I am appalled by the mean-spirited comments of people who have raised questions about the weight of President Obama’s nominee to be Surgeon General. By all accounts, Dr. Regina Benjamin is a fine family doctor who has sacrificed much for her patients; rather than maximizing her potential financial return she has pursued a practice that focuses on patient care and helping needy people in a depressed community. Her story is inspiring, and is echoed in the stories of many other family practice doctors in communities across America. These are doctors, healers, and counselors who, like our own family doctor, have decided that actually practicing medicine and interacting with patients is rewarding in and of itself — even if it means wrestling with insurance forms and payment issues, paying hefty malpractice insurance premiums and, in Dr. Benjamin’s case, rebuilding your clinic after fires or hurricanes. Given her background and her accomplishments, why in the world would anyone think it appropriate to talk about her weight or her appearance?
I think there are two sources of this regrettable phenomenon. First, many people are simply much less polite than they used to be. Someone’s weight or appearance used to be off limits — even Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, in his classic book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, acknowledged that — but it now seems fair game to comment freely on someone’s appearance and even make fun of them if they don’t meet some ideal of physical beauty. Second, our society often seems to be in the grip of health Nazis who think they should be able to tell us what to eat, what to drink, and how to exercise. If we don’t meet their standards they have no problem in passing judgment on our character. For these people, only a rail-thin fitness freak vegetarian jogger could pass muster as the Surgeon General nominee.
I think having a family doctor who has faced a bunch of real world issues serve as Surgeon General is a good idea. Dr. Regina Jefferson may ultimately be effective or ineffective as Surgeon General, but her weight should have, and will have, nothing to do with her performance in that capacity.
I think she is a great choice for a surgeon general. I haven’t heard about the concerns about her weight. I suspect it is part of a campaign to discredit her, since there is no substantive reason to question her credentials. With that being said, one could also make the case that the leading health official of the country communicates to us by what she says and how she behaves. Therefore if she is overweight in a country where obesity is a serious problem, this will send a confusing message, even if she is smart and says all the right things.