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Fat Healthcare

January 9, 2013

On Friday morning, I looked like this:


By Friday night, the swelling on the left side of my face was three times as bad. And also, it hurt. A lot. Enough that they gave me morphine at the hospital, just before they gave me a CT scan that found a general infection. In my FACE.

I’m still doped up, and kind of out of it, but I wanted to talk about something really important: fat healthcare. Marianne Kirby talks about it at XO Jane. Anyone who is even a little “over weight” knows what I’m talking about. Going to the doctor when you’re fat can be unpleasant. And just the idea of the unpleasantness that might come is enough to keep fat people from getting prompt health care.

I’ve had a chiropractor call me a whale when he was frustrated that my body wouldn’t go into the position he wanted it in.

I’ve had a gynecologist talk to me about weight loss surgery, completely out of the blue, in the middle of a Pap smear.

I’ve been turned away from emergency care for extreme stomach pain. The ER doctor gave me a roll of Tums and told me that I was too fat for him to diagnose and that I’d have to lose weight before he could treat me.

On top of experiences like that (and I would wager that just about every fat person has similar stories to tell), there is the added stigma that society piles on. Fat people are fat because they’re lazy and too stupid to figure out calories in, calories out. Right?

We’re dirty and smelly and sweaty. So, when our faces suddenly swell up like the Godfather and we feel like we’ve been dropped on our heads from a two-story window, it is almost impossible to completely fight the fear (and shame) that comes with the idea that there is something wrong with us.

In other words, we don’t just have the same fear everyone else does about needing healthcare. We also have to be concerned that we’re somehow disgusting the doctor on a physical level, or that the doctor will think that we’ve done something to cause our own misery that a thinner person wouldn’t have done. We have to be afraid that we’ll end up with an over-worked doctor who hates fat people, and will take it out on us when we’re at our lowest ebb.

We have to fight against all of that. Every time. And, you know what? It’s not okay.

I received excellent care on Friday night. I was treated with sympathy and respect. I was weighed without comment by the triage nurse when I arrived so that whatever meds I needed could be dosed properly. And no other mention was made of my weight. This is the way everyone should be treated. One of the most positive things for me that has come out of being involved with Body Acceptance is the internalization of the belief that I deserve to be treated with respect.

When you go to a doctor:

  • Your weight is part of your medical record. It should be taken without comment. Unless you ask your doctor for advise about your weight, it should not come up. Especially during a medical emergency situation that has nothing to do with your size.
  • If your doctor is concerned about some aspect of your health that diet or exercise can affect (cholesterol, say, or blood sugar), he should bring it up at the appropriate time (not in the middle of a Pap smear) and the focus should be on health and not weight.
  • Every person on Earth deserves basic respect. Fat jokes, name calling, fat shaming of any kind are never, ever appropriate. Not as “motivators,” not when the doctor is frustrated or in a bad mood. Not ever. That doctor wouldn’t call a black person the N-word on a bad day or make anti-Semitic jokes because he’s trying to get a point across. Expect professionalism.
  • If you receive poor care or leave a doctor’s office feeling shamed, remember where to put the blame. It isn’t your fault. Report that doctor to his or her licensing board and find another one.

I know that last one is easier said than done. If you have no health insurance, you may not have choices regarding which doctor you get to see. But remember this: doctors, even fat-phobic ones, are people, too. If your doctor says or does something that makes you uncomfortable, tell him or her so. You’re allowed to tell anyone who is making a joke at your expense that you’re not okay with it. Or to tell your doctor that you’re willing to talk about dietary concerns, but not weight loss. It’s your body and your health. You set the boundaries.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. The Real Cie permalink
    January 9, 2013 6:37 pm

    I hope that this situation is resolved for you soon.
    I once had a doctor bring up my weight when I was there about a sinus infection. He said that they no longer prescribed antibiotics in the case of sinus infections. I said that the size of my ass had nothing to do with my sinuses, and ended up suffering for a month.

  2. violetyoshi permalink
    January 9, 2013 7:01 pm

    Thank you, people really do not understand the extent of fat prejudice when it comes to health care. So many people still think we deserve to be prejudiced against and that fat oppression is a non-issue because we could change if we really wanted to.

    I have gone on image boards anonymously and participated in arguments about fat acceptance, so I’d gain an insight to what fat haters think. Okay, I’m not going to lie and say trolling fat haters isn’t fun. The thing that keeps coming up is the use of facts to bolster the argument against size acceptance. They do this because they know they have the advantage when it comes to studies, because more studies are dedicated to proving fat is unhealthy. In fact, I recently was admonished for stopping fat haters “fun” by having a round table discussion of what is wrong with fat people under the veil of prejudiced studies.

