I am a bit appalled by the fact that there has been a discussion started about the physical appearance of President Obama’s choice for Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin. News outlets everywhere are asking the leading question, Is Dr. Benjamin too overweight to be the Surgeon General? As if her weight should be up for debate at all. Next thing you know, they’ll be reporting every morsel of food that enters her body, the way we had to hear endlessly about Michael Phelp’s diet, or the way we are supposed to be surprised every time we learn what Paris Hilton had for supper.
There are arguments on both sides of this issue.
The pro-Dr. Benjamin side states that many people feel physicians who mirror their own body image are more empathetic to their struggles, that just because you are not a product of your knowledge does not mean you do not possess the knowledge, that we are not always in control of our weight due to external factors, and that we often live in a “do as I say, not as I do” world.
On the other hand, the no-Dr. Benjamin side argues that the Surgeon General should be a positive phyiscal image of what health is, that we are looking to her to be a role model for us, and they make the comparison that you would not want to purchase skin care products from someone who had bad skin.
I have my own thoughts.
For starters, it is just bad manners to give a play by play on someone else’s body, particularly without their consent or their starting the conversation. Opening up body-type for dicussion lends itself to un-educated statements and conclusions, and often winds up promoting a distaste for people who do not fit into the socially ideal body, and thus gives way to the population believing seterotypes regarding those who do not resemble the bodies we see in the media.
Next, calling someone overweight comes with a negative connotation. When we inundate our children with this notion, we are ultimately altering their worldview. In this society, girls at the age of 8 want to be on a diet, and by the age of 11 are displaying symptoms of anorexia and bulimia. I distinctly recall believing I needed to be thinner before I left elementary school; what more damage would there have been if a public figure was being questioned in their position based on their weight?
Third, when was the last time you even knew what the Surgeon General looked like? I am much more likely to base my opinions on how I should look by whoever is on the cover of Cosmo than on anyone else. People are behaving as though they have pictures of the Surgeon General adorning their kitchen walls, giant posters of this leader in their gyms. I don’t buy it. Not for a second.
And last, and possibly the most disturbing thought for me, is that if Dr. Benjamin is qualified for the position, what she looks like should not, and does not, matter. We are teetering on the edge of discrimination based on body type. Do we seriously want to be a country where you will not be hired because of the size of their waist? Particularly since the majority of the population is overweight anyway. What message does this send employers? It is okay to not hire an overweight person to sell your product. Well, if that is the case, I’d say we have a whale of an issue instead of a guppy of one.
Dr. Benjamin is a trooper for dealing with this question, front and center. My heart goes out to her, because God, my parents, my brother, and all of my friends know that there is no way in Atlantis I want to discuss my body unless I bring it up first. I know what I look like, and I definitely know what I think about myself. I do not need strangers or otherwise bring myself up with me.
Relevant, but not quite on topic, stems the idea of fat acceptance. If you’re feeling crazy, here are some links to blogs that support and denounce that subject: