision, the court, in essence, has transformed the highest offices of the land into an auction to be controlled by the likes of Exxon, Big Pharma and Wal-Mart.  The ramifications of the decision cannot be overstated.  As the New York Times sums up in its excellent editorial:

As a result of Thursday’s ruling, corporations have been unleashed from the longstanding ban against their spending directly on political campaigns and will be free to spend as much money as they want to elect and defeat candidates. If a member of Congress tries to stand up to a wealthy special interest, its lobbyists can credibly threaten: We’ll spend whatever it takes to defeat you.

…The majority is deeply wrong on the law. Most wrongheaded of all is its insistence that corporations are just like people and entitled to the same First Amendment rights. It is an odd claim since companies are creations of the state that exist to make money. They are given special privileges, including different tax rates, to do just that. It was a fundamental misreading of the Constitution to say that these artificial legal constructs have the same right to spend money on politics as ordinary Americans have to speak out in support of a candidate.

This decision touches upon nearly every facet of Americans’ lives, but in particular for readers here, it has the potential to affect causes near and dear to our hearts.  A quick rundown of what may loom in the near future:

  • Corporations like Johnson & Johnson, who have huge and multiple stakes in the weight-loss industry, have long fought to fight to have obesity classified as a disease, for if obesity is a disease or a mental illness, government and private insurance will be forced to cover products and treatments for its treatment.  Groups like the American Obesity Association–which is supported by the pharmaceutical industry and commercial diet-mongers like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig and also advocates obesity to be classified as a disease–have gone so far as to argue for “fat taxes” to be leveraged against fat Americans.  In 2008, Johnson & Johnson alone posted annual sales of $63.7 billion.  If the company directed less than 3 percent of those earnings to political lobbying, they will have spent more than the combined 2008 presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain — which in itself was more than double the amount spent by both candidates in the 2004 election.* With the court’s overturn on corporate electoral spending, how long before corporate interests masquerading in doctor’s smocks are allowed to dictate treatments and taxes that support only their bottom line ?
  • Proposals have already been made to develop and adopt national standards for company-run “wellness plans” with tax incentives and credits given to companies based on whether or not their employees meet “wellness objectives” such as weight, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and other arbitrary levels of health as defined by people with no otherwise right to peek into your medical file.  Corporations, of course, like this proposal because it offers them a relatively inexpensive return on investment — simply adopt a government approved wellness plan and then either not hire or fire those employees who don’t meet the new government health standards.  With the court’s overturn on corporate electoral spending, how long before corporations lobby their candidates of choice to make this proposal the law of the land?
  • Last year, Congress finally passed H.R. 1424, which among other things provides equity in the coverage of mental health and substance use disorders by ensuring that group health care plans do not charge higher co-payments, coinsurance, deductibles, and impose maximum out-of-pocket limits and lower day and visit limits (provided that they offer mental health coverage).  The bill is set to take effect this October.  With the court’s overturn on corporate electoral spending, how long before Big Health Insurance Corporations lobby Congress to enact laws and amendments that erode at this coverage

In response to the ruling, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fl) has filed five campaign six campaign finance bills to secure the people’s “right to clean government.”   The bills have names like the Business Should Mind Its Own Business Act and the Corporate Propaganda Sunshine Act. The first slaps a 500 percent excise tax on corporate spending on elections, and the second mandates businesses to disclose their attempts to influence elections. More details are available on the congressman’s Web site.  Grayson’s also created an online petition to support these bills moving forward and becoming law.  I urge you to lend your support in rescuing democracy.


* The candidates spent a combined $1.7 billion in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, according to Bloomberg.

posted in Fat Bias, Legal Issues, Mental Health, Politics, Rachel, Recovery | 13 Comments

14th January 2010

Haiti: How to help

by Rachel

The images and reports coming in from Haiti are absolutely harrowing.  The earthquake, which left the capital city of Port-au-Prince in ruins, is catastrophic; more than two million people have been affected, tens of thousands have died, and uncountable people injured.  Times are tough for a lot of folks right now, but if you can help, it seems that financial donations are the best and preferred avenue to take.  Here’s a few groups with strong track records collecting donations:

CARE: CARE has already deployed emergency team members to Port-au-Prince to assist in recovery efforts. They’re focusing their efforts on rescuing children who may still be trapped in schools that collapsed.

