Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cut the Waist

Rob Ford and I have a lot in common. We've both undertaken ambitious, radical weight-loss goals, often telling the people around us, "I'm going to get fit and lose a whole pile of weight! Hundreds of pounds! By next week!" We start strong: exercise, trips to the gym, cutting down at meal times, preening in our underwear. But as the weeks stretch on, we lose focus. The gym becomes very far away. Morale swings low. It's a cycle that most dieters are familiar with.

Ford is carrying about 315 pounds on a 5'10" frame, which ballparks his BMI at about 45. Folks should generally aim to be about 19 - 25, and more than 45 is considered "super obese" and a cause for medical concern. He's red-faced in media shots, his second chin hanging down over his shirt collar. He looks like a keg: short, squat, and and like there might potentially dangerous consequences if you shake him up too much.

The Cut the Waist challenge was supposed to be an easy, feel-good victory, one over which he would have complete control. If he happened to raise a few bucks for charity, hey - bonus! It would give some structure to media events, hopefully smoothing some ragged edges between him and, say, The Toronto Star (I doubt that Ford himself gives a flying fuck about media relations, but hopefully some savvy, well-positioned council friend does). It would give him a chance to be seen as a do-gooder, a man who can keep a promise, a man who can cut the gravy at home like he does at work. People would stop saying "John Candy" in sotto voice as he entered the room.

In the last week, there's been a lot of back and forth on if Ford will finish the challenge, which aimed to have him shedding 50 pounds by mid-June. On Sunday's radio show, he told listeners that he was done with it - "I'm not even dieting any more" - but by Monday night, he and his brother Doug were spreading the word that the challenge was still on, but the media events were officially cancelled. Rob was going to finish the diet without overwhelming scrutiny from the press. Things seem to have settled into "I'll finished, but you can't watch," so, you know...par for the course with Mayor Ford.

Meaningful weight loss is often a team effort. Psychologists encourage folks to have gym buddies and to try smaller, healthier meals in a group setting: it's easier when the strange (diet and exercise? Ew) becomes your peer group's "new normal." It takes discipline. Doug, Rob's brother, also signed up for the Cut the Waist challenge, but Doug's shaming, bullying approach to his brother's (non-)participation is damaging at worst and disheartening at best.

Ford (as much as he would have hated it) should have had photo-ops at the gym and hosted fresh-'n'-healthy luncheons for his staff. He should have gotten doctors on board, taken a lunch at a public high school cafeteria, glad-handed for community 5K walks. He should have shown public commitment to his self-imposted goals, and, like any good politician/middle-schooler, shown his work. Most people know how hard it is to take off unwanted weight, and a well-managed public effort to do just that by one of the city's heaviest political heavyweights would have helped in elevating Ford's string of baser moments. Instead, Ford withdrew, and his diet (and his attitude towards his own challenge) became erratic and unpredictable.

It's not hard to see the Cut the Waist challenge as a metaphor for Ford's mayoralty so far. Team efforts have fractured. Media events have become an chance to hide. It turns out that cutting the gravy is actually pretty tough, both in council meetings and on the dinner plate. Missed opportunities abounded. Losing weight, like running a city, is difficult to well; it becomes nearly impossible if you don't have a team of people working with you, cheering you when you're succeeding and helping you redirect around your failures.

Ford's public persona is shifting, from a blustering city councillor who listened to his constituents and got stuff done, to a man who looks more red-faced, both politically and personally, by the day.

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