Monday, July 27, 2009

Sizing up the surgeon general nominee

Looks like another storm is brewing in Washington, this one over the girth of Dr. Regina Benjamin, President Obama's nominee for surgeon general. This storm, like so many before it, began forming in that tornado alley of popular opinion: talk radio, the blogosphere, and, of course, Fox News.

No one is questioning the credentials of Dr. Benjamin, whose career in medicine has been marked by philanthropy, and numerous achievements and accolades. What her critics are focusing on is Dr. Benjamin's weight: they say she is "too fat" to be surgeon general.

There was this priceless moment, for instance, when Fox's Neil Cavuto interviewed a critic who appeared on camera sporting a "No Chubbies" T-shirt. Talking Points Memo, which posted the video, went on to point out that Cavuto's guest was Michael Karolchyk, owner of an outfit in Denver called the Anti-Gym, a "fitness club" that promotes getting in shape for sex.

Bloggers were busy speculating about Dr. Benjamin's weight, guessing that she was 40 to 50 pounds overweight and probably a size 18 or 20. Some agreed with the likes of Karolchyk that her weight would send the wrong message, while others defended her and hinted that the criticism of her nomination had undercurrents of racism and sexism.

So what, exactly, does the surgeon general do that would make being overweight a disqualifier? According to the office's Web site, the U.S. surgeon general "serves as America's chief health educator by providing Americans the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and reduce the risk of illness and injury."

So Dr. Benjamin's role would be that of an educator, not an aerobics instructor.

In that role, perhaps Dr. Benjamin's weight might prove an asset, allowing her to better connect with the American public as the surgeon general takes on the problem of obesity. That, I suppose, would all depend on how she approached the issue.

Meanwhile, I have to think that a lot of the criticism over her weight is just so much mean-spirited blather.


  1. Way to go to send a message to the young people (especially girls) that you're not worth paying attention to unless you're thin. I agree Dr. Benjamin is overweight and that's probably not a good thing for her medically but I hardly think it should disqualify her for the job.

  2. I agree, Sandy, that the emphasis on thinness can be very damaging to girls. I've known quite a few girls and women who are way too thin, and unhealthy. I do think it's possible to be somewhat overweight yet still fit.

  3. I think a lot of those folks would find something else to complain about if she weren't heavy. I can't imagine Fox News ever embracing an obama pick.

    And being overweight, short of obesity, is not necessarily a health risk. It will be interesting to see how she deals with fitness/healthy eating/ obesity issues.

  4. I agree with what everyone else said and also, I'd like to raise the heredity issue. My guess is the surgeon-general nominee's body type is more a question of genes than anything else.

  5. Good point, Esther. Those pesky genes do play a role in a lot of things.