  • Matthew 25 Ministries: This is a Cincinnati-based organization that works internationally to help people in need and in times of disaster.  To give you an example of the enormity of their assistance, they use the U.S. Air Force to transport some of their materials and say they’ve now outgrown the Air Force.
  • AmeriCares: The organization has already committed $5 million in medical and humanitarian aid, is sending emergency response experts to Haiti, and is currently preparing an emergency airlift to their partners in Haiti.
  • Doctors Without Borders: Operates one of the only free trauma centers in Port-au-Prince as well as an emergency hospital in the capital for pregnant women, new mothers, and newborn children. All three of its primary medical centers have collapsed, but DWB has already set up temporary shelters and is offering emergency care on the ground.
  • American Red Cross: The organization has already pledged an initial $1 million in relief to Haiti, has opened its Panama warehouse to provide tarps, mosquito nets and cooking sets for about 5,000 families and deployed six disaster management specialists to coordinate relief efforts.

You can also sign the petition to grant temporary protected status to undocumented Haitians living in the U.S. President Obama has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to halt all forcible deportations to the disaster zone, but human rights groups are asking him to go one step further and grant them temporary protected status.  Refugees from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan are afforded this status.  “This will give [undocumented Haitians] protection from forcible deportation to Haiti, allow them to work legally, and start the long and difficult process of healing their families and communities. To refuse to do so would be irresponsible and immoral,” according to Credo Action.  Click here to take action.

posted in Other, Politics, Rachel | 5 Comments

20th November 2009

Is Newsweek’s cover of Palin in short shorts sexist?

by Rachel

Even I was kind of shocked by Newsweek’s cover this week of Sarah Palin — not for the image used, which on first glance seemed both puzzling and irrelevant, but for the blatantly biased headline of “How do you solve a problem like Sarah?  She’s bad news for the GOP — and for everybody else, too.* But as it turns out, it’s the cover image used that’s getting the most press.

Newsweek cover of Sarah Palin

Originally published in the August 2009 issue of Runners World, the photo features the moose-hunting , aerial-wolf-shooting former Alaska governor and supermom in short runner’s shorts and leaning on an American flag.  It was part of a multi-photograph slideshow that accompanied an article about Palin and her passion for running titled, “I’m A Runner.”  Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham said that the photo choice was simply the “most interesting image available” and that the mag applies “the same test to photographs of any public figure, male or female” thus adhering to a “gender-neutral standard.”

This isn’t the first time Newsweek has taken heat for their choice of Palin images. Perfectly coiffed, and flawless conservative Fox anchors cried sexism last year because Newsweek didn’t airbrush Jane Sixpack beyond recognition on a cover photo.  In a Facebook post, Palin took issue with Newsweek appropriating a photo from an article about health and fitness to promote an analytical piece on her as a political figure:

The choice of photo for the cover of this week’s Newsweek is unfortunate. When it comes to Sarah Palin, this “news” magazine has relished focusing on the irrelevant rather than the relevant. The Runner’s World magazine one-page profile for which this photo was taken was all about health and fitness — a subject to which I am devoted and which is critically important to this nation. The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh-so-expected by now. If anyone can learn anything from it: it shows why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, gender, or color of skin. The media will do anything to draw attention — even if out of context.

Palin’s conservative supporters have predictably rallied behind her, but the image is drawing mixed reactions from pundits.  CBN commentator David Brady called the cover “a new low” for the “biased” magazine, adding that Newsweek has a history of portraying liberal women as “heroes for the next generation,” while portraying conservative women like Palin as “nuts and dopey.”  Documentary photographer Nina Berman meanwhile hailed the cover as “brilliant” and “shrewd,” adding:

The Newsweek cover is a shrewd strategic maneuver to demean Palin without having to take responsibility for it. I think it’s brilliant. They take an inelegantly, even laughably propped photo where Palin is an obvious participant as opposed to being a manipulated subject, and recontextualize it to show how far out she is willing to travel on the road of self promotion. They beat her at her own game and in the process shield themselves from what would have been the inevitable criticism if they had dolled her up themselves and posed her the same way.

