Female Nominees Continue To Face Scrutiny Over Their Size, Weight

No sooner did Barack Obama nominate Dr. Regina Benjamin to be the next Surgeon General than people started talking about whether her weight should disqualify her from public office.

Francis Kissling in Salon, at least, writes with some sense about this bullshit.

The only problem seems to be that some people think the face is too fat.

From her photos, it appears that Dr. Benjamin will need a generous size 18 military uniform. The anti-fat brigade, who have argued about her BMI and whether or not the term obese applies, wonder if a country plagued by obesity should have an above average-weight woman speaking to public health.

For me the answer is a resounding yes. This country is full of above-average weight women and children struggling for dignity as well as to lose weight. Achieving either of these is not easy. (Never mind that none of these criticisms have mentioned any actual health concerns Benjamin might or might not have, instead presuming "obesity" as a catch-all for bad health.)

In fact, despite the fact that the entire "theory" undermining the BMI measurement system has been proven to be ineffective for any real determination of unhealthy weight and that it's been shown to be disproportionately ineffective for African-American women in particular, people have looked at Regina Benjamin, determined her to be bigger than some predetermined physical ideal, assumed that means she has a high BMI, assumed that BMI (despite its known biases) is some indicator of health and thus made the determination that, despite her vast qualifications, we shouldn't have anyone who doesn't embody some bullshit ideal of physical imperfection helming an department that deals with health issues.

If I hadn't already heard this about Sonia Sotomayor and Elana Kaganagain today, even, about Sotomayor! — I guess I'd be a little less disinclined to immediately roll my eyes and think it sexist and sizeist. But not one of these assholes said a god damned thing when Obama nominated former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack to head the Department of Agriculture, despite his oversight over: the food pyramid; agricultural subsidies that go heavily to grains and hardly at all to fruits and vegetables; the school lunch program, food stamps, WIC programs and the lists of foodstuffs that comprise what the poor are able to eat; and the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Nobody piped up when he nominated non-skinny former Congressman Ray LaHood to head the Department of Transportation, who has since become the face of an agency that provides oversight over the roads that make sure most Americans need do little more than walk from their buildings to cars and back again. And goodness knows none of these concern-trolling assholes had a word to say when Larry Summers was appointed to lead the National Economic Council, whose remit includes agriculture, health care, Social Security and labor issues. Google any of their names and the acronym BMI and you're more likely to read about the airline than weight — and any of the stories about weight aren't about theirs.

Just so long as I'm clear on the double standard: if you're a (potentially) overweight man whose job involves issues related to weight, you get a pass. If you're a woman, people feel inclined to debate your bodytype ad infinitum, even if your job has nothing to do with health issues (like being a Supreme Court justice). Glass ceilings, indeed.

Is Regina Benjamin Too Fat To Be Surgeon General? [Salon]

Related: Top 10 Reasons Why The BMI Is Bogus [NPR]
The Effect Of Sex, Age And Race On Estimating Percentage Body Fat From Body Mass Index: The Heritage Family Study [National Journal of Obesity]
Mark Levin: Sotomayor Is "Ruth Bader Ginsburg Plus About 50 Pounds" [Media Matters]
National Economic Council [White House]

Earlier: Obama's Surgeon General Pick Made Sacrifices to Treat Poor
Women Too Stupid To Stay Thin Are Not Smart Enough For Supreme Court
Why Sexist Larry Summers Shouldn't Get A Cabinet Slot