Too Fat to be President? Chris Christie and Fat Stigma as Rhetorical Disability

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Elisabeth Miller


Analyzing media discourse around Chris Christie’s fatness and fitness for the presidency, this essay examines how stigma constrains the rhetorical resources of individuals who transgress norms of bodies, health, and ability. To do so, I extend two concepts in the rhetoric of health and medicine: rhetorical disability (challenges to ethos precipitated by stigma) and recuperative ethos (Molloy, 2015) (efforts to rebuild ethos in light of rhetorical disability). I make two interrelated claims: 1) fat stigma is rhetorically disabling in the cultural logics of the obesity epidemic, and 2) since fat stigma in this context operates as a rhetorical disability, Christie seeks to recuperate his ethos by presenting himself as a viable leader. While scholars have theorized that “rhetorical disability” is incited by stigma around mental disability (Price, 2011; Johnson, 2010; Prendergast, 2001), I show how fat stigma similarly produces a disabling rhetorical effect: as Christie works to recuperate ethos, fat is taken up as an argument about health, morality, and individual failure.

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