Given the cover, the accompanying Newsweek articles — here and here — are surprisingly impartial and both defends and accuses Palin on her merits while making the argument that history is not on Palin’s side in terms of even a qualified populist nominee winning the White House.  And Newsweek’s right: Palin is a major cause for concern.  She promotes questionable, ill-informed and inaccurate positions on national and international policy and as Newsweek’s Christopher Hitchens notes, believes that the end of days and Second Coming will come in her lifetime — which could be entirely possible if elected to a position in which her finger rests on the big red button.  I find it ridiculous how Palin consistently dismisses “the media” as if we are all just one large, homogeneous entity out to get her, yet as much as I dislike siding with someone so diametrically opposed to me on virtually every issue across the political spectrum, I do believe that Newsweek used the image deliberately in order to marginalize her.  While there are a whole slew of reasons to be concerned about Palin’s broad national appeal among conservatives, none have anything to do with how she looks in runner’s shorts.

But that isn’t why Newsweek used this image.

The Daily Beast founder Tina Brown rightfully argues that Palin should have known that, “If you don’t want the moment captured on film, don’t show up in sporty hot pants for a photo shoot.”  But it’s more than that.  This pin-up-style image may have been inappropriate for an analysis piece on Palin, but it wasn’t appropriate in its original context, either.  While there’s nothing scandalous about showing some skin — even the First Lady has appeared in shorts about the same length as Palin’s –  this image is deliberately styled not to show off Sarah Palin the runner, but Sarah Palin the sexy governor.  Newsweek is simply holding the image up to the world as an answer to its own rhetorical question of why Palin is bad for the GOP.  An image may speak a thousand words, but this one asks only:  Why would anyone take this woman seriously?

* The headline refers to this song, about a nun going rogue.

posted in Feminist Topics, Politics, Rachel | 24 Comments

11th November 2009

Calorie counts: Coming soon to a restaurant near you?

by Rachel

We’ve discussed the pros and cons of posting calorie counts on restaurant menus before.  Now Politico’s Glenn Thrush points out a little known provision in the House health care bill that would mandate such conspicuous calorie-counting.  He writes:

Buried deep in the House health care bill is a provision, likely to raise nanny-state hackles, requiring fast-food chains and vending machine owners to notify customers of calorie counts — by conspicuously posting nutritional information on menus or machines.

The provision — Section 2572 — requires retail food establishments “part of a chain with 20 or more locations” to list calorie counts “on the menu board including a drive-through board,” as is currently required in New York City and other localities.

A “vending machine operator shall provide a sign in close proximity to each article of food or the selection button” that includes similar data.

The idea is popular among progressives and public health types who think it could reduce obesity, hypertension and diabetes rates — particularly among inner-city folks whose diets are disproportionately composed of cheap, tasty, calorie-loaded Big Macs, Whoppers and Chalupas.

But conservatives and libertarians see it as a major encroachment of the nanny state that has no place in a bill that’s supposed to address affordability, insurance industry abuses and expanding coverage.

The provision basically merges the language in the LEAN act, which I endorsed because it makes nutrition information — and not just calories –  available upon request, and the more stringent, in-your-face MEAL act, which robs consumers of the choice of ignorance and is limited solely to the posting of calories.  Studies show that since posting calorie counts on menus in New York, patrons consumed about 106 fewer calories per purchase.  At that rate, it will only take the average consumer, oh, one month to lose a single, solitary pound — and that’s assuming that they’re not overindulging their bodies’ energy needs at other times through the day.  Frankly, I doubt that anyone chomping down on a 1,500-calorie, double-cheese-with-bacon Angus burger is all that concerned about caloric intake or how healthy what they’re eating is.  Your thoughts on the provision or its place in the health bill?

