David Letterman Chris Christie and the Power of Yes and No

Chris Christie is the governor of New Jersey.  Many in the Republican party want him to run for President although he says that he does not want to run.  Governor Christie is also fat.  David Letterman spent some time last night making a series of fat jokes about him. I found them to be more mean-spirited then Letterman’s normal fare (as did the LA Times – trigger warning: It contains the jokes and the comments are, sadly, what you would expect.)

The argument goes that David Letterman makes fun of Donald Trump’s hair and Lindsey Lohan’s dress so it’s ok to make fun of Chris Christie’s body.

First, I’m not particularly a fan of David Letterman or his style of making fun of people for laughs.  The thing that makes Christie stand out to me is that there aren’t a ton of kids with Donald Trumps hair, and there aren’t a lot of kids who are forced to wear Lindsay Lohan’s dress everyday.  But there are a lot of fat kids, and making jokes about Governor Christie being fat sends fat kids (and fat adults) the message that no amount of accomplishment will ever stop the fat jokes.  You could be a state governor being asked to run for President of the United States and people will still be making the same dumbass jokes that you heard in elementary school.

This is in the same vein of Jennifer Hudson’s comment that before Weight Watchers her “whole world was can’t” when before WW she was a finalist on American Idol, won a Grammy for her first CD, an Oscar for her first film, and 29 other awards. But she just couldn’t get anything done because the was fat. Right.

Of course the diet companies want us to believe that no accomplishment is good enough until we are thin.  If we stop believing that, they might lose some of their 60 Billion Dollars a year.

I think that David Letterman’s actions are an example of a frequent occurrence.  We see it in internet comments and personal conversations, even news interviews.  The diet company has managed to make David Letterman into a walking advertisement for them.  He starts the ball rolling with the whole “it’s ok to make fun of fatties because they could stop all the stigma if they would just find a way to be more aesthetically pleasing to me” then everyone in the comments chimes in with all the rest of the rhetoric we know so well. Like these idiots who send me hate mail thinking that they are powerful and badass when they are really little workers for the diet industry – and they do it for free – what’s the word for that…

So, I think tragically, fat people hide.  Not because they want to, but because they don’t want to be publicly humiliated.  So they don’t run for city council, they don’t take that class, they don’t go to the gym, they don’t go for their Ph.D to become a professor, they turn down that opportunity to speak at a local organization.  Not because they don’t want to do these things, but because they fear the junior high school teasing that can come along with it.

This is the outcome of a society where we use body size as a proxy for health, and where we think it’s ok to judge people for their health.  Taken separately both of those are horrible ideas but together they create a toxic society where fat and the fear of being fat chip away at self-esteem, happiness, and eventually for some physical and mental health.  This is everyone’s problem but the solution will start with a few of us.

Those of us who say NO.

No, I will not allow my life choices to be limited by someone else’s juvenile bad behavior.

No, I do not care what you think of me.

No, I will not put my life at risk with dangerous surgery in the hopes that you will stop being mean to me.

No, you cannot live in my head rent free.  Hell, you can’t live in my head even if you paid rent.

No, I will not give you the power to hurt me or limit me in any way.

No, you cannot have my lunch money any more.

And those of us who say YES:

Yes, I love to dance so I’ll see you in class on Saturday.

Yes, I’d love to talk about how I xeriscaped my lawn at the homeowners association meeting.

Yes, I love myself and my body and it’s awesome.

Yes, I am running for Congress, vote for me!

There is power in yes and no, and it’s ours for the taking.

Published in: on September 30, 2011 at 7:08 am  Comments (46)  

46 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well, just ignore it. Even if Mr. L. gets bad publicity out of it, people will still be talking about his “performance”, and that is most likely all he wants to accomplish.

    • Hi Diandra,

      I understand what you are saying and I know a lot of people who choose not to give attention to this kind of thing because they don’t want it to get attention. For me that doesn’t work, partly because I’m not built to stay silent about what I see as injustice and partly because I see minds change: Tim Minchin apologized for his fat song, Weight Watchers changed Jennifer Hudson’s Commercial and David Letterman apologized today for his behavior last night, I seriously doubt that I had anything to do with any of those things but somewhere somebody’s work got to them. That being said, I support people doing whatever they think is best for their activism and I think that it takes all kinds of activism to get a civil rights movement off the ground :)

      ~Ragen

  2. So true,so true,so true! So NO,NO, NO and YES, YES, YES!!!!

  3. If you want another dose of sheer obnoxiousness, check out Eugene Robinson’s op-ed in the Washington Post, posted online yesterday, which is all about how Christie is too fat to be president, and tries to couch it in “health concerns.” Personally I hate everything Christie stands for, but this op-ed is waaaaaay off base. Way.

