Liberals and media outlets, please stop fat-shaming the president of the United States.
Tuesday, the resident White House physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, reported to the press corps some of the results of President Trump’s annual physical, which included a voluntary cognitive exam (“I’ve found no reason whatsoever to think the president has any issues whatsoever with his thought processes,”) concerns for his cholesterol levels (requiring an increase in his current prescription to help manage it), and detailing his remarkable cardiac health.
He also made public the president’s weight: at a reported 6’3” tall, Jackson stated that Trump weighs in at 239 pounds, putting him just shy of being considered obese by medical standards.
In collective disbelief, netizens everywhere began voicing their skepticism. Sports fans, known for their commitment to all things numbers, began comparing photos of Trump (though, obviously, his weight at the time the pictures were taken is unknown) to athletes at similar height and weight ranges. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes asked, rather cheekily, who was coining the term “girther” to label those who believe the president's weight is slightly less than accurate.
The actual number on the scale doesn’t mean that much about your health or fitness (let alone your value as a person or morals).
Sports Illustrated even upped the ante, publishing a list of “athletes who are the same size as Donald Trump,” complete with an almost 18-year-old photo of a tennis-playing Trump in thin white shorts and visible tighty-whities positioned next to a shirtless and seriously-ripped Tim Tebow.
But ask any of my fellow professional trainers, and they’ll tell you that the actual number on the scale doesn’t mean that much about your health or fitness (let alone your value as a person or morals). Your average doctor’s office scale tells you little more than how much weight is standing on it, and fails to quantify the far more important number: your body fat percentage. The amount of fat on your body, and not simply your weight, is what determines your physical appearance. The amount of muscle can signal the need for quality-of-life challenges, and help highlight a targeted approach towards fixing them.
A pound of muscle still weighs the same as a pound of fat, but the two look vastly different, because muscle mass is far more dense and, therefore, takes up less space. Two people who are 6’3” tall and both weigh 240 pounds can have wildly different appearances specifically because the percentages of their bodies that consist of fat in comparison to lean mass like muscle are different. Two people who both have body fat percentages of 18 percent at two different heights are more likely to look like each other than two people of the same weight and height. Weight, alone, means virtually nothing.
Two people who are 6’3” tall and both weigh 240 pounds can have wildly different appearances specifically because the percentages of their bodies that consist of fat in comparison to lean mass like muscle are different.
But that’s not the point of the snark, is it? People are not criticizing the president's weight and appearance because of the need for nuanced discussion surrounding the human body, the uselessness of the body mass index or the need for doctors to develop more realistic and thoughtful methods for measuring health as a function of weight and body mass.
Instead, they are using photos of Trump and reports on his weight to mock the man who, at one point, allegedly referred to a Miss America pageant winner as “Miss Piggy.” We’re trying to find ways to snark on the man whose statements and policies often denigrate our fellow human beings on what feels like a regular schedule. In many instances, we’re trying to cope with the stress and anxiety we feel due to this man’s policies by coming together and laughing at him and his size.
So I’m about to say something that even I can’t believe I’m saying: please stop making fun of the president — at least when it comes to his weight.
There is no reason for us to use this man’s body against him, when his politics are rife with ahistorical understandings of society, regressive ideals and beliefs that are flat-out dangerous to our fellow human beings.
Either we have standards as a country (and as liberals), or we don't. Either we believe in fat-shaming as an accepted practice — and "Megyn Kelly TODAY" host Megyn Kelly does — or we don’t. Either we believe that we should treat people according to the dictates of our purported morals, or we don’t.
Not only that, but remember that your overweight and obese friends and family are watching and listening to these jokes and cringing. Is this what you say about them in private? Is this how you describe them when they’re not there? Do you really think they enjoy these jokes, believing that their own fatness is somehow different from Trump’s?
Moreover, what kind of uproar would we be in if this were a conversation about Trump's 2016 election opponent, Hillary Clinton? What kind of uproar were we actually in about the efforts by many to paint her as frail and unhealthy, incapable of service? Wouldn’t we see the wrongness in this behavior if it were lobbed in the direction of any current female political leader?
This isn’t a defense of Trump — my Haitian husband and in-laws wouldn’t let me live it down if I even tried. This is a pleading request for us to have some standards and then live up to them. There is no reason for us to use this man’s body against him, when his politics are rife with ahistorical understandings of society, regressive ideals and beliefs that are flat-out dangerous to our fellow human beings. Let’s focus our energy towards that, and leave the body-snarking behind.
We can’t progress forward if we’re allowing our own behavior to hold us back.
Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer, certified personal trainer and certified nutritionist behind the popular weight loss blog A Black Girl's Guide to Weight Loss.