Sometimes You’re Right: On Fat Discrimination and Doing It Anyway
(image: the fatty in question in her natural habitat)
This article is part of an ongoing series about Living While Fat
The other night I had insomnia. I had no reason to be awake but I was, just staring at the dark and listening to my husband’s CPAP machine humming. I wasn’t worried about anything at first but as the night grew longer I started to find things to worry about. That’s the pleasure of the anxious mind. Eventually, my brain landed on my upcoming doctor’s appointment.
I have been having some severe tendinitis issues in the last three months. At first I attributed the tendonitis to a lack of fitness and being fat, and if I only weren’t fat I wouldn’t have these problems. I decided I should probably just put my head down and work harder at the gym. If that didn’t work–since I’m fairly sure I’ll never be much thinner than I am now–I am doomed to just suffer. It’s my fault anyway, right? If I was stronger and had more will power, I could be thin.
Fifteen years of work in fat acceptance, and this is still where my brain goes first. Belatedly, I remembered that I am pretty fit these days and that I exercise fairly often. In fact, some changes to my exercise routine likely caused the issue to begin with. The fat thing, I remembered, shouldn’t really prevent me from seeking treatment. I’m allowed to live pain free too! Even if my fat is part of the problem I’m STILL allowed to seek treatment and perhaps reduce my suffering.
Turns out that being fat is not a good reason to punish myself with severe, crippling pain. In my defense, it only took three months for me to figure it out this time.
I made an appointment with an orthopedist, and now we come to my middle-of-the-night panic attack. I hate seeing new doctors. I never know how it’s going to go. Sometimes, they mention weight as a component of my issue and I am fine with that. I won’t deny that weight has an impact on health, as do many other types of body issues and habits. The thing is, some doctors won’t say much else. They tell me I’m fat, lose weight, as though that will solve any issue. Further, they don’t bother with other treatment options or any kind of support for my needs. They treat me like I’m stupid, or lazy. They make assumptions about the rest of my health simply by looking at my body size. Once, a doctor told a fat person I know that “they must eat 4000 calories a day to be that size.” The doctor had no reason to know this (and was wrong). I got very worried in the middle of the night about how the next day was going to go. This did not help my insomnia.
Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised by good doctors who care about helping me. This was not one of those times. My late night panicking turned out to be completely on point.
The doctor came in, took one look at me and said that my weight was the problem. He then spent the next five minutes typing on the computer and not looking me in the eye or saying anything. I ventured a few questions–he answered them briefly and with very short, closed answers. I asked him why the issue had gotten so bad in the last three months if I’ve been fat my whole life. He said “I have no idea.” He ironically told me “skinny people have these problems too, but yours is because of weight.” I had to ask him about my exercise routine and whether I should change it–he certainly didn’t ask me if anything had changed to cause my condition.
I told him I didn’t expect I would be losing weight, so were there other options? He said we can treat this aggressively, but weight is causing the pain (implying that I’m a hopeless case unless I get thin). He gave me some very dire looks and a few limiting options. He told me, “we can put you in braces but they’re ugly and you won’t be able to wear sandals.” He did not: ask me any questions about myself, my medical status or my lifestyle. He was rude and condescending in his very short answers to my questions.
I have a lot of questions that went unanswered because he abruptly ended the appointment and walked out of the room, not even bothering to shake my hand or let me know that I’ll be seeing his PA from now on. In a final fuck you, he assumed I have diabetes and even diagnosed me with it in my medical record because I told him I take a certain medication. Without asking me–and only by looking at me–he assumed I was diabetic because I am fat. I’m not. I take the medication for another reason.
So, sometimes you’re right. The medical community is a mixture of people and some of them are assholes. I suspect this guy isn’t simply a fat hater. I think he’s an all around douchebag. I further suspect I’m not the only one who has gotten this treatment from him, fat or thin. Still, because it came down to weight and because he told me implicitly that the pain was my fault and that I will probably suffer forever because of it, I had to get all the way down to my car before I realized I could ask for a new doctor (and also that he hadn’t given me the referral to physical therapy he said he would). I had to quit panicking and get my shit together so I could go back up there and ask the front desk for options. I had to ask them to fix my medical records so my insurance company doesn’t think I have diabetes. I asked them about the other doctor in the practice and what his treatment of fat patients was like (they didn’t know, but they said I am welcome to see him instead).
The thing is, I’m not an idiot, I realize that being fat can put more strain on my tendons and joints than not being fat would. I ALSO know that thin people get these types of issues, and they get treated for them with other methods. I figure I should have access to these methods as well. I may or may not be able to change my body size to suit my tendons and joints, but I can sure as hell try to do other things that will help them be happier. I just can’t do those things if I’m not prescribed them by a doctor (or educated on what those things ARE). We rely on the medical field to help us get that access and information, and if the medical field blocks us from access because we are fat, we will not get better.
Many people who experienced this guy would not go back for treatment. They would suffer. They might limit their exercise and self care because of the excruciating pain associated with their tendons. No exercise leads to other health complaints. Not seeing a doctor will allow a fat person to miss warning signs and important information about their health. We all know being fat is unhealthy, right? My argument is that being fat is unhealthy for many reasons, including the systemic discrimination we suffer, especially in the medical field. If doctors learned to treat the patient as they are, and help them be the best they can rather than shaming them and ignoring them, maybe fat wouldn’t be quite the death sentence it seems to be now.
As for me? I’m starting aggressive physical therapy this week. Fuck that guy–I’m going to get better.