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.