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The least villainous thing about Trump is his weight

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It sounds like the set-up for a joke: Former president Donald Trump, while mired in a Gordian knot of legal and financial setbacks, has partnered with country music singer Lee Greenwood to sell a $60 “God Bless the USA” Bible, which they announced would be for sale the week before Easter. 

Named as a reference to Greenwood’s most well-known song, and heralded as the “only Bible endorsed by President Trump,” the special-edition book incorporates both song lyrics and reprints of American political documents into the copy surrounding the scripture. As both a seminary drop-out and someone living in a city saturated with Second City alum, I recognize this as one of those rare moments — one that is nearly glowing from the white-hot hypocrisy of a pugilistic, racist former steak salesman who cheated on his wife with an adult film actress now peddling Bibles  — in which the punchlines truly write themselves. 

However, instead of lambasting Trump for his pretense and posturing, many talk show hosts and commentators simply defaulted to jokes about his weight. For instance, in his Tuesday episode of “The Tonight Show,” Jimmy Fallon launched into his Trump impression, saying of the Bible: “It’s my favorite book right after ‘Captain Underpants’ and The Cheesecake Factory menu.” 

Earlier that day, when discussing the blasphemous nature of the release, “The View” host Joy Behar joked: “The last time he was on his knees, he was looking to pick up a french fry.” 

Mocking Trump about his appearance isn’t new, of course. Jokes regarding his hair, skin tone and waistline were all de rigueur during the lead-up to his first election, which should only serve to reinforce a major point: The least villainous thing about Trump is his weight. In choosing to focus on that, even in passing, instead of his alleged criminal activities, delusions of grandeur and fascist dog whistles, really only accomplishes two things. It minimizes the real social and political issues at stake in this election, while also contributing to weight-based stigma which research continues to show is dangerous for people, regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum. 

Like any halfway-decent salesman, Trump is a master of diversions. In her 2020 New Yorker story, “Trump Is a Superspreader — of Distraction,” Susan B. Glasser wrote about the insidious ways he used half-truths, full lies and a bevy of deflections to draw attention away from the many, many Americans dying of during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic: 

Trump right now is mass-proliferating diversions, from last week’s spurious “Obamagate” to this week’s threat to withhold federal funds from Democratic-led states that make it easier for voters to cast ballots by mail this fall. If it seems as though Trump is generating more controversies than usual these days, that’s because he is. He is a superspreader of distraction. It’s an excellent way to make one forget, at least for a while, about the death and economic destruction currently rampaging across the country. 

Four years later, Trump faces 91 felony counts across two state courts and two different federal districts — but is also the leading Republican candidate in the race to become the next president. Through sneaker launches and Bible releases, it’s apparent that he’s trying to distract from his legal woes (and, as some commentators have pointed out, potentially raise money for the associated costs). He doesn’t need help in casting attention from his prior presidential record, nor his alleged crimes, to something as superficial as his appearance. Didn’t we learn our lesson last time?

Underpinning all of the jokes about Trump’s weight is another set of uncomfortable questions: Why is being fat funny? Why is it a physical state that seemingly deserves mockery or derision? Teasing out the hows and whys of weight-based discrimination is complex, and often ignores how structural inequities, such as limited access to healthy foods, safe opportunities for physical activity and affordable healthcare can contribute to weight-related disparities.  

At the core of the issue, though, is that we live in a society that has long prized thinness as an key indicator of health, success and beauty. Media, advertising and the entertainment industry frequently perpetuate these ideals, leading to the stigmatization of individuals who do not fit into these narrow standards. In a 2021 episode of the podcast “Mental Note” from the Eating Recovery Center & Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center, actress Jen Ponton spoke about what she called the public view of “fat industriousness” and how that impacts people in larger bodies. 

“If you compare them side by side with a thin individual, the kinds of bias that come up for people are going to include laziness, stupidity, sloth, waste, slovenliness,” Ponton said. “The default is that fat people are also just dirty, filthier, there’s a savagery, there’s a stupidity and savagery that’s attributed to fatness that is reinforced literally everywhere, from Homer Simpson to the way that we treated the president who just left the office, someone whom I am all about criticizing up and down, and good riddance. However, I will say that the way people focused on his body making him incompetent is so damaging and unfair.” 

The implications of that vein of criticism spread beyond just how Trump and those in his circle perceive him. As Chrissy Stockton put it in the headline in her viral Harper’s Bazaar article from three years prior, “When You Call Trump Fat, You’re Actually Calling Me Ugly.” 

“Body shaming is now part of our media diet as we read articles about how we miss Obama because he wasn’t fat, gleefully laugh as naked statues of Trump (complete with micro-penis) appear in public, and engage in debates and collective fascination over how much the president weighs,” Stockton wrote. “To be a fat person in the midst of all of this, trying to convince myself that I am worthy and lovable while existing in this body, is a fight I honestly lose a lot of days.” 

As Stockton points out, some people who engage in body-shaming mistakenly believe they are motivating others to become healthier, despite research showing that most often isn’t the case and can in fact do the opposite. “Individuals with obesity tend to internalize this stigma, reducing confidence in their ability to lose weight,” write researchers Melody Fulton, Sriharsha Dadana and Vijay N. Srinivasan in “Obesity, Stigma, and Discrimination.” 

“Weight stigma is also associated with an increased risk of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and low self-esteem,” they continue. “Weight stigma negatively impacts individuals’ eating patterns with one study demonstrating that exposing overweight or obese individuals to weight stigma increased their calorie consumption. These negative psychological and behavioral effects, including more frequent binge eating and reduced physical activity, put obese individuals at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke.”

There are other people, though, who engage in body-shaming specifically to be malicious, which ironically is a common tactic of Trump’s. Going into this next election season, let’s be better than him.

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