Too Fat to Fight Fat? Critics “Weigh In” on Surgeon General Pick

She’s been called a “genius” who’s fought for the poor and sick and is known for her work to bring awareness about health issues to minority and poor communities. She’s also has a physique more akin to Oprah Winfrey than Michelle Obama. So naturally … someone was going to say it. Is Dr. Regina M. Benjamin too much of a woman (re: fat!) to fight America’s obesity epidemic?

More after the jump.


Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, Obama’s pick for the next surgeon general, was hailed as a McArthur Grant genius who had championed the poor at a medical clinic she set up in Katrina-ravaged Alabama.

But the full-figured African-American nominee is also under fire for being overweight in a nation where 34 percent of all Americans aged 20 and over are obese.

Critics and supporters across the blogsphere have commented on photos of Benjamin’s round cheeks, saying she sends the wrong message as the public face of America’s health initiatives.

But others support the 52-year-old founder and CEO of Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic, citing new research that shows you cannot always judge a book by its cover when it comes to obesity.

Even the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance — whose slogan is “we come in all sizes” — has jumped to her defense.

“The job of surgeon general is to make health care and policy decisions for the country — not to look hot in a pair of skinny jeans,” said one blogger on “Perhaps her size could actually be an advantage — she’s in a better position to understand obesity and contemplate out-of-the-box ways to roll back ever-expanding American waistlines.”

I almost gave this an “O RLY” owl because what does her waistline have to do with her ability to do her job? This isn’t a beauty contest. But then, hey, maybe someone can argue why this is an issue and convince me otherwise. Anyone agree with the critics?

50 thoughts on “Too Fat to Fight Fat? Critics “Weigh In” on Surgeon General Pick

  1. my dad is overweight and a physician. he gets a lot of business and folks trust his opinion. if your waistline affected your mental abilities, then i’d worry. my only issue is that HIS health is at risk.

  2. But for all her accomplishments, Dr. Benjamin is overweight and regardless if she’s the new Surgeon General far too many black women are overweight and that’s not good. And the good doctor in her position needs to set an example

  3. Does it affect her medical ability, not at all. Does it affect her credibility on some issues, I tend to think so.

  4. I’ve heard Regina Benjamin’s qualifications and I think that she is exactly what the country needs as it’s public health spokesperson. She worked in an economically disadvantaged area. One news report stated that some of her patients were so poor that they would pay her with a few fish that they caught or a bucket of shellfish that they collected. After working in that sort of economic environment, I think that she can speak tomes on the need for sufficient health care for all in the United States.So no, her weight is seriously a non-issue that I think to which too many people are clinging.

  5. ‘They’ve’ reached an all time low. So I guess my boyfriend shouldn’t let his bald barber cut his hair anymore, because there’s no way he could do a good job.

  6. What the hell, this is a bunch of bull. I am so sick of america determining what fit is. They’ve done studies that show that African Americans are bigger than whites, it’s just how we are made up. I don’t know too many blacks that fit into the category of what fit is and it’s not because they are obese it’s because women have hips and thighs and breasts and that should not automatically make them fat. They just have curves. I think the problem is in the way we determine weight because not everyone in the world has ever been the same size and they will never be so stop taking the smallest person you can find and say oh well this is how everyone should look. That’s a bunch of ignorant crap. Centuries ago girth meant wealth, it meant that they could afford to eat. As long as the woman is eating healthy and exercising then it doesn’t matter what size she is because she is doing her part. If we are going to nitpick then what about all the doctors who consume an over abundance amount of coffee (caffeine) or cigarettes? They know it’s wrong but it’s a personal choice, it’s what they need to cope with all the bull that they have to deal with on a daily basis so as long as the woman is doing her job who cares what size she is. I can’t believe people will make a big deal about everything. I bet if she was white then there would be no discussion of her size.

  7. Is she really overweight or does she have big boobs? Sherri Shepard may look overweight but if you notice she just has big boobs which make her look overweight. This doctor looks like she may have a similar shape.

