I think most everyone could relate to going to see your doctor and feeling confused, scared, or even annoyed at something your doctor said or prescribed for you. In the age of WebMD and Dr. Google, I can imagine doctors get tired of people diagnosing themselves or arguing with them about the medication they want to take because they saw it on a commercial.
But that is to be expected. What I want to talk to you about is something entirely different. I want to talk about the fact that fat people, especially women and women of color, that go to see the doctor are being ignored. Yes, you heard that right. Symptoms are being ignored or minimized, and the patient’s weight is being blamed for everything from stomach pain to hair loss.
Here are a few stories of my own. I’m sure you have stories too. If not, perhaps this will help you understand about the bigotry and discrimination that is happening to fat people every single day.
- Two years ago, I went in for a routine pelvic exam and was told, unsolicited, that I needed to lose 30 lbs. Did you hear me? I DID NOT COMPLAIN OF ANY SYMPTOMS. There was no explanation as to why my doctor was telling me this. All she said was, you’ll feel better. Hmm… okaaaaayy.
- 7 years ago, I went to my doctor because I thought I might need to see a therapist or start taking something for my depression and anxiety that seemed to come on around the same time each year. You know what he told me? You don’t need meds, just go exercise. A) What the fuck?! B) um, how do you know that I am not already exercising, you dick. And C) what if I was suicidal? I was not taken seriously, and no tests or referrals were ran or given.
- 3 years ago – the same doctor. I came in for a cold or something else. Who knows. My doctor says… so you’ve gained some weight back. Are you going to try and lose it? Why don’t you just do what you did last time? Whatever you did seemed to work – do that. (jaw drop). Oh, ok, Mr. fancy pants doctor. Well, what I *did* was starve myself, gave myself an eating disorder, and ran and ran until I injured myself. Do you recommend I do that again? Eating disorders are healthier than being larger-bodied? Got it. Message received.
Last year, when I finally demanded that I see a psychiatrist (which was recommended by my therapist), the psychiatrist recommended I find another primary care physician – one that would take my mental health and whole health, seriously – Because guess what, I was so embarrassed, so full of shame, and fear, and self-loathing that I couldn’t bear to walk into that doctor’s office, and step on that scale for all to see. So, I have put off a lot of medical issues that I should have probably had looked at years ago – I still haven’t.
But I’m working on it. I switched doctors. I have had a few canceled appointments, but I can’t keep putting it off. This is the problem with weight bias.
Fat people are so tired of the shaming, the stigma, not being taken seriously, that they avoid going to the doctor, which just exacerbates any underlying health issues, and any chance of early detection of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, etc., is lost.
A great article that has a few more story examples can be found here. According to that article,
“A review of studies published in the journal Obesity Reviews in 2015 surveying empirical evidence across multiple disciplines showed that health care professionals’ negative feelings about fat bodies can lead to misdiagnosis and late or “missed” diagnoses, negatively impacting patient outcomes. Meanwhile, patients who face, or anticipate facing, fatphobia, and weight bias from doctors may seek medical care less often, and when they do, they may be less likely to comply with doctors’ orders.”Self.com
In fact, in a recent study, it was discovered that doctors were the second most common source of weight stigma, preceded only by family members, and women in the study placed doctors as the number one source of weight bias behavior. (AMA Journal of Ethics) Further, Individuals who have been stigmatized due to their weight report increased vulnerability to depression, anxiety, body image disturbance, binge eating, decreased self-esteem, and suicidality.
It’s shocking. It gets worse. Doctors’ offices and hospitals a lot of times don’t even have the proper equipment to help someone that is larger, such as gowns that won’t close, a BP cuff that doesn’t fit all arms, or chairs that can only accommodate up to a certain size. Even scales that only go up to a certain weight – which are of course, on display for all to see. (Harvard.edu)
Yet, people refuse to believe it that this is a problem.
I could cite study after study, give you cold, hard facts, tell you my own experiences, and at the end of the day, your bias will remain. Why? Because you are terrified of looking like me. And admitting that weight bias, stigma, and discrimination is happening, is to acknowledge that you are part of the problem.
But ask yourself this – why is this science so hard to believe, when you profess to be a believer in science?
Because our culture (and especially the diet industry) has dehumanized fat people. We are made fun of incessantly, and the word “fat” is used as an insult. Hell, just the other day, I referred to myself as a fat girl to a friend, and she shrugged it off as if I wasn’t because I’m her friend, and she would never “insult” me with that word.
I’m fat! Fat, fat, fattie. I’m also a lot of other things, and being fat does not negate that fact. I’m also none of the things you are consciously and unconsciously associating with that word.
Doctors are starting to come around, but there is a long way to go. In the meantime, take care of yourself. And if you need a doctor’s office buddy – don’t be afraid to bring someone with you to help you advocate for your health.