Are You My Doctor?
When I was about 27, a friend referred me to a doctor she liked. She was a woman, which I liked, and this friend (a co-worker, really) seemed to think she was good. I made the appointment and went to see her. I believe, at the time, I was concerned about a spot on my calf that was looking a bit discolored. I was worried it was something like a blood clot. I had plans to travel abroad for the summer and I didn't want a surprise complication.
The doctor entered the room, barely glanced at my leg as I explained my concerns, and then turned her back on me. "What you should really be worried about is your weight," she said, without any kind of segue. "What are you doing to address that?"
I was taken aback. I hadn't come in to discuss my weight. I still wanted to know what was going on with my leg. My silence must have irked her because she sighed and said, "Your leg looks fine to me. Nothing to be concerned about." She tapped something else into her computer, squinted at the screen, and said, "You take something for hypertension?"
I nodded. I'd taken Altace for a few years already at that point. Hypertension runs in my family. Also, I am overweight...but, again, that wasn't what I'd come to talk about.
"You might have a little swelling in your legs. Do you notice that?"
I nodded again. "Sometimes," I said.
"That's a side affect of the hypertension and the weight you're carrying in your belly. Lots of pressure. Maybe your dose isn't high enough. We should talk about that next time, but for now I need to know what you're doing to address weight loss."
It was the only question she'd actually asked me that required any real response from me.
"I just wanted to be sure I don't have a blood clot in my leg or something. What do you think is causing that spot?"
"Looks like you bumped it to me. An old injury. Sound familiar?" She was so abrupt, I wasn't even sure what she was asking. After a moment of thought, I realized that I did remember bumping my calf pretty hard against the coffee table several months before. It had really hurt. That must be it. I felt a wave of relief wash over me. Just a regular old bruise. Whew.
"So?" she said, tapping her pen against the counter.
"So?" I said, "Um. I don't know?"
"What are you doing to address your weight?"
"I just wanted to check on my leg," I said. I wasn't being obtuse on purpose, I just didn't understand what had happened. A doctor had never treated me this way before.
"Like I said, that's the least of your worries. I'd like you to come back in two weeks. In the meantime, I want you to look into the DASH diet. That's what you need to be following. You need to make some changes." Then, she gathered up my chart and left the room.
As I left the building that day, I felt sick. Scared. I still wasn't sure what had happened in that room. Yes, I knew I was overweight. I knew it was probably contributing to my hypertension. Still, why had that made her so angry with me? Why was she so rude?
I asked the co-worker who had recommended this doctor, the following week, if she generally found her to be abrupt? "No!" she cried, smiling. "She's so sweet. We're always just chatting about [a tv show]. We both love it. Why?"
This co-worker was a tall-ish, average-sized woman who had once confessed to me that her favorite activity was - much like me - watching TV on the sofa. She wasn't a marathon runner or an especially healthy person. She was just ... a regular person. Her doctor hadn't chastised her about her lack of exercise, apparently; hadn't been openly hostile with her.
I never returned to that doctor's office.
The new way of shaming people who are fat is to express concern for their "health." Women who promote body-positivity are consistently told they're promoting an "unhealthy lifestyle." Suddenly, everyone and their mother is worried sick about their neighbor's health. It's something I've experienced myself (and not just from doctors but also from family members, friends, and strangers).
Look. I know I'm fat. I am not as healthy as I wish I were. What does that have to do with my basic humanity? Do I deserve to be snapped at, dismissed, treated like a second-class citizen? For years, I thought it did. I agreed that I was not as human--as deserving--as a person who is conventionally slim. I bought into it just like everyone else. I'm sure plenty of you reading this know exactly what I'm talking about. In case you don't, just imagine this: from a very young age, popular culture, your doctors, your peers, and even your family express in overt and subtle ways that your are less. You internalize that. You feel less. You become less. And all the time you hate the way you look, how you feel, who you are. How could you live that way, for most, or all, of your life, without succumbing to depression, anxiety, sickness, sorrow? I couldn't. So many others haven't.
Here is what I want to say (and others have said it much better than I will: Lindy West addressed this beautifully last month in The Guardian and Jes Baker & Callie Thorpe addressed it impeccably just yesterday on Instagram and Twitter: my health is not the deciding factor for my humanity. Is a cancer patient less than human? A paraplegic? A man with Down Syndrome? A person who struggles with bipolar disorder? Your grandmother with Alzheimer's? Your uncle with eczema? You think that my weight is caused by me being somehow careless, gluttonous, disgusting? What if my weight was as inevitable as cancer? as bipolar disorder? as Alzheimer's? You do not know why I am fat. You only know that I am. The world has taught you that you should hate/be disgusted by fat people. It's not actually OK to just spew hate, though. So, instead, you insist that you're just worried about my health.
You don't care about my health. Not really. You just want to find a way to make me feel badly about being fat. Again. Because I don't experience that enough.
My health is not your business. Your concern is not needed. Turn that concern on yourself, instead, and examine why and how you really feel about fat people. That is a useful way to address your concerns about others' health.