I’m done with you, Michelle Obama; hospital refuses to hire people with BMI >35

Update: Citizens Medical Center has reversed its policy and will no longer refuse to hire people with BMIs >35.


I want to like Michelle Obama. Maybe a lot of that is because the right wing hates her and have made no secret of it–first with “angry black woman” bullshit, then with “Moochelle Obama” bullshit. (Yes, “Moochelle Obama” is a thing. Seriously.) I even held out some hope that the body policing might help her understand just how toxic body policing is, even though I certainly didn’t expect her to transform into a full-on size acceptance advocate. And in fact, I saw a comment recently from someone who seemed to be following “Let’s Move!” more closely than I was, who thought the campaign had improved and the focus had moved more towards getting all kids active and away from “awareness” of fat kids.

But I am done with her. This is her “Hillary Clinton is working with ‘The Family’?!” moment. Michelle Obama is appearing on The Biggest Loser. It’s bad enough that my post office has a display for their Biggest Loser stamps; now the First Lady is basically endorsing it, too. [She has not explicitly said, “I endorse The Biggest Loser!” but she did record a message to contestants saying, “Congratulations, you have shown to millions of Americans that each of us can make positive changes in our lives.”]

By endorsing The Biggest Loser, she is endorsing weight bias. By endorsing The Biggest Loser, she is endorsing weight loss at the expense of health. By endorsing The Biggest Loser, she is endorsing a short-sighted focus on losing as much weight as possible, as fast as possible, when maintenance is the really hard part. By endorsing The Biggest Loser, she is endorsing the idea that exercise is punishment for weight, not a way to move your body enjoyably, and that exercising until you throw up is a good idea, at least for fat people. None of these are examples of “positive change”.

She probably didn’t intend to endorse these things, but as we say on the Internet, intent is not fucking magic.

And a part of me is starting to feel, “Why should I care about Michelle Obama being subjected to body policing? Apparently it’s not a big deal to her if that happens to people who are actually fat.” I’m not proud of that part, and it’s not the loudest voice in my head, but it wasn’t there before the Biggest Loser appearance.

There’s also a new article out about a hospital refusing to hire people with BMIs >35. I want to say that I’ve seen this covered in the fatosphere before, but I couldn’t find it. This particular article is new, at least, and it has some revealing quotes that are probably new to that article. In a way it’s refreshing that they admit that this is all about appearance:

The Citizens Medical Center policy… states that an employee’s physique “should fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job of a healthcare professional,” including an appearance “free from distraction” for hospital patients.

“The majority of our patients are over 65, and they have expectations that cannot be ignored in terms of personal appearance,” hospital chief executive David Brown said in an interview.

Being fat is “distracting”? Seriously? (I wonder if it’s the large breasts?) You know what else might not “fit with a representational image or specific mental projection” of a doctor? Not being white! Hey, I wonder if this hospital has ever gotten in trouble for that?

In the memo, one of several records used by three physicians of Indian descent to lodge a racial discrimination suit against Citizens, Brown wrote that he felt “a sense of disgust” that more “Middle-Eastern-born” physicians were demanding leadership roles at the hospital. “It will change the entire complexion of the hospital and create a level of fear among our employees,” he wrote.

[“Not being a man” is another obvious departure from most people’s “specific mental projection”, but I don’t have any evidence of that sort of discrimination here. Being young (fresh out of med school) is another example, especially since they make a big deal out of their patients being mostly over 65 years old. And age is only a protected category if the employer thinks you’re too old, not if they think you’re too young.]

A hospital refusing to hire fat people is not completely unexpected to me. In some of the coverage of hospitals refusing to hire smokers, one of the people in charge said that if he thought he could get away with not hiring fat people, he would. I guess we’ll find out if they can get away with it:

Lance Lunsford, spokesman for the Texas Hospital Association, said such a policy could open a hospital up to litigation. People with disabilities are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and in some court rulings, obesity has been interpreted as a disability. “There is an indication that not hiring someone due to obesity might be successfully challenged in court,” he said.

There is at least one doctor working there who disagrees with the policy, which is encouraging:

A doctor at Citizens who declined to be named acknowledged that employees — and patients — who are overweight cost the health care system more. But he said body mass index as a primary measure of obesity is not a good indicator: A professional football player might have a body mass index of 32, which is technically obese, but only have 7 percent body fat.

And unless obese job applicants have other precipitating health factors, he said, their weight wouldn’t get in the way of being a successful hospital employee. “If more people knew about it,” the doctor said of the employment policy, “they would be justifiably pissed.”