  4. What REALLY bugs me about Jennifer Hudson (aside from the fact that just now, as I checked email, she popped up on the side bar) is that she got her fame when she was heavy in “Dreamgirls”. Now she’s all, “I’m thin…success found me at last…wheeeee!”

    Has nothing to do with thinness, chickie…it’s your mind that’s disordered.

    Letterman can suck it. To me, he’s always been the doofy kid on the play ground who poked you with sticks and said, “That hurt? That hurt? Gonna cry, you big baby? You stink. HAHAHAHA…!”

  5. Yes, yes, and yes. What I fear more than what doofuses like letterman say are what fat people say about themselves. Like Cristie’s “I know I’m fat I need more exercise” apologies. He doesn’t need to apologize to the public – he’s serving New Jersey – what he looks like isn’t part of the equation.

  6. This post was pure genius! Thank you for harnessing your strength to speak out against the barrage of hate.

  7. Awesome blog, as usual! Thanks so much for it!

  8. Yes, indeed, another inspiring and incredible post. Letterman is, unfortunately for him, a nasty, weak man who must belittle and hurt others to make himself feel worthwhile. As for those who are his fans – same thing. Who is really unhealthy?

  9. Didn’t Clinton end up being the butt of a lot of jokes due to his weight too? It’s so annoying that you can become the president of a country and yet still be seen as a failure because of something you really don’t have much control over.

    I saw some of the stuff Letterman said and I was not impressed. I was disgusted and I’m glad I didn’t see the top 10 list. He’s an ass who seems to think he can say whatever he wants and not get into any trouble. He’s landed himself in hot water before and likely will again.

  10. Oh my God, I was so incredibly intimidated about going to the gym for the first time. Even though I’m sure no-one actually gave a shit about my fat ass, it truly felt like I was being watched and judged by every last thin person in the place. Still does some days :-/

    • Just a thought for you, Dan… There may just be some thin people in the gym who are totally on your side, too–people who are fat allies, people who love someone who’s fat, people who get HAES, people who have been fat, or just who aren’t judgmental jerks. Sometimes when I go into my gym, where some of the fittest people on earth train (we have a whole cadre of Olympians in my town), I feel totally judged in my post-car-accident body that can barely move the weights, and that the thought that some people AREN’T judging me, who’ve been where I am or who understand it, helps.

    • Dan,

      I know how you feel and I think it’s awesome that you overcome this to treat your body to some time at the gym :)

      ~Ragen

  11. I think of all the things I didn’t do that I wanted to do. I avoided some out of fear of ridicule. I was barred from doing some by people who wouldn’t permit me because of my size. I think of all the lost potential and it makes me wonder why our society thinks it would benefit from such waste.

    It reminds me of a poem by Richard Brautigan called “The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster” While he was talking about his girlfriend’s use of birth control, I think you can see the parallel I’m drawing:

    When you take your pill
    it’s like a mine disaster.
    I think of all the people
    lost inside of you.

  12. “No accomplishment is good enough until we are thin.” Nail, meet head.

  13. This made me cry it is so true of my life. Thank you. It rocks to know I am not alone and I’m going to stop hiding.

  14. Also! Read some of the comments to the LA Times piece, and a lot of them were calling out Letterman for being a jerk. Sure, there are still some people saying he was right, but a lot of people called him out as a bully! :)

  15. Fuck yes! I have the same problem with Letterman that I do with people like Leno. I can’t tell you how many times my husband has had Leno on that all I can do is hold my middle finger up to the screen because of the fat jokes. Really I do that just about any time I hear fat jokes.

    Thank you, once again, for completely nailing it!

  16. Love, love, love You, Regan!

    I never thought David Letterman was funny and, have definitely found him to be mean in the past.

    I want YOU to know that it is this blog and this community that help people to have the courage to say No and Yes. After Linda Bacon’s book, I began reading every time you post to get this positive message in my head so that it will stick. Already, I have started making healthy changes, letting go of the diet mentality that stayed with me even after years of therapy, and have begun fully appreciating the body that I chose for this life.

