Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dr. Regina Benjamin and Fat Hate

With everything going on in the world right now, you’d think there’d be something better for the media to cover than the Surgeon General’s cheeks.

ABC “news” features this article devoted solely to whether an overweight doctor could possibly be qualified to give medical advice, regardless of a list of academic and professional credentials longer than most of her critics’ arms. Whatever you do, don’t read the comments. I don’t care how many Sanity Watcher’s points you have left.

On the first page, we have this particular gem:

“The nominee didn't return calls from, so there is no information about how much she weighs or her eating and exercise habits.”

Think about it. That means that a nominally creditable news agency actually called up the surgeon general nominee for the sake of asking her how much she weighs. Seriously? This is responsible journalism? This is anyone’s business?

Get past the first page though, and you get to a rather large collection of doctors and professionals who think her weight has nothing to do with her ability to practice or advocate for medicine. Considering the bulk of the article actually leans towards this view, the subtitle on page one, “Leading Experts Say Dr. Benjamin, Though Stellar Nominee, Gives Wrong Message” makes even less sense.

It isn’t until the third page that a very pertinent issue arises. The article references Dr. Susan Love as saying that “Benjamin was attacked because she was a woman, reminding that the former surgeon general C. Everett Koop was ‘no string bean.’”

No Kidding!

Actually, going through the list of Surgeon Generals in the last decades, very few of them have been what the current critics would consider thin. There have been several men and women of color. What stands out most to me as a pattern is that Dr. Benjamin will be the first non-military appointee (other than Edward Brandt, who was acting SG from 1981-1982). I mean the first EVER non-military appointee. John Maynard Woodworth in 1871 was the only other SG to not hold at least Admiral rank in a military branch (he was SG for the Union army.) It sort of slipped through the cracks, but while this isn’t our first SG who’s a woman of color, it is our first civilian from private practice, which I think is pretty significant!

Back to the subject, while Dr. Benjamin isn’t the first woman to serve as Surgeon General, I do think her weight is drawing more attention than it would if she were a man. I believe this very deeply, and it would take a lot to convince me otherwise. Women are held to a more rigid standard of appearance than men, especially professional women.

But more importantly, this media circus marks an ominous upswing in the “obesity” panic. Think about it. If the confirmation panel is swayed by media opinion, we may yet see the first fully qualified government appointee denied a position solely due to their weight.

Think on that moment. It will mark the moment when being thin becomes more important than being qualified, and it will send that message to the nation and the world. It will tell every struggling self-conscious teenager that it is more important for them to work out than study. It will tell them that it is more important to starve themselves than to be a good and decent human being. It will tell them that their career advancement may be checked not by their ability or hard work, but by the shape of their body.

Now THAT would be a terrible message to send.


Anonymous said...

Agreed! She's an impressive nominee, and I wish that the press would concentrate on her qualifications and on the story of her practice - which is positively heroic - rather than focusing on the fact that she's not thin. And, just as aside, I think she's both gorgeous and healthy-looking.

Alix said...

I'm sorry, but how is a doctor who smokes (and they are everywhere different than a "fat" Surgeon General??? The double standards in the country kill me. Geez.

jaed said...

Not to mention a President who smokes. (Which is a lot worse for you, and completely under your control, unlike body size.)

Health policing seems to be reserved for bodyweight, though. It even seems to me that some of the energy that used to go into bashing smokers now goes into bashing fatties.

Tante Terri - The Belly of the Ball said...

Holy crap. I have been avoiding this whole story -- just hoping that it would die of it's own stupidity, I guess. But no such luck. For fuck's sake people.

The only good thing that could come of this is that people outside the fat community might finally understand the discrimination that fat people go through.

jaed said...

At this point, I'm just waiting for a (large, male) senator to ask her during the confirmation hearings how much she weighs and her BMI.


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