  8. Here’s the truth, Dr. Benjamin may indeed be informed about weight issues and matters and i definitely respect her credentials but, she needs to project the the healthy image she wants us all to adhere to. She will be in a position of authority and her rotund figure doesn’t scream "health" to me. Walk the walk then you can show me how it’s done!

  9. @Demetra: Church!!!! How many med students and residents drink an inordinate amount of caffeine to work 24-hour shifts???? @politicallyincorrect: you’re post is indeed "politically incorrect" but I hear you.@tara79: No. Do you have Dr. Benjamin’s medical records? Do you know her cholesterol level? Honestly, there are some (actually most) women out there who would literally have to starve themselves and over-exercise to be deemed "acceptable" and that’s NOT healthy. For all we know, Dr. Benjamin probably eats a balanced diet and works out everyday. But because her FACE is a little chubby, we automatically assume she bleeds chocolate ice cream and is a couch potato? Guh!My co-worker is a size four and eats nothing but take-out and refuses to workout. But because she’s thin, she’s the type of person we should look to for nutritional guidance? At one time, her hair was literally FALLING OUT because of her diet. Thin does NOT equal healthy and we need to get rid of that idea.

  10. I would note the following:1. Everyone is not meant to be or built like a size 2.2. Dr. Benjamin is 52 years old. Bodies change. Metabolism slows down. Gravity takes over. So these could be factors to her "larger" size.3. The focus should be on healthy living not on being a particular size.4. My father, a physician has always been slender. As middle aged has settled he has a bit of a tummy – even though he plays tennis regularly and eats well. Same for my aunt, a nurse, who has always been larger even though she works out every morning and eats healthy. The point? Looks can be deceiving. I’m sure Dr. Benjamin (as most physicians do) instructs her patients on the benefits of eating right and exercise. We should care more about whether she heeds her own advice – and not be caught up in the outer appearance.

  11. Like it or not, doctors are considered role models especially one in a role such as Surgeon General. I guess Dr. Benjamen’s advice may be seen as the do as I say, but not as I do variety.

  12. I don’t get these folks who are clinging so FIRMLY to the idea that there is a direct correlation between how this formidably qualified woman LOOKS and how healthy she is. I hate the complex some thinner people have and the idea that thin is morally superior to fat or overweight.What’s the standard for health? Are y’all following Dr. Benjamin around to see what she eats and how often she exercises? When are we going to understand that healthy habits don’t always equal model figures? Genetics, hormonal chemistry and more all affect how much weight we carry.I emphatically disagree with anyone suggesting that her advice or ability to do her job is somehow compromised by her appearance.

  13. I am a 5ft tall nurse practitioner student. I weight 122 pounds. My cholesterol has been over 200 for years. I joined Weight Watchers a few years ago in an effort to reduce my choleseterol. I got dirty looks everytime I went. People need to stop making assumptions based on appearances. Further, we don’t know the Surgeon General nominee’s health history. She may have an endocrine disorder or may take medications that contribute to her overweight.Moreover, maybe she doesn’t have time to hit the gym when she’s making house calls in a pickup truck. And moonlighting at the ER to financially support her clinic and pay the second mortgage on her home and pay for medications that her patients can’t afford. I bet the patients she serves couldn’t give a damn about how much she weighs when a lot of other physicians of various shapes and sizes don’t give a damn whether they live or die.

  14. I tend to agree with AlexG. If my doctor smoked, he’s setting a poor example when he’s advocating good health.

  15. Well, to all of you so willingly cosigning this egregious questioning of her credibility (which it seems on here have been mostly men), do you know what the last 5 Surgeon Generals looked like before the decision of Dr. Benjamin’s weight was brought up or did you just accept the nominee on his/ her qualifications in the health industry. And don’t say this is important now because of the health crisis. Americans have been in an obesity crisis for the past 20 years. This is clearly a sexist attack on a overly qualified, concerned doctor.

