Woman told she shouldn’t sit on Ottawa health board because of her weight

A member of the Ottawa Board of Health speaks out against body shaming after receiving a letter from a resident saying she shouldn’t sit on the board because of her weight.

Elyse Banham said the letter, dated Jan. 12, sat unopened for weeks on her desk at the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Center, where she is executive director. Banham thought it was just more hate mail protesting the center’s vaccination clinics.

She finally opened the envelope on March 18 and realized it was a response to an Ottawa Citizen article in which Banham called for more diversity on city councils. The letter is signed, but CBC has been unable to verify its authenticity or find the author, and is therefore redacting the name.

Banham has been a member of the Ottawa Board of Health for four years and has applied for another four years, the article notes. But the author of the letter objected to this, apparently based on the photo of Banham accompanying the article.

“As a member of the Ottawa Board of Health, the citizens expect you to be a role model for the residents of our city and believe (sic) that you cannot fulfill this role due to your state of health. health. It is unacceptable to be 20 pounds overweight. Seems you are carrying,” the letter to Banham read.

“I would be happy to see you on the new committee provided you become a better role model.”

This letter was sent to Banham’s business address on January 12, 2023, in response to a newspaper article that Banham appeared on the same day. Banham isn’t sure the name of the person who signed it is real. (Elysee Banham)

Banham told CBC Sunday that she was hurt by the letter, but not entirely surprised.

“It’s not that I’ve never been through this before – I think people can be really mean to each other. But this was the first time someone took the time to send me a message. letter and to point out that I was not able to work because of my physical appearance,” she said.

She decided to post the letter on Twitter and said she received many messages of support in response.

Catherine Kitts, Orléans-Sud-Navan city councilor and chair of the board of health, called the letter “horrible.” Kitts said she was sad not only for Banham, but also for the letter writer who took the time to send such a hateful message.

“I was proud of member Banham for speaking out because that also takes courage, and I was happy and not surprised to see this outpouring of support for her,” Kitts said. “Member Banham is an incredible addition to the Board of Health. She is a great collaborator and a much valued member, and that should be the message. Her contributions to the Board speak volumes.”

Vitriol attacks are a bad side of public leadership, Kitts said, and situations like this remind us “that’s what we face every day.”

Jill Andrew, co-founder of advocacy group Body Confidence Canada, said when women in public office are targeted for body discrimination and harassment, “it certainly doesn’t create the kind of welcoming and inclusive climate we need more.” strong women show up, so it’s disappointing.

“Too often, women are not judged by our intellect, or the quality of our work or our work history, but by our waistline. of us duties we have on our plate.”

A portrait of a woman.
Jill Andrew, co-founder of Body Confidence Canada, says body size alone cannot be used to determine a person’s health status. (Radio Canada)

Banham said she was proud of the support she received after going public with the letter.

“Nobody wants to be told they’re 20 pounds overweight. I can definitely tell you that I didn’t enjoy that part of my day. But talking to someone like Greg Fergus – an MP who posted about working with me and that I am someone who leads with integrity and tries to use my thoughts and opinions to support others – I appreciate that and am very grateful,” she said.

She said she hopes her experience will show people who want to sit in boards and other leadership roles that while there will always be people who want to shoot them, there will be plenty of them. others who will come to their defense.

“The intention of this message was to hurt me and bring me down. And it would have been easy for me to take that and feel isolated. But the reason I shared it is because we can do better together, and the majority of people think that, and that’s why there’s been this wave of support,” Banham said.

“And so I’m grateful to all those people who have come to my defense, and what I think that really says is that we’re looking for more diverse opinions.”

Listen to Elyse Banham’s full interview with CBC Radio Ottawa morning Monday

ottawa morning7:44Ottawa Board of Health member speaks out against body shaming

A member of the Ottawa Board of Health speaks out after a stranger says she can’t do her job because of her weight. Why she hopes to deconstruct the narrative around body shame, by sharing her story.

Leave a Comment