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Dr. Body Shame

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By: Danyelle Valentin

Feeling the sting of an out of place comment on your weight is rough when it comes from a stranger. Worse when it’s from a loved one. But I’ve always known how to react to comments from them. What I’ve never been able to fully process are those same stinging comments from my doctor.

In the plus size community, weight and its correlation to health is a controversial topic. Doctors tell us our excess weight will cause us major health concerns in our future. They introduce us to all of the diseases that are caused or exacerbated by being overweight and repeat how our weight is unhealthy. The push back from the plus size community is that being fat does not mean you live this unhealthy, gluttonous life. The diseases also “caused” by weight are not limited to fat or unhealthy people. Some of the fittest people could die from cardiac arrest. A thin person can be diabetic, have high cholesterol, never work out, and even have poor eating habits. I’ve met thin people all my life who eat like every meal is their first in days and don’t ever work out. The difference is that when a thin person is walking around no one questions their level of health. If someone can be naturally thin regardless of their diet and fitness level, can’t someone just be naturally fat? What I would give to be a fly on the wall at a thin person’s doctor’s appointment. Are they hounded about how often they work out and their diet? It makes us question if our doctors are concerned with our weight or if, like much of American culture, they are more so offended by our audacity to not fit the thin beauty standard.

The power dynamic of the relationship between doctor and patient is one-sided. Generally speaking, it is safe to assume your doctor is more educated than you are in regards to health unless you yourself are in a medical field. Theirs is an opinion we should all take seriously. But if your doctor’s opinion on your health always just falls back onto your weight, they could miss something else.

The plus size community is sick and tired of the lazy doctor giving us the ‘Fat Diagnosis.’ In the past three years, each time I visited my primary care physician, for whatever reason, I was diagnosed: just fat.

Ailment -Diagnosis:Fat. Ailment -Diagnosis:Fat. Ailment -Diagnosis:Fat.

I keep getting back pain -You’re fat. Our appointments went like this each time we met. I would feel like something was wrong, she’d brush it aside and go after my weight.

I have this tingling in my fingers -You’re fat. I’m having a hard time falling asleep -You’re fat. I have this rash -You’re fat. I have been having heart palpitations -You’re fat. But think I might have anxiety - Nope. just fat. My period is suddenly irregular - You’re too fat. My knee has been bothering me- You’re fat. But I fell down - Wouldn’t have fallen if you weren’t so fat. My throat feels scratchy -You’re fat. Huh? Maybe it’s strep throat? -You eat so much, so fast, that you are just irritating your esophagus. There has been a lot of pressure in my ear -You’re fat. I think I might have an ear infection -It’s the heavy excess fat around your neck pulling at your ear. No infection, just fat. Ingrown toenail -Actually that comes from the fatness of your feet just enveloping your toenail. Fat. Fat. Fat. Fat. Fat.
Obviously, these were not our literal conversations. Luckily for me, there was never anything seriously wrong with me. However, what was so hurtful is that during these interactions, my doctor was so dismissive of anything I said. My doctor was not treating me. She was body shaming me. I should leave my doctor’s office with the hope that I will feel better even if I hadn’t needed medical treatment. Instead, I always left her office feeling as if my death was imminent. She’d spend 4 minutes with me to just tell me something I had already known. Rarely did I ever feel like I had received any treatment.

Some time ago, I had gone to see her because I had pain in my ear that wouldn’t go away. I did the regular check in routine and waited to be called. When it was my turn, my doctor directed me down the short hallway that led to her office. As she walked behind me, she said in a disappointed and mocking tone, “I can already tell you’ve gained weight.” I could feel my cheeks burning. The first thing my doctors have always done was check my vitals when we begin our visit which included them weighing me. Because I have my own issues with my weight, stepping on the scale was never a pleasant experience. Now it was made even more embarrassing by what she had said in the hallway. I was there for an ear infection! Surely the girth of my belly and jiggle of my arms hadn’t caused that ear infection! The diagnosis is not always fat! It wasn’t the first time she had been so brash. I once asked her for advice on seeking out weight loss surgery. I didn’t even get to finish my thought before she shut me down and said, “You’ll just gain all the weight back.”

This is not a trend that is limited to me. Too often, we read stories about people whose doctor just advised them to ‘lose weight” and missed a more serious health problem. What is making fat people sick is their doctor being too lazy to seek out any cause other than the “obvious.” There are fat people avoiding going to the doctor because they just cannot handle the emotional stress of once again having a doctor bully them about their weight. That is what makes a fat person sick- avoiding receiving regular check ups from lazy physicians who body shame their patients.

Does fat deny someone respect? Does fat mean you don’t see a person? Why are fat people not allowed to exist? We don’t need our doctors to bully us into losing weight. It is the kind of shaming that makes people avoid going to the doctor to begin with. It is why the plus size community challenges the medical community.

The medical community is swayed by societal norms and values. This is not limited to being fat. Homosexuality was once considered an illness. Smoking was once okayed by doctors. And now, since being fat is not only unacceptable, but also controversial, the medical community is pushing to eradicate it. In no way am I advising anyone to ignore a diagnosis from their doctor. I am, however, demanding that our doctors give each of their fat patients the same respect and care that they offer all of their other patients.
Some may believe fat people just want to stay fat, that we are just lazy. But if our fat is not affecting our health or quality of life, what reason is there to force, pressure, or shame us into shrink our bodies? It is because we don’t look how you want us to.

If you have a doctor who is body shaming you, you can protect yourself. Ask your insurance company to change your doctor to someone who won’t make you uncomfortable. Unfortunately, some people don’t have the luxury of being able to switch their doctor on a whim. Even in those cases, hope is not lost.This one is rough, but you can talk to your doctor about how they make you feel. Standing up to a bully, even as an adult, takes courage, but when your health is on the line there’s no time to waste. I wish I had stood up to my doctor. If you’re not at the stage where you feel comfortable and confident confronting your bully face to face, there are also websites where you can review the treatment you receive from your doctor (linked below). If nothing else, you can save another person from having to share your negative experiences.

Never let a medical professional make you feel small because you are large.


Visit these websites to give a review on your doctor’s care for you and bedside manner.
Healthgrades.com
Ratemds.com
vitals.com

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