We definitely want our leaders to be physically and mentally able to take on the huge burdens of leading. That’s a given. It’s why we insure CEOs and give physicals to presidential candidates. But if you’re at all familiar with the Fat Acceptance Movement, you’ll know that being concerned about the weight of others can lead to discrimination, bias, and detrimental health and mental health effects. So when I heard the term “girther” as a play on words for “birther” regarding Donald Trump’s presumed (by some) falsified weight in this last physical exam, I bristled.
Regardless of your feelings about Trump (and you probably know ours’ already), we need to choose our words carefully when bringing up the issue of weight in relation to competency and health. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “concern shaming/trolling” by assuming that being overweight means you’re unhealthy. It’s usually just a front for fatphobia with a shiny facade of concern for health.
There’s acceptance in the medical community that weight can affect health, but we can’t know anything about someone’s health just by looking at them. That’s between that person and their doctors. BMI (Body Mass Index — on which many are basing his classification) hasn’t even been considered a good indicator of health in general. Additionally, health issues are wide and varied and often have very little impact on the ability to work and lead. Applying this criticism to public figures (and especially ones we may dislike), opens a door to acceptable shaming, criticism, and bile that is mostly still considered okay in most circles, despite its detrimental effects on progress with health and especially on the mental health of those who self-describe or are perceived as fat. Here’s how that works, via Health:
“The research, published in the journal Obesity, showed that higher levels of “weight-bias internalization”—the term for what happens when people are aware of negative stereotypes about obesity and apply those stereotypes to themselves—were associated with more cases of metabolic syndrome, a combination of health issues that raise the risk for heart disease and diabetes. This was true above and beyond the effects of body mass index (BMI), indicating that internalization isn’t just a result of weight or other issues, but a risk factor on its own.”
And let’s be real, telling someone they need to lose weight doesn’t spark a big light bulb above someone’s head. It makes them feel shitty and want to fall back on habits that they may be trying to avoid in the first place.
I get it. I, too, want to find ALL of the reasons why Trump isn’t right to lead us. And there are many from which to choose. His history of fat shaming is wide and varied, too, ironically. But hyper-focusing on his weight as an indicator of ability to lead isn’t the method which makes the most sense. The more likely result is that we regress further back in our protections of these people with a long and storied history of dismissal and ridicule.
Telling someone they need to lose weight doesn’t spark a big light bulb above someone’s head. It makes them feel shitty and want to fall back on habits that they may be trying to avoid in the first place.
There’s proof that they face discrimination everywhere, but especially at work. Fast Company stated, “Obesity was found to lower a woman’s annual earnings an average of 4.5% and men’s earnings as much as 2.3%.” It’s hard out there, and especially so for people of color, the LGTBQ community, and those with disabilities (often unrelated to their weight).
TL;DR: nitpick Trump all you like, but be mindful when that criticism has actual trickle-down effects on all of us with extra weight and dealing with the societal consequences that are placed upon us. I realize many of you may be formulating your own case for losing weight, but the issues of tackling obesity in America has a long history founded upon lectures and shaming that has unilaterally failed. It’s time to seek out new methods of improving nutrition and public health (and keep it between individuals and their doctors to gauge).