posted in Food News, Legal Issues, Rachel | 34 Comments

16th October 2009

“Colossal” loophole in health care reform bill bad for fat people

by Rachel

The Washington Post has spotted a disturbing loophole in the health care reform provisions passed by the Senate Finance and Health committee. Under current regulation, incentives based on health factors (smoking, weight, cholesterol levels, etc…) can be no larger than 20 percent of the premium paid by employer and employee combined.  The current legislation, which, of course, is backed by major employer groups and opposed by labor unions and national health groups, would increase that limit to 30 percent, and it would give government officials the power to raise it as high as 50 percent.  In essence, the new law would allow for the financial punishment of fat people, who are already punished in that they are paid considerably less than thin people in comparable positions.  According to the Post:

President Obama and members of Congress have declared that they are trying to create a system in which no one can be denied coverage or charged higher premiums based on their health status. The health insurance lobby has said it shares that goal. However, so-called wellness incentives could introduce a colossal loophole. In effect, they would permit insurers and employers to make coverage less affordable for people exhibiting risk factors for problems like diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

“Everybody said that we’re going to be ending discrimination based on preexisting conditions. But this is in effect discrimination again based on preexisting conditions,” said Ann Kempski of the Service Employees International Union.

A single employee whose annual premiums cost him and his employer the national average of $4,824 could have as much as $2,412 on the line. At least under the health panel’s bill, the stakes could be higher for people with family coverage. Families with premiums of $13,375 — the combined average for employer-sponsored coverage, according to a recent survey — could have $6,688 at risk.

[Benton County, Ark.] benefits administrator Thomas Dunlap said incentives on the scale the Senate is contemplating could prompt some workers to leave employers’ health plans or quit their jobs.

I am all for health care reform, but this is reform we neither need nor can afford.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is now responsible for merging the provisions passed by the Finance Committee with those passed by the the bill passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee before the final bill goes before the Senate for a vote.  I urge you to contact him and your state’s senators and ask them to reconsider and remedy this disastrous loophole.

posted in Fat Bias, Legal Issues, Rachel | 14 Comments

16th October 2009

The Digest: F-words making the news

by Rachel

Hard to swallow:  Washington mom Juliet Lee has eaten five pounds of ribs, 43 inches of cheese steak sub, 31 dozen raw oysters, 13 slices of pizza, 13 pounds of cranberry sauce, and 13 date-nut-bread-and-cream-cheese sandwiches — all within minutes.  Oh, yeah… she weighs 100 pounds and wears a size-zero.

Not only are “plus-sizes” considered taboo in high fashion, so too are large breasts. The well-endowed journalist Venetia Thompson delves into the issues supporting the busty bias in this Daily Beast editorial.

Progressive or just prejudiced?  After months of guised jabs at Rep. N.J. gubernatorial challenger Chris Christie’s weight, Democratic State Committee Chairman Joe Cryan blatantly “pounded” the issue home to supporters: “What would it feel like if the next governor weighs 350 pounds?” he asked the crowd.  Meanwhile, Sen. Raymond Lesniak told the New York Magazine that Christie “looks hideous! And unhealthy… That doesn’t portray the discipline that’s necessary to lead this state.”

Fat studies scholar Amy Farrell appeared on Colbert Nation this week to discuss fat-shaming, health at every size and her new book, Fat Shame.

Fox and Burger King apologize for mocking Jessica Simpson’s weight.

Meghan McCain: Still Republican, but I can’t help but like her anyway.  In an editorial for the Daily Beast, McCain responds to the Simpson bashing with a call to stop the fat jokes.  “My weight is the great constant in my life, no matter where I am or what I am doing it is an issue that comes up,” she writes.  “I could probably cure cancer and solve all the Republican Party’s problems, and people would still make fat jokes.”

A new study finds that the simple act of exercise itself can improve body image even if you don’t lose an iota of a pound.

D’oh!  The British government is spending more than a million U.S. dollars recreating a “healthier” version of The Simpsons in an effort it says to reduce the two-dimensional “obesity epidemic.”  The campaign, which began last Monday and will run through Christmas, replaces Homer’s much-loved beer and doughnuts with fruits and vegetables and ditches the image of the family sitting on the sofa at the beginning of each episode (the fact that families need to be slumped on the sofa to even view the campaign is overlooked).  No word on how Mr. Burns, the thin-as-a-rake, delicately fragile food minimalist, will be portrayed.

