At the gym this morning a woman I used to chat to after our cycle classes jumped on the treadmill next to me. We hadn’t spoken in a while, but we have our fatness in common so it was easy to find things to talk about. Especially since I was wearing my Fat Goddess t-shirt.
My gym friend (I’ll call her Mary), was pretty awed by it. She pointed to her own colourful t-shirt and explained it had been purchased on her recent trip to Thailand, in a special plus-sized store, where they made her pay extra for ‘more material’ and followed it up with a loud statement about how freakishly huge she was. (And yes, I know extra material probably does cost more – but that is not the issue at hand.) Mary also had some other interesting experiences on holiday. Like the time she walked into a massage place and asked their prices, only to be told that since she was so big, they would charge her double. And then they laughed at her, in front of the other, slimmer, tourists. Now, I’ve been to Thailand for a holiday too and I never had these experiences. Mary was unlucky, by the sound of things – I’m certainly not saying that Thai people are all unfriendly or fat-phobic. But perhaps what happened here is that cultural and language differences allowed for the kind of things that many people think all the time about fat people but just don’t say out loud. (Which is something to think about, if you’re walking around with thin privilege).
Mary was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes last year, but she hasn’t been to the doctor in six months. She knows that this is probably unwise, but the last time she went to the doctor she felt down for weeks. She’d bounced into the surgery, saying how she felt energised by the progress she’d made in our spin class, and that although the strict dietary changes recommended had been difficult to implement, she’d been making some healthful choices. Her doctor’s response? Come back and tell me you’re doing well when you’ve lost thirty kilograms. No recognition of her health-improving efforts, no checking of test results before the admonishments. Amazing how so many doctors can tell your blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol just by looking at a number on a scale! The net result of this, for Mary, was some more weight gain after yet another failed attempt at a diet. And confirmation that she’s not good enough, that doctors won’t or can’t help her because she’s too fat to deserve it. For her, this means a lot of days where she can’t make it to the gym because just getting out and about, amongst bodies different to hers, makes her feel painfully ashamed.
I’ve encouraged Mary to try another doctor but you know what, I get why she hasn’t. Because this story? It happens all the fucking time. I can’t even begin to tell you how angry it makes me.
It happened to me last week. Because I am fat, my doctor is reluctant to prescribe medication which may cause further weight gain. (It’s been a year since this particular doctor took my blood pressure or ran any blood tests so how he knows that weight gain will actually harm me more than remaining unmedicated is, again, anyone’s guess.) Because I am fat, my doctor admitted that he’d assumed my daughter was conceived using reproductive technology and birthed via c-section (the truth is that she was conceived the ordinary way, and during my pregnancy I had no complications and delivered a lustily crying babe without intervention or complication). Because I am fat, my doctor thinks that a good treatment for my depression would be Weight Watchers, even though he knows that my depression began long before I was fat. (Presumably, he also doesn’t know that no diet, exercise or ‘lifestyle’ program has ever been proven to result in long-term weight loss in more than a very small percentage of people. The ‘cure for fatness’ just doesn’t currently exist, but they keep forgetting to send out that memo). My doctor, who I thought was a good and sympathetic doctor, said all of these things to me without once asking me what eating habits are actually like and what my activity levels are.
Naturally I felt deflated, angry, let-down by this treatment.
But I’ll get over it. I can find another doctor. I have the courage of my convictions and a lot of support. And I know that despite what this doctor – or anyone – may think, I am a person who cares about my health (even if I don’t always get it right). But for every fatty like me, there are many others who still feel cowed by the world telling them they are worthless. There are many others who don’t have a supportive partner or the time and inclination to read about Health At Every Size or to stumble into the affirming Fatosphere. There are many others, like Mary, who would rather risk exacerbating a health condition than be shamed and dismissed by just one more person who is supposed to be helping them. Because fat-prejudice is real and it is demoralising and it affects people’s lives in sometimes debilitating ways – and it makes people sick.
This whole fatties-united conversation I had this morning happened whilst Mary and I were on the treadmill, and then the stepper, and then the cross-trainer. I worked hard because anger was fuelling me. Anger that Mary’s mother, like my own, had told her she was disgusting and made fun of her body before she even hit puberty (and well before she was actually fat). Anger that Mary’s child, like mine, had already been subjected to a running commentary on his weight. Angry that until that moment when another fat woman stood beside me, I had been unable to overcome my self-consciousness about wearing my Fat Goddess t-shirt.
But another fat woman did stand beside me. And another one was on my the little TV screen on my treadmill, and another in the magazine I thumbed while I had a coffee afterwards.
We are everywhere, and we deserve good and unbiased medical care, and we deserve to be treated as the diverse and worthy human beings that we are. The Fat Goddess, she demands it!