    You touch lives everyday with your message and as a community, I think we can one day eradicate this type of hate.

    Girl, I nominate YOU to be a late night talk show host! (Hmmm…maybe in the future?)

    Lots of love,
    ~ManDee

    http://www.chubbygirlcomics.com

    • ManDee,

      “After Linda Bacon’s book, I began reading every time you post to get this positive message in my head so that it will stick.”

      This is exactly what I am doing! It’s so, so hard to get those old thoughts and automatic responses out of my head, but I feel that every time I read one of Regan’s posts I am moving in the right direction.

      And Regan,

      I’m not planning to watch Letterman anytime soon (if ever)!

      — Buffy

    • ManDee,

      Love, love, love you right back! I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to support people on their journeys to peace with their bodies. Hmmmm, a late night talk show might be fun, I’m always up late anyway :)

      ~Ragen

  17. I would much rather people disagreed with Christie about his policies as Governor of New Jersey. .

    If he chooses to exercise or change some of his food choices, that is of course up to him. He might feel better about himself (whether or not he would actually lose weight). I am much more concerned about what he is doing to state workers and pension funds, and I assume he would try to privatize much of New Jersey whether he was heavier or slimmer!

    Therein lies the ground for disagreement and debate..not his own size! Anyone who thinks otherwise is an ignorant bigot.

    • Franniez,

      I may be completely misunderstanding but from this It sounds a little like you’re assuming that he doesn’t exercise, eats poorly, and doesn’t feel good about himself now? I just want to make sure that we’re not making assumptions about his habits based on his size. I absolutely agree with you that politics is where the debate is, not somebody’s body.

      ~Ragen

  18. Which of the two, between Letterman and Christie, had quadruple bypass? Oh, that’s what I thought…

    • I had completely forgotten about that, thank you so much for reminding me!

      ~Ragen

    • That struck me right away as well. It was actually quintuple bypass and he is quite lucky to be alive.

  19. Yesterday morning on the Today show, I caught the tail end of a discussion with “experts” on why Christie’s weight will make it difficult for him to be president. They cited his poor health – he is pre-diabetic so they extrapolated based on that. One commentator felt that if Christie has no self-control regarding his weight, how could he be in control of the country! What a crock! I live in NJ and I do NOT like Governor Christie – not because of his weight but because of his bullying style and politics in general. However, as a fat woman I would almost vote for him just to counter the fat haters.

    Thanks for being out there Ragen!

    • Every time I hear someone is pre-diabetic it reminds me of a question I have been pondering for ages. That question being, which came first? The weight or the metabolic disorder? Maybe we’re looking at the wrong end of the correlation for causation, hm?

  20. Here in Toronto, Canada we have the mayor from hell–a right-wing, car loving SOB who’s always whining about “taxpayers’ rights” and the “war on the car”. He is truly a hateful man. He’s also fat. Unfortunately, a lot of people who dislike him for his policies are also having a field day commenting and criticizing him for his girth. Much as I can’t stand his policies, I have spoken out on several forums in defence of his right to weigh what he wants to weigh. Horrible political stances and weight have nothing to do with each other.

    • Maybe they think there’s a causal relationship between his bad politics and his weight. Maybe there’s a major risky surgery could alter his political stance.

  21. They make fun of him on Facebook too. I belong to several liberal pages and one actually took down a post because I told them that I am a fatty as well and the fat jokes were unnecessary, that you can criticize his policies and his work without mocking his weight. People just don’t realize how many other fatties are reading these things too.

    Yet, many of these same people forget that Dick Cheney has numerous heart problems and the government has paid for all of his treatment—yet he never got all this “he’s too unhealthy to be VP” nonsense. It’s time to look past body size and stop believing all fat people are sick or going to get sick. No, it’s not Christie himself that’s too unhealthy to be President, it’s his policies that make him that way.

  22. As someone who listens to too much left-wing talk radio and takes it way too seriously, I am also hearing these Christie jokes and not liking them. (I keep wanting to yell “Rag on him over the FACTS!”) Thank you for writing this — I couldn’t agree more!