For more news that didn’t make the blog, follow us on Twitter.

posted in Advertisements, Body Snarking, Book Reviews, Fat Bias, Feminist Topics, Fitness/Exercise, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Politics, Pop Culture, Rachel, Television & Film | 10 Comments

15th October 2009

“Fat” tax being debated on Diane Rehm show

by Rachel

The Diane Rehm show is currently debating the current “fat tax” proposed tax on soda and sweetened beverages on the first hour of the show (which started at 10 a.m. EST). Here’s the topic and lineup of guests:

Soda pop, obesity and spiraling healthcare costs. Studies that link soft drink consumption to America’s growing obesity epidemic have led to calls for a new tax on sugary soft drinks. Arguments for and against.

Kelly Brownell, director, Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

J. Justin Wilson, senior research analyst, Center for Consumer Freedom.

David Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and author of “The End of Overeating”

To give you an idea of the tenor of the conversation… the first listener email read suggested taxing fat people $10 for every extra pound.  Yes, he was serious.

I blogged about this issue when New York proposed a tax on soda in the name of reducing obesity. Brownell himself has said in a recent news report that a soda tax may result in an average annual weight loss of maybe two pounds, but it would bring in millions in revenue to help state budgets in plummeting financial deficits. That to me suggests that this tax isn’t about obesity or health care; it’s about using fat people as a convenient and socially acceptable justification to shake the national couch cushions for spare change.

If you didn’t catch the show this morning, audio archives are available here.

posted in Fat Bias, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Politics, Rachel | 25 Comments

8th October 2009

N.J. Gov. Corzine breaks out the lard card

by Rachel

John Corzine - Chris Christie

I got an email a couple weeks ago from New York Times reporter David Halbfinger looking to do a story on the weighty political race raging between New Jersey Gov. John Corzine and Republican challenger Christopher Christie.  Because I am a journalist myself, I seldom speak on the record anymore, but I did talk with David for a good half-hour to help provide him with some context and other similar examples (the most recent of which are the fat-attacks on Surgeon General-elect Regina Benjamin and SCOTUS nominee Sandra Sotomayor).  The Times printed his story yesterday and I’m glad to see that it not only seems critical of Corzine’s jabs at Christie’s weight, but also failed to mention the Big Bad Obesity Epidemic or question Christie’s physical ability to assume office.

The story, in a nutshell, is this: Corzine, a Democrat, maintains a 40 percent approval rating in a blue state.  These numbers, combined with the state’s high tax rate, stifling property taxes and record high unemployment promised a climate ripe for a GOP takeover.  The race turned ugly long ago, but now Corvine is calling attention to Christie’s weight in not-so-subtle ways.  A television ad for Corvine shows Christie stepping out of an S.U.V. in extreme slow motion so that his extra girth also moves, just as slowly, while a narrator snidely intones that Christie “threw his weight around” to avoid getting traffic tickets.  Other commercials and online videos (deliberately?) feature unattractive images of Christie, sometimes shot from the side or backside, highlighting his corpulence, jowls and double chin.  Meanwhile Corzine has been conspicuously running in 5- and 10-kilometer races almost every weekend, as Halbfinger suggests, “underscoring his athleticism and readiness for the physical demands of another term — and raising doubts about Mr. Christie’s.”

Corvine denies the fat-baiting, but even his fellow cronies are now questioning the effectiveness of playing the fat card.

“There’s no subtlety there,” said Bill Baroni, a Republican state senator from Hamilton who lost 130 pounds starting 15 years ago. “That’s not a randomly chosen phrase. It’s purposeful. And it’s offensive.”

Mr. Baroni said that Mr. Corzine risked a backlash from the “tens of thousands” of New Jerseyans who struggle with their weight. “It is a lifetime battle,” he said. “And it’s made harder when people that you expect better from make fun of you.”

