Was SNL Cast Member Casey Wilson Fired For Being Over Weight?
Rumor has it that a prominent TV personality on SNL lost her job in front of the camera because she is overweight and unable to meet the weight standards of the show’s producers. Is this unfair discrimination or simple adherence to standards of health, appearance, and the image a particular TV show wants to project? In this day and age with calories so abundant and so many of us gaining weight, one could argue that making hiring decisions, even for an on-camera TV job, based on a person’s weight represents a form of unfair discrimination. You might consider it like you consider any other health problem: would we allow discrimination based on epilepsy? How about diabetes?
Obesity is a serious health problem, to be sure, but it is so much more. For starters, it is immediately visible and obvious just from looking, something not true about most health conditions like heart disease or epilepsy. And it is also a problem that stems to a significant degree from personal behavior and choices. Those choices and behaviors are very deep-seated, extremely difficult to change, and exacerbated by profound adverse physiological metabolic conditions that promote hunger, calorie intake, and reduced calorie expenditure. What is more, sociologists and public health experts note that the cultural acceptance of obesity may in fact harm young people by removing the social embarrassment and inconvenience of it that might have helped them remain at a healthier weight. Widespread availability of designer clothes for obese people, modified rides at amusement parks, modern furniture built to accommodate larger people, and, yes, media personalities who are obese – these all serve both to meet the needs of the overweight population but also to augment a permissive and tolerant cultural atmosphere toward obesity among young people. It may well be one of the factors that contributes to the growing epidemic of adolescent obesity and diabetes. (No doubt, harm stems from repeated airing of tiny BMI 16 bodies also, in the form of anorexia and bulimia, but the numbers of people affected by obesity, and harmed by it, are orders of magnitude greater.) If none of these cultural conditions were present, would young people more often find that the embarrassment and inconvenience, inadequate furniture and clothes, and lack of similarly obese TV role models curbed behaviors that would otherwise lead to obesity and diabetes, and other premature disease? Maybe. There is little doubt that more powerful forces, such as the availability and acceptance of high calorie, high-carb foods in schools contributes more, but can the cultural factors be ignored?
Ultimately, on-camera media personalities have always been held to a different standard, and their very appearance is in fact an integral feature of the job that will affect ratings and profits of the business. So discrimination in ways that would not be permissible in other types of work are widely known and accepted for on-camera personalities. Do these personalities simply reflect back our culture, or do they also, serve as role models to young people? As an obesity expert and a health care provider on the front lines of the disease, and an advocate for childhood obesity prevention, I am frequently torn in these discussions – on the one hand by the desire to acknowledge and embrace the wonderful people who are struggling with the problem, help them to accept themselves, build upon their self-esteem and look both inwardly and outwardly for solutions to return to a normal healthier weight – and on the other, a desire to see less cultural permissiveness of this deadly disease that ruins the lives of real people by bringing them things like strokes, amputations and blindness at far too early an age.
On the show, the decision to fire a personality is a cold one, based on ratings and viewership in most cases. But to the growing world of us whose mission is to solve the obesity epidemic and fight to prevent it taking root in young people, is the firing of an overweight TV personality a sign of unfair lack of acceptance, or a sign of a culture that still at times displays potentially helpful boundaries on the permissibility of obesity?
What do you think?