Columnist: Should job interviews include a weigh-in?

Published 7:33 am Wednesday, July 29, 2009

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.

On behalf of chubby, middle-aged, smart women, I feel obligated to take up this cause.

I’d like to know, which jobs do you need to be skinny for? And when is it OK to bring a little extra girth 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.

I kind of prefer a Surgeon General who’s a little lumpy.

Who better to relate to the challenge of trying to stay healthy in our fast food, couch  cubicle culture?

Yet 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 minnies who live on Dentyne and Starbucks, but the rest of us look more like the rounded doc from the Bayou (aka Dr. Benjamin).
But apparently a high IQ isn’t enough. If you want a top job, the number that really counts is your BMI.

We can now add Surgeon General to the list of jobs that require low body fat: 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 that 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, I’m embarrassed to admit, 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, it takes longer for a chubby chick to win over an audience.

But honesty also compels me to admit that when I meet a skinny person in a chic, fitted suit, I’m more likely to assume positive credibility than I am for someone 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 heavier 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 size 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 she doesn’t ask Congress to impose weight requirements for my job.

Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, syndicated columnist, keynote speaker and business consultant.
Her books include Forget Perfect and Finding Grace When You Can’t Even Find Clean Underwear.
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