On February 16th, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie checked into a medical center under a false name and underwent lap-band surgery, receiving an inflatable silicone device around the top portion of his stomach in order to slow down and lessen the amount of food he consumes. Christie told the New York Post that "this is about turning 50 and looking at my children and wanting to be there for them."
The governor also told the paper that people who don't struggle with weight issues "don't understand how it can dominate your whole thought."
But, regardless of our own individual struggles or lack thereof, we have all witnessed how Christie's weight has indeed dominated the way in which the media talks about and portrays the outspoken, often brash politician.
So many jokes have been made at the expense of Christie's size that it's warranted the use of a "Chris Christie Fat Jokes" tag on The Huffington Post. Christie has even cracked fat jokes himself, perhaps most notably on The Late Show with David Letterman, much to the delight of audience members and pundits who applauded him for his ability to laugh at himself.
But what happens if Christie -- who has already lost about 40 pounds since his surgery -- is no longer "Chris Christie: Fat Dude"? Sure, he'll still give talk-show hosts and stand-ups plenty of fodder (because, like, New Jersey), but it will be interesting to see how public perception and media portrayals of Christie will change once his defining physical trait is no longer there. For insight, we can turn to the manner in which the media has trained its lens upon other famously heavy (not merely "famous and heavy") stars. Take a look at coverage of Paula Deen after she revealed her own health struggles and need to lose weight, or coverage of Carnie Wilson's drastic change in appearance, or the media's fascination with Kirstie Alley's well-documented ups and downs.
In other words, Christie's weight will continue to be a part of his narrative, regardless of his actual size. To his credit, he's never been encumbered by the public fascination with it. In 2009, for instance, Christie's Democratic opponent, Jon Corzine, ran ads that essentially mocked Christie's weight. And while mud-slinging can and does work, Christie still won the election.
So no matter how the media chooses to cover his weight loss (such as, say, writing a story about a "secret" surgery and painting it as "a major effort to shed pounds at a time when his eyes are on the presidency" like "some overweight politicians before him," which, hmm. Ok.), Christie has the likability, media savvy, and resources to either subvert, play into, or alter his own public image -- like, say, with video sketches.