“I’m very happy with who I am right now,” he says. “My weight is not what I measure my self-worth by.”
But in an industry where even jolly Al Roker has had bariatric surgery, surely the suits at CNN must have pulled Lavandera aside for a chat about his appearance? Not so, he says. “I’ve been very fortunate—and people might be amazed by this—but I’ve never had a director at CNN who’s said, ‘You need to do something about your weight.’” When asked whether this was true, a spokeswoman for CNN declined to comment. The only problem his bulk might pose is if he had to do a fly-over scene and was too heavy to ride in the helicopter. Lavandera has considered asking the cameramen to shoot him from a less fattening angle, but for the most part, he limits his pre-camera prep to making sure his hair is not sticking up and his shirt is buttoned.
Being fat was not always seen as a shameful thing. Until the end of the 19th century, a big belly was a sign of a big wallet—J.P. Morgan and Howard Taft accentuated their busting guts with too-tight vests and heavy gold-watch fobs. As the industrial revolution peaked, however, food became cheaper and lost its association with affluence, and gorging on it simply meant you had no willpower. “If someone was fat, they were seen as too weak to control their appetite,” says Dr. Eric Oliver, a political scientist at the University of Chicago who is writing a book on the politics of obesity. But no one thought fat was necessarily bad for you until after World War II, when a Metropolitan Life insurance agent published a study saying fat people have shorter life expectancies than slim ones.
Since then, weight has been a class punch line, more a problem for the boulder-assed hoi polloi lining up at Wendy’s than for the gourmands fighting for a reservation at Per Se in New York, where a prix fixe five-course tasting costs $175. Of course, money doesn’t protect the privileged from having to poke more holes in their belts. According to a University of Iowa study, the prevalence of obesity is growing three times as fast among Americans who make $60,000 or more a year as it is among poorer people. It makes sense when you consider that a desk-bound yuppie spends most of his 60-hour workweek in a cushy Aeron chair, nourished by venti Frappuccinos and Philly cheese steaks delivered right to his cubicle. Add to that an extended commute and the trend, once again, toward eating out (where you’re more likely to indulge in duck pâté than you would at home) and you can see why big shots are getting bigger.
Apparently, extra weight doesn’t affect earning potential. A New York University study found that fat men can make at least as much money as skinny men. In some cases, a blasé attitude toward body image may even give you an edge—a workout routine won’t distract you from turning your memos in on time.