Politics Opinion: Chris Christie and the Politics of Beauty By The New Political Posted on February 26, 2013 10 min read 0 0 553 Gov. Chris Christie recently made headlines – not because of his performance in office, but because he is fat. The governor of New Jersey was the target of several interviews, articles and pop culture jokes because of his body size. Rumor has it that Christie will run for president in 2016. Because of news of his probable presidential bid, many newsmakers floated the idea that Christie is too fat for office, and simply doesn’t look regal enough to be president. In an article by Pat Sajak, the game show host mused about ‘That Presidential Look’: Gerald Ford didn’t have it, but one person who unquestionably did was Ronald Reagan, a movie celebrity. The office of president, which is designed to attract candidates of the highest merit, didn’t account for the shallow tastes of culture in which physical features trump talents and virtues. This superficiality was demonstrated during the presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960, which was the first televised debate. According to The Museum of Broadcast Communications, a majority of people who listened to radio broadcasts of the debate considered Nixon the clear winner, while a majority of television viewers considered Kennedy the victor. Even if that wasn’t true, there’s no denying that Kennedy’s youthful, virile glow outshined Nixon’s gritty detective look. Looks have a decisive impact on politics. If Sarah Palin looked like Chris Christie, you wouldn’t know her name. Surface appearance can tilt the scales in your favor, or curse you. Scholarly studies have shown that attractive students receive higher grades and are generally regarded as more intelligent by their professors. And on the other side of the classroom, attractive professors receive better course evaluations. In court cases, less-attractive people receive higher prison sentences and lower damage rewards – this, in a legal system that allegedly delivers justice in the most careful, objective, procedural manner. Less-attractive people also have lower salaries and worse job-performance reviews. Like most injustices, this injustice disproportionately affects women. In a sad irony, the National Organization for Women vocally opposed a tax on plastic surgery because, they argued, aging women need cosmetic surgery to be hired in today’s economy. And judging by the numbers, women are submitting to the abuse of this bias. Each year, Americans spend about $10 billion on cosmetic surgery, $33 billion on makeup and beauty products, more than $1 billion on breast implants, more than $1 billion on liposuction, $680 million on eyelid surgery, more than $9 billion on tanning salons, $990 million on tummy tucks, and $840 million on facelifts. One study discovered that women spend about $10,000 on hair-removal during their lifetime. In a 2008 survey, 80 percent of American women reported being dissatisfied with their appearance, which is partly why 10 million of those women suffer from eating disorders, and why the diet industry rakes in about $40 billion per year. Men are also indulging in this glamour fetish, getting nose jobs, chin enhancements, pectoral implants, upper arm lifts, hair transplants, Botox injections and the like. One need only stroll through the Health & Beauty aisles to see the banquet of men’s anti-hair-loss potions, hair-color salves, teeth-whitening elixirs and anti-aging balms, which can only exist in a society that believes beauty can be bought. Beauty has become an industry that accounts for a significant portion of the economy, which is why the United States’ 2,000 beauty schools have seen continual increases in enrollment. That is what happens when ‘beauty’ is reduced to looks. The question ‘What is attractive?’ becomes equated with the question ‘What is good-looking?’ As Ralph Nader asked: “What is human beauty? It’s defined by the cosmetic and fashion industry. Therefore it’s skin-deep and body-shaped. It has nothing to do with character, personality, kindness, helpfulness, wit – nothing. It has to do with how you were born and what you look like. And since only one-percent of the people could ever aspire to the standards of beauty and body shape that you see in the cosmetic and fashion magazines and on T.V., the rest are reaching for over one-hundred-billion dollars of cosmetics, plastic surgery, harmful diet pills, and so on. So the very essence of beauty – culturally defined, not commercially defined – culturally created and elaborated, has been commodified.” Humans will never agree upon the definition of beauty. But whatever beauty may be, it is certainly not something attained through makeup, tanning lamps, chemical peels, implants and a little nip and tuck. But instead of cringing at the idea that we can achieve beauty through syringe tips and scalpel blades, 69 percent of young people now favor cosmetic surgery (not to be confused with reconstructive surgery, sex reassignment surgery, skin grafting and other justifiable procedures). That percentage will likely increase given that kids are engulfed by a fantasy world of silicone and collagen where everyone is washed in a soft-focus blur and is airbrushed, photo-shopped, unblemished and wrinkle-free. To argue that humans are hardwired for narrowly desiring physical looks in order to spawn is to vulgarize Darwin. And even if it was true, it shouldn’t influence candidate-selection. Yet there is indeed a kind of unnatural selection that favors candidates with a million-dollar smile, a chiseled jaw line, a dash of grey at the temple, perky breasts, luminous skin, perfect hair, thin waists and other irrelevant factors. As the philosopher Jean Baudrillard wrote, “Americans may have no identity, but they do have wonderful teeth.” In the end, all the noise about Christie’s weight might serve as free promotion that casts him as the underdog who must triumph over prejudice against fat people, which garners him enough sympathetic and symbolic support to win the presidency. But just because a fat person is elected president doesn’t mean that fat people are treated equally in society, just as electing a black president doesn’t mean black people won’t still be screwed by deep-rooted white privilege.