Chris Christie's Struggle and the Politics of Weight

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"These findings suggest that weight bias exists for obese female political candidates, but that larger body size may be an asset for male candidates," the authors wrote in the study, published in the journal Obesity in April 2010. "The ability of candidates to be successful may depend less on their policy positions or even party affiliation and more on their physical attributes than has been previously assumed."

Kenlie Tiggeman does public relations, as well as working as a Republican analyst. She says she loves Chris Christie, but knows personally the struggle of obesity. She describes herself as a "food addict" but has lost 100 pounds so far -- at one point she weighed about 400 pounds -- and still has another 100 pounds to go. She lives in New Orleans and happened to run into Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, at a restaurant this weekend when they were in town for the Super Bowl.

She said she doesn't want to "make excuses" for Christie, but the struggle with weight loss when you are obese is like "climbing Mount Everest and climbing Mount Everest again."

"I can you tell you right now it's the hardest thing to battle with and no one can understand it unless you've been through it," Tiggeman said.

In 2011, she was told by Southwest Airlines she was "too fat to fly" twice, even being asked what size clothing she wore and how much she weighed. She sued the airline in 2011, but the case was dismissed recently. She is considering suing the airline again.

"Anyone wondering if Gov. Christie has what it takes to be the next president of the United States should look at what he did during [superstorm] Sandy," Tiggeman said. "There's no question whether Obama is ready to be the president of the United States, but they question Chris Christie, and I think that's crazy. America doesn't fit one mold and that's the beauty of our country."

For Christie, said Tiggeman, "New Jersey is number one."

Weight, she added, seems to be the last prejudice that people can tease someone about, even cruelly.

Doctors agree. Dr. Rebecca Puhl, director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University said that, like many other people "struggling with their weight" people should not make assumptions about Christie on issues such as "personal discipline, will power, ability, success, or a person's contributions to society."

"There seems to be this public perception that shaming, intimidating, making fun of people with obesity ... will motivate people to lose weight, when we actually see the opposite is true," Puhl said. "Public scrutiny, fat jokes lead people to engage in unhealthy eating, increase consumption of calories, avoidance of physical exercise, and impairs their efforts to lose weight."

Dr. Jennifer Thomas, a psychology professor at Harvard Medical School and assistant director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Eating Disorders Clinical and Research Program, agreed, saying that while racist and sexist jokes are "not appropriate," people still feel like obesity is only about "personal control, personal responsibility" and it's "O.K. to be judgmental or make assumptions."

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