Fat is a Feminist Issue

This is one reason why.

Consider the two women widely considered the frontrunners for the nomination: former Harvard Law School dean and current Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and federal appellate judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Within hours after the news broke that Souter was resigning, concerns arose that Kagan and Sotomayor might be too fat to replace him. A commentator on the site DemConWatch.com noted that of the three most-mentioned candidates “the oldest (federal judge Diane Wood) is the only one who looks healthy,” while Kagan and Sotomayor “are quite overweight. That’s a risk factor that they may not last too long on the court because of their health.”

At The Washington Monthly, a commentator claimed to have employed a more scientifically rigorous method: “To all the short-sighted libs who are clamoring for the youngest-possible nominee… Right idea, wrong methodology. You want someone who will serve the longest, i.e. with the greatest remaining life expectancy—and that involves more than simple age. I tried assessing their respective health prospects, and ruled out all who even border on overweight. Best choice: Kim McLane Wardlaw, whose ectomorphitude reflects her publicly known aerobic-exercise habits.”

(Wardlaw’s “ectomorphitude” also gets rave reviews at legal gossip site Underneath Their Robes, which describes her as “Heather Locklear in a black robe. This blond Hispanic hottie boasts a fantastic smile and an incredible body, showcased quite nicely by her elegant ensembles.”)

Meanwhile, a letter writer at Salon comments on Sotomayor’s candidacy, “How do you say 55, overweight, and diabetic in Spanish?” (Sotomayor was diagnosed with Type I diabetes—which doesn’t correlate with higher weight—when she was a child).

I don’t think it’s a terrible idea to take health into account when picking a Supreme Court justice — after all, you want someone who will be able to remain on the bench for a long time. But “overweight” does not equal “unhealthy.” And funny how I haven’t heard anyone remark that Scalia is unfit for his job, even though he’s not exactly a slender man. Or that the least healthy of the current Supreme Court justices is probably (sadly) Ginsberg, who is a tiny little woman. Or that a whole slew of justices spent their final years asleep on the bench or totally mentally gone — surely a more problematic situation than just falling over dead one day.

I don’t remember any discussion about Roberts’ or Alito’s health when they were tapped for the bench. And I can’t help but suspect that if the leading candidates were men, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Thanks to Zuzu for the link.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Body image, Fat, Feminism, Gender, Law, Politics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Fat is a Feminist Issue

  1. FashionablyEvil says:

    But, Jill, women’s bodies are always up for public consumption, dontcha know?

  2. Complain-o-peeps says:

    Un-fucking-believable. Or, unfortunately, totally fucking expected. It’s such a toxic mix of misinformation (or “common knowledge”), anti-fat bias, and misogyny. Feminist issue, indeed.

  3. anon says:

    One could only wish that Limbaugh and Rove had been considered entirely unfit to do with they do, then >.<

  4. The Opoponax says:

    I didn’t realize that the goal of choosing a SCOTUS justice was to pick the person who’d be on the court the longest. If that’s what we’re after, why not just pick the most promising 3L in the country? I kind of thought the goal was a great judge.

  5. Mama Mia says:

    But see, Kim McLane Wardlaw is a “blond Hispanic hottie” with a “fantastic smile and an incredible body”. Why would we even be considering candidates based on their intellect and experience, when this woman has it “all”? She’s probably smart too, but what we really need is a SCILF. We almost had a MILF in the White House, let’s not lose this one, too!

  6. Jill says:

    Sure, Opoponax, the goal is to pick a great judge. But when there are a lot of options for “great judges” out there, it makes sense to also consider other factors. I don’t think we need to pick the person who will be on the court the longest, but of course health and potential longevity factor in.

  7. BStu says:

    Not to get all, “they aren’t fat”, but THEY AREN’T FAT. You absolutely would not here this kind of fuss being made over male candidates. Case in point: Harold Koh. There has been no shortage of speculation about him as a potential USSC Justice. He’s as “fat” as either Kagan or Sotomayor. Funny how I don’t recall anyone bringing that up during the speculation. Lots of people harbor fat prejudices, but its funny how so many are only spurred to act when a woman is the matter at hand.

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  10. DAS says:

    I know I’m not always on the same page with everyone else here in regards to weight issues, but I second what BStu has to say. And as I think we can all agree – if weight is such an issue, how come it’s only being made for women and not for men.

    BTW – I guess my pointing this out just proves I am a straight male pig, but we do have a MILF in the White House: the first lady lives in the White House too. But I guess I am biased where Michelle Obama is concerned: she actually looks like my wife to the extent that when she (Michelle Obama) first appeared on TV, our daughter said “look Mommy’s on TV!”.

  11. L says:

    The funny thing is that if health and the length of time a candidate might be able to serve on the court were really important issues, women would win out every time. Like it or not, women live longer than men on average. Even fat women.

  12. Bagelsan says:

    we do have a MILF in the White House: the first lady lives in the White House too.

    Yeah, that *is* kinda tasteless (you had to ask?) Personally, I think of Michelle as more of a MILHGMCCS (Mother I’d Like to Have Give My College’s Commencement Speech)… :D

  13. Bagelsan says:

    she actually looks like my wife to the extent that when she (Michelle Obama) first appeared on TV, our daughter said “look Mommy’s on TV!”.

