“A Fat Person Walks Into the Doctor’s Office. . .”
For most people, a trip to the doctor isn’t exactly a picnic. For others, it’s downright terrifying. So much so, in fact, that a fear of the doctor has a name: iatrophobia. The majority of people, however, manage to bolster up the courage to make that appointment. Fearful or not, they’ll hop up on the examination table. Patients do it because they know, deep down, that they’ll get something out of the visit. For some overweight patients, however, iatrophobia cannot be overcome by optimism. These frustrated patients head to the physician’s office knowing they’ll leave, not with a diagnosis, but with a prescription’s pad worth of belittlement, “fat shaming”, and indifference. A recent article in The Establishment detailed the experiences of one “fat person’s” struggles at the doctor’s office. Suffice to say, it wasn’t exactly a heart-lifting read.
Fat Shaming Seen through New Eyes
Though she chose to remain anonymous, “What Happens When One Fat Patient Sees a Doctor” connects you with our Jane Doe on a fundamentally human level. You can feel the frustration of appointments passed peeking through the narrative. In roughly 1500 words, Jane Doe reminds us that doctors aren’t perfect. They can be pretty darn shallow. About halfway through the article, Jane Doe writes, “The doctor after doctor who denied even simple tests or exams for nearly every health condition until I lost weight. The prescription for anxiety or depression: Lose weight. Treatment for a hormonal imbalance: Lose weight. Intervention for endless bleeding: Lose weight.” I may not be a doctor, but those recommendations seem ludicrous. In fact, considering that many of these diseases contribute to weight gain instead of arising from it, they’re downright ironic. The most poignant moment of the piece, however, comes when Jane Doe opines, “My body casts a long and wide shadow, and every doctor seems focused on its silhouette, not the body from which that shadow stretches.” While her narrative ends on a high note, many people struggling with weight loss aren’t so lucky.
Weight Discrimination is the New Racism
Jane Doe is not the only overweight woman to leave the doctor’s office feeling embarrassed. “Fat-shaming” remains an acceptable form of prejudice. Some people, thinking cruel words will motivate “fatties” to hit the treadmill, believe fat shaming is a societal obligation. However, scientific studies have shown these jibes to be counterproductive. A scientific study in the Obesity Journal concluded: “Our results indicate that rather than encouraging people to lose weight, weight discrimination promotes weight gain and the onset of obesity. ” In addition to being ineffective, “fat shaming” has also been linked to increases in depression, suicidal acts, eating disorders, and low levels of self-esteem in those who have experienced it. As Jane Doe wrote, hateful comments make a person feel undeserving of their own body, of their own autonomy. Now imagine how damaging these comments are when coming from your physician.
Do not judge a person by their Silhouette.
The stubborn nurses and doctors in the first half of Jane Doe’s story made the most elementary of attribution errors. They wrongly linked correlation and causation. While obesity is linked to an increased risk for some disorders, such as gallbladder disease, it does not determine one’s overall level of health. It’s possible to be “fat” and healthy. A study headed by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found: “Among U.S. adults 20 years and older, 23.5 percent of normal-weight adults were metabolically abnormal, whereas 51.3 percent of overweight adults and 31.7 percent of obese adults were metabolically healthy.” Our Jane Doe was part of that small subset of healthy people with higher-than-average BMIs. She exercised regularly. She just struggled to lose weight. But, by focusing solely on her silhouette, the physicians involved missed out on the underlying disorders that might be to blame. As Doctor Rosenbaum explained in a recent article by the New York Times: “Obesity is the disease that keeps on giving.” And, it’s not exactly something you want under the Christmas tree. But, as long as a person remains healthy, that “gift” should not allow a doctor to make snap judgments.
People are so much more than the shadows they cast.
DIETSiTRIED does Not Fat Shame. We encourage.
DIETSiTRIED wants you to walk away from Jane Doe’s story with two things: a renewed sense of empathy for those struggling with weight loss and an understanding that fitness is about so much more than weight. You can be thin and ill. You can be overweight and run marathons. So, remember, that it’s your health, and not the number on the scale, that truly matters.