Although we like to think that discrimination based on prejudice is something we only do unintentionally, when we’re on autopilot, I think we should be cautious lest we think that conscious discrimination has been eliminated from mainstream culture.
What do I mean by that?
For example, thankfully, it is no longer socially acceptable for someone to (openly) question my ability to be an engineer because I am female.
However, let’s consider another physical attribute: body weight. The way I see it, maintaining a healthy BMI is a lot like the diversity buckets we talked about in class — everyone starts in a different place. For example, metabolism depends on things like age, gender, and genetics. Social and economic factors also play a huge role here, as we saw in this article about the availability of healthful food options in Ramona Gardens. That being said, the perception exists that anyone can reach a healthy weight with enough determination and self-discipline, leading to attitudes of weightism, or weight bias.
As a high-profile example, does anyone remember back in 2009 when President Obama named Regina Benjamin as Surgeon General? Despite her superb medical qualifications, many cited her weight as evidence that she was not a good choice to lead the nation in the battle against obesity (ABC News; Telegraph). Some believed she should release her BMI to the public to show that she was “healthy” despite the fact that she “appeared overweight.”
Personally, I find this a little scary. How would you feel if your BMI was used as a job qualification, like your GPA or GRE score? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this issue.