  23. To me David Letterman always personified the typical schoolyard bully. Today he issued a public apology because he had received so many comments about how his comments stigmatize fat kids on the playground. Ragen your blog makes a huge difference!
    Warmly, Dr. Deah Schwartz, leftoverstogo.com

  24. “The Family Guy” and “American Dad” are even more mean-spirited, especially towards overweight women. You don’t hear anyone commenting on THEM, though or the fact that “Mike & Molly”, while supposed to be some kind of breakthrough because of the size of the characters, also indulges in subliminally reinforcing the fat stereotypes: the season opener had Molly’s mother nagging her about eating pancakes and Molly ended up giving into emotional eating. There’s a reason I don’t regularly watch the show. (“The Big Bang Theory” is also equally snarky towards intelligent and highly educated people. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be a hit. We’re getting dumbed down, people).

    Body image and/or “pleasing” appearance sees to be the go to insults if people are looking to inflict maximum emotional damage with minimum effort, as I have reported in my own blog: http://50tonormal.blogspot.com/2011/07/about-asshole.html

    There’s too much moolah to be made out of shaming fat people. This is a tough hill to climb.

  25. I don’t know anything about Chris Christie but I am frustrated and sad that his treatment is just another example of how fatness is the last acceptable form of bigotry.
    The people of this country can elect a black man president, but God forbid they elect a fat man.
    I also am reminded of an episode of the cartoon show “Futurama” where cyclops space pilot Leela goes to her orphanage’s reunion, and all the losers there still think they’re better than her because no matter how poor or pathetic (or in one guy’s case, blind) they are “at least I have *two* eyes!”
    I may be getting a little ranty but I’m really getting sick of fat being an issue. I am sick of it being what defines me, or anyone. How long before we identify ourselves (or worse, are forced to identify) as “Fat-American”, along with the “Afros-”, “Asians-”, and “Natives-” etc.?

    Don’t get me wrong, it is helpful and heartening to see the fat pride counter-movement. We need it just like we needed the civil rights movement and the feminist movement – when a group of people are being unfairly targeted and mistreated I would hope that human decency would foster a movement to counteract the hate.
    But.
    But.
    BUT…
    I am sick of fat mattering (is that a word? I don’t care if it’s not). I’m sick of it being seen as either a source of pride or an adipose hurdle to be overcome. I feel like if I won the Nobel Prize tomorrow, I wouldn’t be a Nobel Prize Winner, I’d be the Fat Nobel Prize Winner. Because it would be *extra* amazing if I won the Nobel Prize *and* I was fat, right? Because fat people can’t do anything. And anything they do a) has to be treated like a friggin miracle or b) can be summarily dismissed as worthless because THEY ARE STILL FAT. You’re governor? Eh so what, you’re still fat. You’re the fat governor.
    When they aren’t getting dismissed or mistreated, I feel like fat people who do extraordinary things, hell even when they do *ordinary* things, get cooed over and patted on the head because oh they tried ‘A’ for effort good fatty!

    Look, the reason this triggered me is, I take a dance class. The teacher lets me lead some of the dances, and every time she does she almost always gives this little speech about how proud she is of me and how brave and hard working I am. Oh, and how much weight I’ve lost. The two other (*thin*) girls she let’s co-teach don’t get this awesome little intro. So I’m not a dance instructor, I’m the Fat Dance Instructor. I’m the one who needs a special introduction because fat and dancing just don’t go together in people’s heads. And I bet the awesome choreography I come up with would go over better if one of the other instructor’s taught it because then the students would be looking at the dance and not at my fat a**.

    Why can’t I just be a dancer?

    ~*~*~*~*~
    Hmmm, maybe I should have put this in the “Let It Out” section…sorry to vent but this seemed like the only place that would understand…

    • *Applause, standing ovation* Well said and I totally agree with all of it.

    • I completely understand your frustration. I just saw a similar quote about gay marriage by someone who said something like: or as I call it, marriage. Because I parked my car, I didn’t gay park it, and I ate lunch, I didn’t eat gay lunch. I get the fat dancer thing too but I’ve decided to embrace it as a positive and use it as a way to show options and challenge stereotypes. If I were you thought I would talk to the teacher, that just seems out of line. Good luck and keep dancing :)

      ~Ragen

    • Bravo! And I join in the standing ovation. Well said indeed! I’m glad you shared this here. It is truth, wisdom and should be shared.
      Thank you!

  26. Oh the damage television has done to our society. Now even our politicians must be beautiful people.

    This country has already had several fat presidents who served full terms. In fact, the only presidents I can think of who died in office were average to skinny (and only FDR died of natural causes).

    Here’s an image that compares presidential candidates’ physical stats and lists their height and weight.