Justifiably pissed is right. I’m justifiably pissed.

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9 Responses to I’m done with you, Michelle Obama; hospital refuses to hire people with BMI >35

  1. DebraSY says:

    Sing it, sistah! Both these things suck. I think if I were ever admitted to Citizen’s I’d let them know that I find thin white men “distracting.” Brown is a piece of work.

  2. DeidreMiller says:

    Great article. And the hospital that’s discriminating – disgusting!

  3. Tori says:


    I’m also wondering about what happens to employees whose BMI increases — as is a typical experience for people in the US — over time. Like, if one’s BMI is, say, 27 at the time of hiring but gradually changes to 37 or so as the employee gains 10-15 years of seniority. Does the hospital have a policy of: a) how they’ll respond to that; b) how they’ll respond to a potential discrepancy between hiring and firing practices?

    • It says towards the end that “current workers who become obese over the course of their employment are not terminated,” but it doesn’t say how they’ll respond to the discrepancy.

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  5. FYI to Archie and any new commenters, it should go without saying, but this is not the place to post off-topic political stuff about Michelle Obama or the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, especially stuff that Fact Check or Politifact say is incorrect. It’s also not the place to talk about Michelle Obama’s BMI. And I think it’s pretty clear in my Comments Policy that I don’t want to have tedious arguments about the basic premises of my blog. (The fact that I’m against the conflation of BMI and “healthy lifestyle” is pretty basic.)

    However, I’m going to pull out this one interesting bit of Archie’s comment, even though it’s not especially on topic:
    Now we will all be lumped together in one pool to economically share our health misfortunes. Seems to me this makes it in your interest to encourage me to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

    But is it in my interest for you to encourage me to maintain a healthy lifestyle?

    Liberty to make my own choices affects my life pretty strongly. If encouraging me to maintain a healthy lifestyle takes the form of giving me a greater ability to do things I want to do, then it is in my interest. If it takes the form of coercing me into doing things I don’t want to do, it’s not in my interest. And I’m only paying an infinitesimal amount of any other person’s health insurance costs. Even a program that had a strong effect on the health habits of a decent number of people will only have a weak effect on my insurance premium. So I don’t think it’s worth giving up my own freedom in order to have a reduced insurance premium.

    And I don’t think that promoting The Biggest Loser will improve anybody’s health.

  6. Enjoyed your article even though I am a right winger. LOL. More of Repubocratarian I would say.

    I posted your article on Facebook in relations to this article:

    Unfortunately this is an inaccurate portrayal of obesity. Not only because of the fact that it does not take into account body fat but it does not take into account of genetics. Because depending on the percentage of races within a state determines this chart. But BMI charts are racist or anti racist I should say. It applies the same chart to all individuals. Which does not take into account the different races and how they are different. In this case, one BMI does not fit everyone. When they came out with the new BMI charts, it made people like George W Bush and Will Smith as overweight. Even Michelle Obama with all her focus on health is over her government determined BMI due to her African ethnicity, not that she is actually overweight, but because the BMI does not take into account genetics. Well in that case, there are studies that show that people that are slightly overweight actually live longer than their thin counterparts. So in this case fluffy rules!!

    I am morbidly obese and have tried for years to lose weight. I, like you though feel, while Michelle can be commended for supporting a campaign of increasing healthiness and positive changes, each person is different and the decisions should be left to the individual and those changes should be something that the individual will do for the long term. Just the fact that they support the Food Pyramid shows I don’t think she has done her homework. The basis of the pyramid are grains. But according to Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist, the very grains that used to be a good thing for us have become a poison due to genetic mutations that occur in the embryo of the wheat using a chemical called Sodium. This is a recent occurrence from the late 70’s that actually had a basis in trying to help the starving. But it has led to a whole generation and more of gluten intolerant individuals that don’t know why they can’t stop eating! Yes, my name is Angel and I am a wheataholic. I have fallen off the wagon a couple of times because I forget, but with so many gluten free products it is much easier than I expected. And that compulsion to eat even when miserably full has disappeared. So I think he might have something… I am still in the initial phases and waiting to see if the hurting joints and cravings to eat my drug of choice will come back, but so far so good.

    • I hadn’t heard that Michelle Obama had publicly released her BMI. I would guess based on looking at her that it’s somewhere in the mid-20s, but I don’t think it’s obvious just from looking at her whether it’s over or under 25.

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