  16. wow. Being Healthy is so much more complex than a person’s weight or size & each time you simplify it like that, you display your own ignorance.She doesn’t have to be a size 4 to promote fresh fruits & vegetables, and exercise.

  17. I blogged about this and I knew the overwhelming majority of people who come to her defense without hesitation. I was in the Army. I know all about height/weight standard and how they don’t always match up. How it views almost all African American women as overweight. I am tall and I remember my sergeant telling me to leave the room because I didn’t need to be there. He was trying to protect the privacy of those who had to be taped (measures the BMI) and was shocked that I was one of those people. IF she is overweight it IS an issue particularly because of the treatable health problems killing the Black community that can be avoided with simple healthy choices like appropriate diet and exercise. As far as I’m concerned whether we would be having this conversation if it were a man is irrelevant. Weight/ health concerns are an issue in the Black community and needs to be addressed and remedied. Black people have too many excuses. The same people defending their "big bones", "thickness", and "full figures" are the same ones ripping on other groups, mainly poor Black folks, about the pathologies those other groups accept and damn near embrace.

  18. By the way that some of you are talking you may as well say she isn’t qualified because she is black. Aren’t most doctors white, Jewish, or Asian? How dare she have the educational credentials and experience. I am sure none of you would let such a qualified professional treat you? Men are a trip.

  19. There is no proof that this woman is overweight or obese; all this talk is simply based on how she looks and not her actual health stats!!!!! Are you her doctor???? Do you know what she eats everyday and how much she eats???? Do you know how much she exercises???? Do you know her weight, height and BMI number???? Do you know if she has high blood pressuere, high cholesterol?????? No you don’t so you need to STFU!!!!!!!!!! There are many many people who eat healthy and exercise regularly but are still bigger and its because that is just how their body is their made and they shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed by a society obsessed with thinness. Not everyone is meant to be a size 2, 4, 6,8, etc. I am truly disgusted at people judging whether this woman is qualified based on her looks.

  20. In terms of her career and academic accomplishments, the woman is clearly qualified. While I don’t think the surgeon general has to fit the mold of the "perfect sized" woman by European standards, she does need to lose weight. It’s very hard to take a physicians seriously when they know full well the strain obesity puts on the organs, just as it’s difficult to take a physician seriosly telling me I need to lose 35 pounds in between all of "life" I have to juggle daily. If obesity is to be recognized and treated as a public health crisis, the person leading the charge needs to be a role model as well. We are all busy with careers, families, etc., but our health needs to be a priority! Maybe she can use her health challenge as a campaign to get the rest of America healthy and change the direction from obesity to healthy.

  21. Not only is Regina qualified, she went to an historically black college undergrad and for medical training (Xavier, Morehouse College of Medicine); she is a just the type of physician we need in this position at this crossroads of healthcare reform nationally.By the way, I seem to recollect that Dr. Koop (previous surgeon general) was overweight. She is not morbidly obese. Let’s just drop this silly talk now!

  22. 1) Other Surgeon Generals in the past were not all skinny. 2) I never considered her obese until I saw this post and now that I think of it, I think she does have an enormous chest/breast size. She does not look fat. She did not look the day at the White House when she was introduced to the press. I know I would have noticed because I am quite observant and I have a disdain of the growing trend of obese Sisters thinking it is normal to be large.3) She may not have planned to ever be Surgeon General or an emerging national public figure (celebrity), so she did not think to have breast reduction and plastic surgery to please looming critics. She may have been working on her health priorities right along with her patients as preventitive medicine for herself and that is something her critics nor us know any determining factors. It just seems illogical to think she is just fat and careless. One would think logically that she knows she has a large chest and that puts weight on her and of that summation, she just has to a doctor who is cognizant of her size and probably does work out.I think (with evidence) that she works out just because of who her personal interests are directed to in helping poor and disenfranchised people. She may work out for cardio health but not to be thin. This woman probably is a model for her patients to show she struggles too with genetic coding not in favor of being thin and hence has to work out. I have a feeling she does. She just does not seem like a lazy person doing so much in extraordinary social innovation and social entreprenuership in equalizing healthcare to not take care of herself. But yes, our women…the Sisters are too big. I don’t think she is thinking she above measure. Her critics are not being reasonable with whom she is in exhibition of her pathmarks so far.

