Are thinner politicians more electable?

rudd v abbottOf all the guff that has been written about this upcoming election – and there has been a lot – an article from Brisbane’s The Courier Mail caught my attention focusing on the fact that prime minister Kevin Rudd is packing on the pounds apparently under the stress of losing his short-lived grip on power.

The story, written by Hannah Davies, had as its headline: ‘Moon-faced PM ‘comfort eating’ as the stress of the Federal Election campaign takes its toll.

The story quotes a number of nutritionist and dietician who comment on the prime minister’s fuller face and apparent appetite for pizza and beer with the insinuation that he’s becoming less able to govern by virtue of his weight gain.

They even give him free advice such a that he opt for “nuts and a fruit basket”.

Hannah Davies even went so far as to ask the PM’s spokesperson whether he was “comfort eating”. A ridiculous, irrelevant question you’d think given the broader issues being faced – she might as well also have asked if he was spending more time on the couch eating potato chips!

Anyway, it does raise an interesting point about appearances.

Contrast Kevin Rudd’s apparent podginess (It’s easy to find an unflattering photo of someone constantly be photographed, hence my use of the word “apparent”) with the superfit appearance of Tony Abbott and its easy for a conservative Rupert Murdoch-owned paper like the Courier Mail to suggest, subtely that gaining weight is a sign perhaps of bad personal management, bad habits and an inability to lead.

It’s interesting that the two other high-profile politicians to lose a lot of weight are both on the conservative side of politics: shadow treasurer Joe Hockey, whose is a shadow of the huggable bear of a man he once was and NSW premier Barry O’Farrell, whose weight has bounced up and down like a yo-yo over the last 15 years, but is now almost unhealthily gaunt.

O’Farrell explained in an interview to the Daily Telegraph in December last year that he lost the weight by challenging himself after the 2003 election to go to the gym every day for a week, a pledge he has stuck to for nine years.

Joe Hockey admits to having some help via gastric bypass surgery over the Christmas break followed up by with dieting and exercise.

He says its because he wants to be around to see his grandchildren grow up and was also tired of being called “Sloppy Joe” by former Treasurer Wayne Swan.

It’s surely no coincidence though that Joe Hockey has lost his weight in an election year.

Slimmer and fitter apparently makes you a better leader, thinker and decision maker in the eyes of many while adding a few pounds is a sign that you’ve lost your mojo.

This, of course, is baloney.

Yes, losing weight is good for your health and overall sense of wellbeing and people who lose weight are to be commended.

But fat people that suddenly become thin do not suddenly develop more brain cells, a better moral and ethical belief system and a greater sense of what’s right and wrong.

Being fat never bothered Winston Churchill, nor did it stop him defeating a far skinnier Adolf Hitler.

And there’s no indication that billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer intends to shed any pounds as he seeks a political role.

Yes you may live longer and feel better about yourself, but let’s not confuse this with character, decency and moral strength.

After all Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush – two leaders who both puffed out their chests in front of the camera – are hardly the model of political astuteness.

On with the circus!

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