How would you feel if a stranger offered to pay you to lose weight? Or, even better – if that stranger gave money to your company on the condition that you would shed a certain number of pounds? Sounds like an episode of The Office, right? Well, it’s reality for the president and staff of Stephens College, a women’s school in Columbia, MO, where an alum has promised a donation of $1 million if the college’s employees can lose a total of 250 pounds by midnight on January 1. If the college’s president, Diane Lynch, can lose 25 pounds, the donor will add $100,000 to her gift.
As a student at a school with an extensive and sometimes cultish alumni network, I’m fully aware of the extent to which universities will go to appease their alums, in the hope of monetary support. But this situation, documented in the Chronicle of Higher Education, is just embarrassing for everyone involved. Lynch seems to have bravely put on her game face in an attempt to snag the cash, saying, that the donation is “unique” because it’s not about creating a scholarship or new program (you know, those silly programs that help the students) – no, it’s about “investing in the people who work at this college.”
Investing in them? Or making them feel inadequate and body-conscious? The donor in question seems to have no shortage of self-righteousness; “fit and fond of organic food,” she wants to generously use her wealth to incentivize weight loss among America’s obese population. But there also seems to be a heavy dose of body image issues – according to Lynch, the donor, at 87, “weighs exactly what she did when she married her husband—117 pounds. It’s a point of pride for her that she has maintained her youthful physique.”
So apart from the insinuation that most women, no longer needing to impress the men around them, immediately lose all interest in their health or appearance after getting married, the donor clearly doesn’t just want her former college’s employees to be healthy – she wants them to aspire to a certain standard of beauty, because she does.
As distasteful as this deal is, what really made me cringe was Lynch’s refusal to admit that this is an inappropriate and insulting proposition. Instead, she cheerfully declared that she was eager to start her diet. Ultimately, it’s Lynch’s choice to do what the donor requests – and certainly, the college will reap the benefits – but are her employees really so enthused? If this anonymous donor really wants to emphasize health and well-being at her college, she should invest in organic cafeteria food or new gym equipment – not by “incentivizing” her way to a svelte college staff.
Photo from Flickr.