A friend of mine snagged October 2nd's Toronto Star for me, knowing that the headline and accompanying photo would get me blogging. He was so right. I can't find a copy of the photo and my scanner isn't hooked up so I'll give you the best description I can. (EDIT! There is new material at the bottom of this post, comments friends of mine made about our last mayor that are relevant to this discussion. With their permission I've posted them up.)
From left to right-A heavyset white man in a jogging suit grimaces as he pulls strongly on some type of workout ropes. Accompanying caption says Too Fat. Next is a bespectacled older white man in a business suit with his right arm raised to wave. Caption is Too Short. A bald/shaven head white man in a suit with a button that says Mayor George. Photo has a rainbow background. Caption is Too Gay. Finally a headshot of a glasses wearing white man in a black business suit, black background, serious face. Caption is Too Mob. Below all of this is "Ford smeared over weight... Who's Next? Joe Warmington, Page 6"
Indeed! Turning to page six we find "Ford too fat? What next?" with the subheadline of "Doctor's question about frontrunner's weight opens the door to all kinds of gutter talk" Now, I'll be the first one to admit that the Star was very clever with their front page. The article doesn't actualy talk all that much about anyone being too short, gay or mob, only on the attack on Ford by retired physician Dr. Marvin Kay, and what that means for the race to be mayor in one of Canada's largest cities. The pictures and captions definitely draw you in to read the whole thing, which then asks us to question what's acceptable and what is not when talking about a person's qualifications.
Joe Warmington, a Saturday Scrawler for the Star, hits the nail on the head when he says
"Imagine the outrage amongst the elites if someone asked a gay candidate if he practised safe sex during his party years? Or if Randy Newman's Short People was a diminutive candidate's favorite song, or if another's decision to use pop culture was because he is a big fan of the Sopranos?"
The question asked to Rob Ford by Dr. Kay was framed with concern about the candidate's weight: Do you think you'll be able to handle the entire four-year term? This question was asked infront of a wide audience at the Canadian Condominium Association debate and caught Mr. Ford completely off guard and rightly so; I'm sure he wasn't expecting something that is NONE OF ANYONE'S BUSINESS to come up at a public debate. Joe argues that it was a classless, mean and a humiliating thing to do to Rob Ford and I'm so thankful there's at least one voice of reason out there in the mainstream media tackling this issue. I'm sure there were a lot of people who thought the question was perfectly reasonable, thanks to the common knowledge that fat people's bodies are public property. Well guess what, Canada? They're NOT.
When pressed later in the week, Dr. Kay 'piled it (criticism) on even more' while speaking to John Stall on the 680 News.
"I was quite disturbed by his obesity...He's a very heavy man with a large belly and double chin...He was sweating quite a bit. Several times he picked up a towel or a napkin to wipe his forehead...his weight could become a problem and perhaps lead to a heart attack or stroke." (Nevermind that sweating on stage can be caused by anxiety or fear of public speaking, and/or bright, hot lights.)
Joe calls this vicious and I have to agree. There is absolutely no reason for this kind of criticism to come up during an election campaign; a person's brain still works quite well no matter the body's size and that's what's needed to run a city. And I know I'm preaching to the choir here but you can be fat and healthy! The cover photo shows Rob Ford working out; he might be heavy but the guy goes to the gym. He could probably kick my butt on the weights or a jog around the track. The doctor's remarks were out of line and completely insensitive. I'm sure he's never heard of fat acceptance or health at every size. Joe asks "Have you ever heard a doctor speak like this before?" Unfortunately, I know many of us have; this man is no different from all the rest of the fat-shaming pushers of the obesity epidemic, the 'oh losing weight is easy if you just have willpower!' crowd. Unfortunately, Joe also asks "Is it perfectly fair to query the health of somebody about to take the wheel of the bus carrying you and your children's future?" Unless that person is obviously ill (and being fat is not a sign of illness or ill health), in a hospital or a hospice, the answer is NO.
Joe Warmington's article is a refreshing, honest look at how public criticism can hurt people, and can drop to the gutter level when there's something to be gained. If you'd like to email Joe he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
From P: When John Roswell and I were students at Collegiate, he was as thin as Mick Jagger. The weight he gained during the rest of his life had no bearing on his commitment or performance as mayor of Sault Ste. Marie.
From C: As for Mayor John and his weight non-issues I agree whole heartedly that his wei...ght never slowed him down - accept when it came to his knees. He was about due to get them done (what ever that means) when he was diagnosed with cancer the first time. If memory serves, he buggered them up in some sports or recreational incident but buggered they were in a big way. There were times he could barely walk at all. At those times he did lament being a little on the heavy side because less weight would have been less stress on his knees. Otherwise he had no problem swimming 4,000 laps of the pool at the YMCA for the Sault's kids in low-income families, smiling for photos, walking the Hub Trail or participating in pretty much any sort of civic event to raise our city's profile. I don't remember hearing anyone complain about his weight either - not in private or in public. John was John and that was that.
I am ashamed to say that isn't the case across the board in local politics.... This shallow and detrimental thought pattern is still alive and well. Another current candidate is being criticized unfairly for her weight. It makes me very angry because I believe this woman would make a fabulous mayor at any weight.
To judge and dismiss a person solely on the basis of their appearance is stupid and infuriating!