    I’m pointing this out because it’s rather fascinating how people so determined to believe that being fat is unhealthy will go lengths to defend that it’s true. It’s like by being fat and healthy we’re flipping the world upside-down for those who think we should be unhealthy. This is why the Obesity Paradox was used as a way of acknowledging that fat people can be healthy, as a way of not having to admit the science backing up fat being unhealthy was wrong.

    So when doctors lash out at fat patients, I hope the patients understand what they are doing is out of fear. They have to face virtually everything they’ve known to be false. It’s easier for them to attack fat people, than put their big boy or girl pants on an admit they were wrong. It’s easier for them to deny that fat people can’t be healthy so they don’t have to make waves. It’s like being the guy yelling that To Serve Man is a cookbook, while people file on to the spaceship regardless.

  3. JeninCanada permalink
    January 9, 2013 8:36 pm

    You totally hit it out of the park on this one. I hope you feel better soon!

  4. January 9, 2013 9:16 pm

    Thanks guys. I’m at about 80 percent today. Getting better everyday.

  5. Len permalink
    January 9, 2013 11:03 pm

    First – ouch! I hope you feel much better and I’m so glad you got good care there.

    I adore my doctors, in fact every medical professional at that centre seems to be more focussed on health than weight. But I HATE being sent to medical specialists.

    I had one guy who looked at me as I walked in, told me that my cholesterol was too high in my blood results (it wasn’t, it had gone up SLIGHTLY in a non-fasting test but was still in a normal range) and condescendingly told me to go on a diet and lose weight, and that would sort it out.

    I was flummoxed. Firstly because he hadn’t even examined me. Secondly, because he was a NEUROLOGIST and I was consulting him for severe migraine.

    I was too flummoxed and in too much pain to call him out on him. Never again. I didn’t return for my follow-up consultation with him (no wonder doctors call us ‘non-compliant).

  6. Trevor permalink
    January 10, 2013 8:49 am

    Your last three “when you go to a doctor” point are dead-on, but your first one misses the mark. If your weight is detrimental to your health your doctor has an ethical obligation to bring it up, whether you want to hear it or not. It is a primary care physician’s job to care for the whole person, not just the ailment for which one is seeing them on that day. If you had a mole on your neck that concerned your doctor, you’d want them to say something, not disregard it because you are there to see him about something else.
    Never should a healthcare professional make derogatory comments about a patient’s weight. But if it is a medical issue, they shouldn’t ignore it either.

  7. January 10, 2013 9:44 am

    Trevor, number two covers what you’re talking about. Number one covers something like what the poster above you went through. Any medical doctor should know, anyway, that it is never weight that it detrimental to your health. It’s lifestyle, sometimes. So, if you’re diabetic, for instance, you can be healthier by changing your diet, even if you never lose weight. Or you can bring down your cholesterol with diet and exercise, even if you don’t lose weight. Equating health with weight is actually pretty damaging by itself. Because if people don’t know that they can be healthier, even if they aren’t slimmer, then they won’t continue with their healthier choices.

  8. January 10, 2013 2:08 pm

    Man, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but you look TERRIBLE! It is absolutely astonishing what the human body will do to fight infections. It’s also amazing how resilient it can be, as well. But I’m so thrilled that you had a good experience with your medical professionals. We should all be so lucky.


  9. January 24, 2013 10:02 am

    Great Post! I’m going to use this to jump off from in my next one!

  10. July 28, 2015 2:12 am

    Thank you. You may have no idea how much you helped someone tonight with your article, and words of wisdom & self respect. You did me a world of good while I’m in a world of hurt from ignorant healthcare providers thinking they are telling me things I’ve never heard, never thought, let alone never spent every waking moment for decades obsessing about, all “for my own good,“ even after I’ve told them that when people comment on my weight, especially healthcare providers, I restrict more than I usually do every day, then over-eat more than I do every day, for weeks after the appointment, thanks to their insensitive, rude, ignorant comments: a painful, provider-induced and -perpetuated cycle I’ve been working to overcome, since the first day I was put on a diet when I was a thin 14-year-old, and, at the end of that first day of restricting and starving to obey my crazy pediatrician’s “safe, sensible“ dieting advice, I stayed up late, over-eating for the first time in my life that first night on a diet. The assumptions, arrogance, and ignorance of most healthcare providers regarding weight and working with fat people is unbelievable. These providers are always so sure they are so much wiser and more informed than their fat clients about weight and living in a bigger body. Thank you for helping me realize how much better I can–and deserve–to stand up to such providers. Bravo to you.


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