There’s a lot of propaganda about how being overweight negatively affects your health in seemingly every way possible. Because a lot of this is considered to be factual (even though there are numerous studies that disprove the myth that being overweight is unhealthy), and because of the fatphobia that exists in our society, doctors will often tie a patient’s health to what they weigh. Or often, even worse, they will not treat them for the actual symptoms they are experiencing and tell them to simply lose weight. This can make it very difficult if you or a loved one are having health problems and are on the receiving end of this kind of maltreatment.
So how, exactly, can we navigate fat-shaming from health professionals when it’s not the fat’s fault?
Why It’s Not About Health
It can be hard to fight back against doctors who are telling you that your weight is causing your health problems or vice versa. And that’s because it’s been deeply ingrained in our psyches to believe that there is a direct relationship between the two when that isn’t always the case.
What can be especially frustrating is when people – from your friends to your doctors – dismiss your assertion that fat isn’t necessarily the problem with the overzealous claim that they’re “just worried about your health.”
But here’s the thing: Fat-shaming is not about health.
It literally can’t be – because there is no valid research to indicate that body-shaming makes people healthier; if anything, raising guilt and shame in people is considered in the public health sector to have the opposite effect.
Fat-shaming is about the hatred our culture has taught us to have towards people of size. That’s it. Because if it were about health, then doctors would be treating you for the problems that you’re experiencing, not the weight that you happen to have.
Because could one’s asthma, one’s blood pressure, one’s bad knee be related to their size? Sure. Maybe. But sticking a “Lose weight!” band-aid onto a problem without actually investigating it is, plainly and simply, bad medical practice.
Change Your Approach
When speaking to a doctor, or when you’re going to the doctor with someone, state exactly what symptoms you are facing and what you would like to seek treatment for. In this way, you make it clear that you want a full, honest investigation of the problems that you’re having and that you won’t accept the “Lose weight” prescription as the be-all, end-all of your issue.
Deciding not to be weighed can be one helpful way to navigate this – and it’s something that people tend to forget that they can ask for! But going into the appointment not wanting your weight to be at all discussed can make your approach strong and firm.
If the nurse, doctor, or anyone asks about why you don’t want to be weighed or any other weight-related questions, you can use a response like “I did not come to discuss my weight today; I would like to focus on ________.”
If they push, repeat yourself. And if they still will not stop, tell them that you are prepared to seek out another doctor for the treatment you are wanting. Also, bringing along or being a supportive friend can help you to stick to your guns. That way, you can have someone to support you.
If you’re acting in solidarity with a loved one who is being harassed by their doctor, speak up and tell them that their behavior will not be tolerated and that you are prepared to leave and take your business elsewhere.
Shop Around for Doctors
Since a lot of doctors base their practices in weight-related health measurements, it can be difficult to find a doctor that will leave aside comments about weight and focus on other health issues you maybe having. But doing your homework to find a doctor who isn’t fatphobic can save you a lot of time and energy down the line.
Cat and Dragon is a website that has a comprehensive list of fat-friendly health professionals in every state and some countries including the UK, Canada, and Australia. Fat Friendly Docs does, too. Feel free to give this to a friend or loved one who needs to find a new doctor who is fat positive.
Also, talk to your fat friends and find out who their doctors are and if they like them. Sometimes simply talking to people that you know can help you find local practitioners who are body-positive or fat-friendly.
Educate Yourself (And Doctors!)
Learning about your health and body can be an empowering experience. It’s good to be informed! Having knowledge about our healthcare system and the reasons that fat and health have nothing to do with one another can allow you to understand some of your experiences. Also, if you feel so inclined, you can educate doctors or health professionals you may go to or have used in the past about how to be fat-friendly and practice a health-at-every-size approach in their work.
Even if you don’t feel comfortable saying something directly to them, you could always leave a voicemail or even write an e-mail explaining your experiences at their practice and giving them recommendations of books to read or link them to research to check out to back up your facts. Health at Every Size, Fat! SO?, and The Fat Studies Reader are great places to start.
And, of course, you can pass these along to your loved ones. This can actually be a great way to start a dialogue around fat and health with someone that you want to support.
Ask Them What They Need
If you have a loved one in this position, talk to them and ask them specifically what you can do to help them. It’s almost always more helpful to ask a person what their needs are rather than directly offering what you think they need.
Sometimes, it can be overwhelming to have someone who wants to get involved in your healthcare; obviously it is a very personal and private part of our lives. But simply being there to support in whatever way would be most helpful for them can be crucial in them getting the help they need.
Because no one should ever have to feel alone in the fight for fat-friendly health care.
This is a battle not only for people of size, but all of us.
Join or Start a Support Group
Being on a journey of fat acceptance can sometimes feel like a lonely one. Having a support team is critical to any type of recovery, so if you’re a person of size having a health issue, finding supporters can help you to navigate this often difficult process.
Navigating a health issue while being fat (or supporting someone who is) can be a difficult journey. But realize that there is hope and that you deserve to be treated with respect by all health professionals.
Because we all have a health issues at every size.