  27. oh the Mike and Molly thing… sigh, I wanted to like it and support it but ugh…
    the GIVE ME A HOT DOG NOW and the skinny girl goes “mom I’m scared”
    rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…………..

    we are our own worst enemy sometimes

  28. I just saw a cover for a magazine where Kirstie Alley lost a 100 lbs. It is probably the same 100 lbs she lost & gained a few times before, but it made me so sad. She has continued to act and be in the public eye while she gains & loses. What a struggle that must be! Then there is Oprah, one of the richest, most successful PEOPLE in the world and people STILL focus on her size, even though she seems to have found where her body wants to be.

    It is frustrating for all of us who do hold back because of that fear, I know I do. If people at the top still get treated like crap, what does the guy or gal working for minimum wage & trying to be healthy supposed to do?

  29. Yes, Mr. Letterman, because a high-stress job like governor is going to leave a person looking as fit as an action movie star, isn’t it?

    Sigh. This whole situation is one big pile of I CANNOT.

    • Even the action star turned Governor ended up with a beer gut. And an illegitimate son.

  30. I agree that Letterman is not a cuddly comedian. His job is not to make people feel good and laugh, it’s to point out to us what we need to criticize about ourselves–what we accept all too unquestioningly, what we allow to transpire around us, what we believe without thinking. He often says the shocking things people are silently thinking out loud, which has the effect of making you confront the absurdity of the thought and why you’d entertain it.

    This is satire. It’s a very old, effective means of pointing out some of our fondly coddled hypocrisies using humour that, because of its confrontational nature, feels shocking or cruel when the sentiments expressed are held up to us like a mirror. I’m not saying what he did was “great” or even innovative, but I can’t help but think that, with so much emphasis placed on the whole “fat” aspect of the media commentary around this governor (Letterman certainly was not the first, as you know), Letterman took the opportunity to launch a powerful critique. In our culture, once someone in media makes a nasty commentary on Chris’ fat-addled abilities in politics, everyone in our culture will do the same. Without thinking, without logic, and unrelentingly. Here’s another possible point Letterman was trying to make clear: that we, as a society, would do this even it means we’d dismiss someone who might be highly qualified to represent us politically (no small thing!) just because “it’s cool to hate on fatties”.

    Jonathan Swift didn’t really think the starving Irish should solve their “lazy starvation” problem (a direct cause of English policies which created the mass poverty in Ireland–but the Irish were blamed) by eating their babies: he was making a point about the way society saw the whole cruel political situation which created the poverty. People everywhere prattled on shamelessly as if it were moral perfection to hate the Irish, because at the time, it was considered moral perfection to do so–hence his satiric “Modest Proposal”. Dave was doing the same thing here: making a point of the lunacy of the fat jokes all of us have been told we should be making in order to shame the fatsos all around us, so that we’d be sure to miss the countless real issues affecting all of us. Things we might actually do something about if we weren’t so focused on hate. Unlike Leno, Letterman’s humour has always had this aspect of satire. He’s been on TV more than 20 years now and that has never been absent; Leno, on the other hand, veers away from it completely, as a device.

    You may not agree with me, but just give the idea some consideration–it’s possible Letterman was trying to make us aware of the fact he knew many people would be judging the governor not on his (horrible, to me) political stance or his record of performance–but only on his size. It’s the last form of fully acceptable social hatred we’ve got. Maybe Letterman’s point would be to exaggerate that hatred until we could all ask ourselves why we participate in perpetuating it.

  31. The Washington Post did a story on this yesterday, although the focus was on gender bias. The main point was that if Christie were a woman, her weight wouldn’t be an issue in the election because she wouldn’t even be running. No one would back her.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/post/if-chris-christie-were-a-woman-/2011/10/03/gIQADCHlIL_blog.html?hpid=z2

  32. This is not related to this post in particular but to your blog in general. I just found it today and it is amazing. I am in the process of trying to be healthier and people keep asking me how much weight I am losing. I have no idea, I do not keep track and find it irrelevant. This blog has been amazing. I also just wanted to say thank you for putting trigger warnings when you post links to articles with information or comments that can be harmful. I used to have an eating disorder and I remember what it was like to be in the emotional space where any little comment could send me into a downward spiral. I appreciate all that you do to make this blog a safe space and also that you consider race,class, and ability status when you talk about people of the world. Thank you for making my day brighter.


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