Are you too fat for your job?
There's been some debate in the media about whether or not surgeon general nominee Regina Benjamin is too overweight for the position.
This begs the question, which jobs do you need to be skinny for? And when is it OK to bring a little extra padding into the office?
Personally, I think Dr. Benjamin looks fine. Sure, she's no Kate Moss, but C. Everett Koop was no slim Jim either.
As someone who has struggled with her own weight, I kind of prefer a surgeon general who's lumpy. Who better to relate to the challenge of trying to stay healthy in our fast-food couch and cubicle culture?
However, some have suggested that as the face of medicine, Dr. Benjamin's Rubenesque figure doesn't project the right image.
Uh, have you looked around the mall lately?
TV anchor desks may be staffed by skinny minis who live on Dentyne and Starbucks, but the rest of us look more like the rounded Doc from the Bayou.
But apparently a high IQ isn't enough these days. If you want a top job, the number that really counts is your waist-to-hip ratio. We can now add surgeon general to the list of professions that require a low BMI: fashion models, mannequins, featherweight boxers, porn stars and now presidential nominees.
Perhaps the people bringing up the issue of Dr. Benjamin's size are doing it for political reasons, and it's really her potential policies they dislike.
But the reality is, the weight issue wouldn't be gaining traction if our society didn't have a built-in prejudice against heavy people. I've been both a victim and a perpetrator of it.
I've had the experience of going on stage, and also, ugh, television, 20 pounds overweight, and I can tell you that it takes longer for a chubby chick to win over an audience.
But honestly also compels me to admit that when I meet a skinny person in a chic, fitted suit, I'm more likely to listen to what they have to say than I am to a person with a gut spilling out over their stretch pants. It's awful. But it's also true.
And even worse, I'm more judgmental of women than men.
I've given presentations with my own ab flab sucked into a body squeezer, and covered by a blazer, just so the audience wouldn't see me jiggling. Yet if two other speakers walked on stage, one a buxom woman, and the other a portly man packing a big gut behind his blazer, I'm probably going to notice the woman's weight and not give the man's girth a second thought.
How pathetic is that? I'm prejudiced against my own kind!
But I also know that I'm not the only one with this built-in bias. We make all kinds of negative assumptions about heavy people, judging everything from their IQ to their work ethic.
Dr. Benjamin's weight didn't keep her from winning a MacArthur genius award or from making endless house calls in a rural community. However, I also suspect that the public debate about her weight is just as hurtful to her as it would be to us non-geniuses.
But perhaps she's the one who's going to teach us that talent comes in all sizes. Or maybe she'll lead the way in helping us all get healthier.
I just hope nobody imposes any weight requirements for my job.