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Too Fat for Surgeon General — Or for a Shidduch

Last week, President Obama nominated widely respected Dr. Regina Benjamin, to be the country’s next Surgeon General. It took no time at all for the question to be asked whether the winner of the coveted MacArthur “genius” award is too fat to hold the post because she appears to be overweight.

Even at a time when the rise in obesity rightfully makes regular headlines, it is a shocking question. Based on her credentials — the things that are supposed to count — it would be hard to find a more qualified candidate. According to this blog post from The White House:

She was chosen as President of the Medical Association of Alabama in 2002, becoming the first African-American woman to be president of a state medical society. She was also the first African-American woman and physician under 40 to be elected to the American Medical Association Board of Trustees. She received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights in 1998, among other honors.

Accomplished. Dedicated. Smart and industrious. What more could anyone want in a U.S. Surgeon General?

In the world of conservative talk shows, apparently you would want her to be skinny.

As reported by the Huffington Post, Fox News host Neil Cavuto had on a guest this week who described Dr. Regina Benjamin as “50–60 pounds overweight,” “obese,” and unfit for duty. This fitness “expert,” Michael Karolchyk, is such a classy dude that he went on national television wearing a T-shirt touting the slogan “no chubbies.”

The issue in general seems to be in the air right now.

Just as the Dr. Benjamin story was breaking, pediatrician Perri Klass wrote, in her column “18 and Under” this week in The New York Times how difficult it can be to bring up food issues with an overweight child-patient when the doctor is hardly a paragon of fitness herself.

Issues of food, weight and mental health are certainly of current concern in the Jewish community.

Last month the Orthodox Union and eating disorders treatment facility The Renfrew Center, which recently launched a treatment track for Orthodox Jewish women, held a conference examining just that. It was covered by the Forward here.

Pressure to be very thin has been going on for a while in the Orthodox world, where young men and women are set up by professional shadchans, or matchmakers, and men have been known to ask about the woman’s mother’s dress size, to try and predict how his date might look in 20 years. This funny blog, called “Bad for Shidduchim,” awhile back had a related post about the issue.

But is her weight relevant to Dr. Benjamin’s ability to do her job? The discussion should obviously be not about her weight, but rather about her ability to do the job.

Here’s a hard-working medical professional devoted to serving impoverished, isolated people in rural Alabama, often traveling by pickup truck to see people in their homes, who three times rebuilt her clinic after it was destroyed by hurricanes and a fire. If she can handle that, what about the Surgeon General post would be too much for her to handle?

Hopefully members of Congress, during the Senate confirmation process, will be smart enough to avoid Karolchyk’s way of thinking, and focus on the things that matter.

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