  23. Really? So people are seriously trying to judge this woman’s health on her photo? This is some seriously lame criticism. It’s also interesting that this comes off the heels of a recent study that suggests BMI is more likely to put black people in the "obese" category when that description isn’t accurate. Given that BMI is calculated solely on height and weight, I’d say you’d be hard-pressed to rule someone unhealthy and therefore unfit to become Surgeon General based on a quick once-over.

  24. Dr. Benjamin looks "chesty"as others have mentioned (and I don’t mean Aretha chesty), she in no way looks obese or unhealthy. I swear, if a Black female doctor found the cure to cancer and AIDS there would still be people lined up to find fault with her somehow. And do people actually think folks with bad eating habits would magically decide to start living healthier if the surgeon general was an athletic build? And why do adults need someone to "set an example" in order to live healthier, when I decided years ago to go out of my way for fresh produce and no red meat, I did not need a role model to show me how; I’m a grown woman with common sense. This is a bs excuse to belittle the doctor’s incredible accomplishments, and absolve people of their own bad habits. All this about she her credibility as a doctor is shot because blah blah…A lot of fat unhealthy people are poor and guess what, healthy food is expensive and the gym ain’t free. No I’m not excusing bad habits, I cringe when I see people order all fried foods and starches at my local restaurant. Black people, we do tend to have atrocious diets and chalk it up to well this is how we are. But this doctor is accustomed to working with lifestyle habits that are less than ideal, she just might have something to offer besides the usual exercise , eat fresh produce, drink water, etc. routine that we all know about. She already has plans for a major overhaul of public school lunches, did she need to be a size 8 to consider that? Would someone sitting down to a fried fish/shrimp with french fries plate stop and say, well the surgeon general is a size 8 and I want to look like her so I’ll have salad instead…give me a break.

  25. "why do adults need someone to "set an example" in order to live healthier"- BluTopazAnd there it is. Anyone who has struggled with weight can tell you that changing your lifestyle is deeply personal. No one person is going to change that for a whole nation. Jenny Craig hasn’t done it, Richard Simmons hasn’t done it and i’m pretty sure that all the people looking at Dr. Benjamin and questioning her abilities haven’t done it. If you are so concerned about the well being of Americans and you feel that one person can accomplish what you are stating she can’t at her apparent size then be the change you want to see. Help someone in your own family or community… that is if you truly believe you can do it for someone else. Otherwise, that example theory is nonsense

  26. Spare me the she’s qualified shit. A lot of people are qualified for jobs but don’t get them because of other reasons that have no bearing on whether or not they can do the damn job. Some of Obama’s choices for key positions didn’t get them because of situations outside the scope of their job description.She’s the Surgeon General, the nation’s PR doctor. She’s qualified to run a clinic but that’s not exactly what she’s asked to do in this position. And whether some of you like it or not there are SOME people who will look at the person delivering the message. You’ll never see a small tit chick speaking about the negatives of big tits will ya? Do I care what she looks like? No. And I guess most of you don’t either by the way you’re carrying on. Is every iota of criticism of her valid? I haven’t read them all but I’m sure its not. Is raising the issue of her health status valid on some level? Yes.

  27. If I had rebuilt my business three times from scratch I think the least you could allow me is some weight.

  28. A 2 minute google search on the Doctor: "…In 1997, she received one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon physicians in the United States: election to the elite Institute of Medicine. And, as if her list of achievements was not long enough, last year Benjamin received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights and a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant . She has also served in leadership positions in such health-related organizations as the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians"Sounds like some of those awards and roles have something to do with health public relations, don’t they? And some people are hell bent on believing she is just a fat, country clinic doctor who should show her BMI chart to the country.