Christie is brushing off the jabs as “silly,” but as Halbfinger notes, there are signs that they may be working among voters in one of the leanest states in the union.  In a recent survey conducted by Monmouth University, voters were asked to say the first thing to came to mind about Christie.  “Fat” was a frequent response, said poll director Patrick Murray, who attributed the results to the Corvine ads.   Murry said that he believed that the ads were intended to convey a “sublimial message” that Christie is reckless with his health, and ergo, might be reckless in other ways.

(Not mentioned in the Times’ story is the near visceral degree of fat hatred harbored by many a voter who don’t care a fig about health.  A now removed Craig’s List posting titled “Why I Will NOT Vote for Chris Christie” vehemently opines:  “More money expended by us taxpayers because he is fat! I just don’t like fat people and Chris Christie is fat! ….hide the M&M’s.”  Comments on Daily Kos range from “What a fat piece of garbage,” to “I can’t stand fat azz pompus arrogant pieces of shet like this guy.”   Over at CNN’s Political Ticker, you can find such gems as “Look at that fat Republican. The overfed look should be enough to dissuade voters. Greedy Pig…,” and “Chris Christie a criminal, fat pig.”)

The ads also seem to be taking their toll on Christie himself, a yo-yo dieter who has long struggled with his size.  Christie said that he’s become “numb” to fat jokes after so long and other than rightly insisting that his size has nothing to do with his being governor, he refuses to discuss his weight, even jokingly.  But while Christie declined to give his exact weight, saying that it’s not “anybody else’s business,” he did mention that he has lost 25 pounds since June by working with a personal trainer three times a week.  As Halbfinger notes, there’s not much else he can say.

Although significantly overweight politicians are increasingly rare these days, especially at the national level, several governors have very publicly tried to shed pounds, often unsuccessfully. Bill Richardson of New Mexico has told of trying the Atkins and liquid diets to little avail. Sonny Perdue of Georgia weighed nearly 230 pounds when he threw away a Snickers bar to start dieting in 2003. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania has lost 48 pounds, but still carries 220 on a 5-foot-11-inch frame.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas famously broke an antique chair during a cabinet meeting before losing 110 pounds, becoming a presidential contender and writing a self-help book, “Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork.”

Short of that kind of success story, fat candidates have few ways of defending against the kind of attack Mr. Corzine is using, political consultants say.  Among them: always wear a jacket, never wear tight-fitting clothes, and never get photographed while eating.

It wasn’t so very long ago that such tactics might have backfired among voters. One of the liveliest presidential feuds occurred between presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. On Election Night in 1904, Roosevelt announced that he would not run for office again in 1908 and  virtually appointed his close friend and Secretary of War – William Howard Taft – as his successor. With Roosevelt’s support, Taft won by a landslide, but whereas the blustering Roosevelt had taken on the conservatives, the milder-mannered Taft instead chose the art of compromise. By the end of his term, Roosevelt had become convinced that Taft had betrayed the progressive principles he held so dear, and so decided to run against Taft for the Republican nomination in 1912.

A bitter feud developed between the once close friends, with Roosevelt calling Taft, among other things, a “Fathead.” The insults between them were so bitter that it was reported that Taft once broke out in tears after delivering a stinging attack on his opponent. Taft, as we’re so often taught in high school American history, infamously battled a weight problem since early childhood (ironically, he lost nearly 140 pounds after he left office). Roosevelt’s jab at his weight was only one of many slights he hurled at Taft and vice versa, but in the end, the bickering cost both men the election.  The feud split the Republication party and allowed Democrat Woodrow Wilson to defeat them both.

I don’t know much about the backgrounds of either Corzine or Christi, but from what I’ve briefly gleaned online, it seems that there is much in the way of Christie’s political record and positions that Corzine could attack instead of childishly insinuating that he’s a Super McFatty Fat Cat.  While my politics tend to veer left, I think that it’s the mark of a very desperate man who seeks to discredit his opponent not on the basis of his merits or lack thereof, but by his appearance.  Would we be so forgiving of this sort of fat-baiting if Christie came out with a campaign that suggests that Corzine “looks like a Jew”?

posted in Body Snarking, Fat Bias, Fat History, Politics, Rachel | 18 Comments

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