This is a long-awaited-with-baited-breath for those of us who have been anticipating a fight against the obesity scare and its various trumped-up statistics. Dr. Benjamin is a family doctor from a high-poverty region of Alabama that was hard-hit by Katrina. It will be a HUGELY positive step if she can serve as an advocate for the most overlooked and underrepresented "interested parties" in the health care debate. It seems like the first thing on the chopping block when the budget gets tight is health care for the poor. Michigan, for example, has cut both dental and vision services to adults on public assistance for this fiscal year, and is talking about eliminating them altogether. There's some kind of freakish cognitive dissonance going on when the government cuts services when they're most in demand. It will be very interesting to see what happens when they have someone in a powerful position that has seen, first-hand, how health and poverty interact.
She's been awarded the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights (1998) and was the first person under 40 to be appointed to the board of the AMA (as well as the first black woman!). She's an activist, an environmentalist, and a humanitarian by all accounts. She's a supporter of reproductive rights for women (despite being Catholic) and has reportedly worked to encourage medical schools to include abortion training that helps new doctors understand all the ramifications of the surgery.
Link to her clinic
Of course, news agencies are already stirring up a whirlwind of objections. Not to her medical experience, knowledge, or practice.....but to the fact that she's fat. Actually she's what the fatosphere would call an "in-between", meaning that she looks pretty average, but reporters inudated with the body dysmorphia of celebrities assume she's about to drop dead of a heart attack. Depending, of course, on which photo you're looking at. Isn't it funny how you can't really tell how much someone weighs by looking at them? Doesn't stop them from guessing...badly.
Somehow, of course, a fat surgeon general (or rock star, or politician, or actress) will somehow magically make everyone else in the country fat. Of course that's what they say they mean. What they might actually mean could be more along the lines of "how dare this fat chick be successful, powerful and visible!?"
Just as Sotomayor has been attacked for not apologising for her strong Latina-ness, Benjamin will be attacked if she doesn't apologise for how her body is shaped. She's already being attacked for being black; the comment streams on some articles are complaining that her appointment is due to her race instead of her qualifications. Come to think of it, Sotomayor had to deal with some douchehound reporters commenting on the relative weight of the canditates instead of their qualifications as well. Paul Campos's response was my particular favorite:
"For some men, the only thing more intolerable than the sight of a powerful woman is the sight of a powerful woman they don’t want to sleep with." - Paul Campos
Her position on obesity isn't readily found, which means it's probably not her
top priority. Smoking definitely is, however, since she's lost at least one
family member to it. HIV prevention is another possible point of emphasis because another family member died of aids-related illness. She mentions that her father died of "diabetes and hypertension," which since those conditions are so often blamed on fat (rather than genetics, inactivity, poor diet and weight-cycling) raises a red flag for me that she might make the obesity panic (ooga booga!) worse. The flag waves a little harder when she refers to them as "preventable diseases," since "prevention" usually focuses on (ineffective and short term) weight loss.
Having an advocate for the poor, a pro-choice doctor, an environmentalist, a woman willing to re-build a clinic twice destroyed in order to bring health care to a small town in need, a woman who understands the disparity of medical access not only between the rich and poor, but the urban and rural, a strong WOC, in this highly visible position is going to be hugely positive for this country. She'd have to hate on fat pretty severely for me to admire her any less.