  29. I dunno. Sure, she has a big chest, but she also has one too many chins in recent photos (I don’t know how old the photo at is). So yada yada yada, the President smokes, too.But Michelle Obama has been such a phenomenal model of the importance of exercise and diet … with Precious & the Widowmaker, and that kitchen garden. I do think appointing a fat SG undermines the message somewhat. Not a huge deal, but unfortunate. On the other hand, the message of how poorly our health care system reaches poor communities also needs elevating, and Dr. Benjamin seems to be the perfect choice for that purpose.

  30. So many ppl sound defensive about questioning whether or not her weight sends the wrong message. Perhaps it’s this defensiveness that will be the great barrier to solving America’s weight problem. When the swords are put down and more attention is paid to the issue as a "real" issue, rather than just defending heavier people, then perhaps things will move forward.

  31. As I recall, wait I am revealing my age, I mean as I have researched, Charles Everett Koop wasn’t exactly slim.I have to say that from what I have seen of this lady, she isn’t fat, she just isn’t built like a 10 year old boy the way mainstream America likes. Maybe I am hitting one of my weird cultural divides, but to me, she just looks normal for a woman of her age. She has wider hips and let’s say a full bosom, you cannot pull that off with a 24 inch waist unless you are made of plastic.Y’all can call me weird…but I see more of a race issue here than with the harassment of Dr. Gates. Our mainstream culture tells women they should look a certain way – be white and built like a 10 year old boy. If you are not that, you will be criticized and the society will try to make you feel bad about it. Reminds me of that experiment they did in the ’50’s with showing white and black baby dolls to young black students – come on people I know you remember it from the Brown v Board of Ed movie with Sidney Poitier. I just think this criticism shows a deeply rooted distaste in America for those black women who don’t try to look white – because America sure does love it some Soledad O’Brien.

  32. tarheelio:It is true that Koop wasn’t the smallest guy, however let’s remember that at the time the hot button public health issue was smoking and not obesity as it is now. Maybe she just has the bad luck of being heavy at the wrong time and nothing more.

  33. I have disagree with you on this one Snob, sister dont have to be overweight, and need to evaluate why they have trouble losing weight. Dr Ro is phys fit. But for all her accomplishments, Dr. Benjamin is overweight and regardless if she’s the new Surgeon General far too many black women are overweight and that’s not good. And the good doctor in her position needs to set an example!

  34. Wow – I didn’t reaize that not being a stick totally negated a Macarthur Genius Award! This saddens me intensely. Obama is trying to fill positions with intelligent people, and the arguments against these women involves their weight! Sotomayor had some similar things said about her. Apparently women are supposed to be skinny *and* successful. I guess I might as well label myself a failure right now.

  35. "So many ppl sound defensive about questioning whether or not her weight sends the wrong message. Perhaps it’s this defensiveness that will be the great barrier to solving America’s weight problem. When the swords are put down and more attention is paid to the issue as a "real" issue, rather than just defending heavier people, then perhaps things will move forward."Some of these same people will allow for NO defense of other self-destructive behaviors that are bad for Black people like out of wedlock births, Black men, rap music, or buying shoes instead of Hooked on Phonics. Try to give a "defense" or say you don’t know someone’s personal story no matter how valid and you will be shot the hell down. But the first thing out of too many people’s mouths on this issue is: you don’t know her weight, you don’t know her health, BMI, she could still be healthy, thin people can be unhealthy…a multitude of reasons why she shouldn’t be criticized or the issue even brought up AT ALL. For NO REASON. I guess because she’s educated, successful and inspirational she’s not allowed to be questioned at all about anything unlike the "gots to do better" faction of our race that are always available for public lambasting and frank discussion. I hope she does well. I hope she inspires and more importantly educates Black people about healthy living. But you know what? We have a physically fit President and First Lady. I wonder how inspirational they have been?You can discuss the hard issues like raising kids, rap, etc. but something like this no one wants to discuss. Weight/ health has an economical and community impact too. A sickly community can’t be a strong prosperous one. More than likely it probably hits close to home for some folks and this isn’t about the good doctor. Its about them.