    I missed this part; you’re slightly forgiven. ;p

  14. jess says:

    Good catch, Jill–how icky and insidious.

  15. Tom Foolery says:

    I love the unapologetic system-gaming that goes on with these appointments (on both sides, natch). Isn’t the point of the whole process to get someone who’s actually going to be good at this, not just someone who will be able to clutch the reins of power with both withered claws until their slow march to eternity finally ends?

  16. bleh says:

    doesn’t one of the roberts alito twins have some sort of fainting fits or seizures? no-one suggested that he was too unhealthy.

  17. Jill says:

    Tom Foolery, of course we want someone who will be good at this. But just like with any other job, you want someone with staying power. For a lifetime appointment, you want someone who iwll have time to hone their skills. There’s also something to be said for consistency — that’s one of the reasons why the supreme court has lifetime members. The law needs to be reliable, and its application needs to be predicable. If we have an oft-rotating group of justices, predictability decreases and the whole system is less stable.

  18. spiderbaby says:

    The thing is, slightly over weight doesn’t necessarily equal unhealthy. You can’t automatically assume that just because these woman might be a little heavier that they are gonna drop dead of a heart attack at 45 or something. And, its already been said but I’m going to say it again, if they were men it wouldn’t matter. Nobody cares if you’re a man in washington and you’re fat and you have a bad suit and a comb-over. But if you’re a woman you have to be smart, good at what you do and have style, be in shape and be good looking. It’s totally unfair.

  19. UnFit says:

    Ya, well, though I find lifetime appointments as such kind of problematic. At least have some mandatory retiring age, or make budding senile dementia grounds for dismissal.

  20. sally says:

    wha wha what? they aren’t fat.

  21. Shane says:

    amen! This is why I hate that stupid book, “Skinny B@#$%”

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  23. Meowser says:

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but other than genetics and fool luck, MONEY and AGE (and of course, not being subjected to daily withering hatred on account of what you look like) are still the best predictors of longevity and health (that is, health good enough to serve as a SCOTUS judge, which as far as I know is still a sedentary profession).

    ANYONE can get cancer or another serious illness; I’ve known my share of thin health nuts who have had to fight for their lives a lot younger than the fat-haters would ever admit. Just this weekend, Vegas headliner Danny Gans, who was thin and by all accounts also a health nut, died of natural causes at age 52. Why we tie longevity to virtue when there’s relatively little connection, I do not understand.

    And like Paul Campos said in his Daily Beast article, even if you’re going by bullshit BMI, if you want someone with the BEST possible chance of living past 80, you pick a woman Sotomayor’s size. (And for gods’ sake, Sotomayor has TYPE 1 diabetes, which has no correlative link to fat AT ALL.)

    I can see not putting someone on the court who has already developed a truly life-threatening illness like a late-stage cancer. But predicting who’s going to HAVE a late-stage cancer? I mean, ever in their lives? Good luck with THAT.

  24. jj says:

    I’m kind of shocked to read that people think it is okay to factor in health in considering hiring someone. I know that this is a lifelong appointment and, yes, of course we would want someone who could serve for a long time, but that shouldn’t equal stripping away their privacy and considering someone’s health. Do you think it is okay to look through someone’s medical records before hiring them? If taking health into consideration is okay, then it should be okay to mandate a physical, full access to one’s medical records and get the opinions of several doctors. Honestly, if one was to take health into consideration, I would prefer this was done, because it’s the only way to actually know ANYTHING about the person’s health. You know absolutely nothing by looking at them. And if health is to be taken into consideration, does that mean we could do genetic testing to see if they are predisposed to health problems? And well, you know black people are predisposed to high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, and poor people in general are more likely to have poorer health. Forget anybody with congenital but treatable heart defects or disabilities in general since they live shorter lives. And we can say well, OF COARSE we shouldn’t discriminate against them, but if you allow for a nebulus “health and longevity” as being appropriate to consider, then you kind of are allowing for discrimination.

  25. jj says:

    “Tom Foolery, of course we want someone who will be good at this. But just like with any other job, you want someone with staying power. For a lifetime appointment, you want someone who iwll have time to hone their skills. There’s also something to be said for consistency — that’s one of the reasons why the supreme court has lifetime members. The law needs to be reliable, and its application needs to be predicable. If we have an oft-rotating group of justices, predictability decreases and the whole system is less stable.”

    This sound like what people say when they don’t want to hire women (they may get pregnant and take too much time off…we need our employees to be reliable, having a temp come in for a few months to a year for every woman who wants to give birth decreases stability of the workforce…), or the disabled, or older adults. It’s called discrimination.

  26. Tom Foolery says:

    Tom Foolery, of course we want someone who will be good at this. But just like with any other job, you want someone with staying power.

    I’m a little late on the response here, but I’m not implying that the only consideration is their ability to avoid dying for as long as possible — obviously, slavish partisan loyalty is important to both sides, too.

    What I am saying is that no matter how good someone is on the party’s issues, their health will be a key factor in determining whether they get the nom. Which, as someone mentioned is pretty much discrimination, no?

  27. prefer not to say says:

    Two words as far as health and getting the nod to a major political office goes: Dick Cheney.

    Oh, and two more words: John McCain.

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  29. Susa says:

    Since women generally have a longer life expectency then men, shouldn’t the judges all be female? I mean, on average they live longer…

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