  36. My mom, who’s 86 is upset about her diminishing dress size from a size 16 to a 12. She’s not dieting, her doctor says it’s due to aging. Mom has watched her food intake for over 45 years by eating fruits, vegetables and minimal amounts of meats and starches. She walks a mile or more daily for over four decades and abhors restaurants, especially fast foods joints. The only time she has had an extensive stay in a hospital was to deliver my seven brothers and sisters. My mom has never had to take medication a day in her life and I attribute her good health to a lifestyle of prayer,exercise and eating right. Full figured? maybe. Healthy? absolutely!

  37. I find it fascinating that so many (and obviously themselves overweight) people have responded to this post saying why are we trying to get Dr. Benjamin to fit into "western" or European" standards or to become a ‘stick" like as if ALL white people are somehow really thin. Hardly judging from the fat white people I see everywhere. She’s not the Secretary of HUD or Labor or the Secretary of State. If she was than it wouldn’t matter. But she’s the SURGEON GENERAL for God’s sake. The health of Americans, black and white, is her main prinoirty which means like it or not, she has to set an example.And besides black people as whole (men, women and children) need to improve our health and eating habits. We’re literally eating ourselves in to an early grave.

  38. I know people her size that are very physically active and have healthy eating habits. I also know people half her size and age for whom exercise is not in their vocabulary; they fuel themselves with greasy foods and have high cholesterol. A persons weight or waistline does not neccessarily reflect their health. I do think her weight is being made an issue because of her gender.

  39. if someone told you not to do smoke cigarettes with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth, would you trust their credibility? even if they were a genius. she should lead by example. fat is not fit and her age is no excuse. and while studies show that blacks are more round (says a previous poster), it’s also well known that we have a disproportionate rate of obesity related illnesses.

  40. Kena:Sorry but a person’s weight or waistline does necessarily reflect on their health. Extra weight is hard on ones organs, circulatory system, joints and puts one at a higher risk for high blood pressure and/or diabetes. Don’t kid yourself about a few pounds.

  41. This is basically just another way for partisans to beat up on the President and on Black women at the same time. If you going to judge this potential Surgeon general on her weight then that should been a factor with previous Surgeon generals. Dr. Koop was a little on the heavy side and it didn’t stop him from being a good SG (Good as you could do under a hack president). A SG’s weight should be a small factor but Dr. Benjamin resume is very impressive and her story is equally impressive. Obesity is not just a big problem in the black community but an epidemic with other races also (especially in the south). Take a stroll through black neighborhood and it’s no wonder why obesity is affecting blacks. Wall to wall unhealthy fast food restaurants and a lack of quality grocery stores mainly due to redlining equals unhealthy eating.

  42. Anybody else remember that old, great Queen song “Fat Bottom Girl’s Make the Rockin’ World Go Round”? It was one of their best (‘cause I didn’t like them much anyway).

  43. Why are people conflating overweight with obesity? There is a difference. Overweight people can still be healthy. Why is this so difficult to believe. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone is meant to be small. Overweight for you may be normal for someone else. Really, it’s not that damn hard.

  44. It looks like she has the issue with having big breast. Mine are smaller, than hears, but I’m a c cup. I have to buy larger tops than bottoms, and I can’t get a damn blouse to fit me right.

  45. The good doctor like many of us could lose a few pounds, she’s also clearly qualified to serve. How about just confirming her and having her go on diet while serving. it would set a better example than her being perfect already weight wise because it would send the message you can conquer this with exercise and diet.

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