First, Do No Harm

While I was away for the last few days, the response to Thorn’s beautiful series of guest posts was overwhelming. I’ve rarely gotten so many comments on a Shapely Prose post as I did on her first one, outlining how a doctor’s callous words led to the death of Thorn’s mother.

So when I was about 11 years old, and Mom went to see her doctor because of some problem she was having, and he scathingly told her that her problem was she was fat, and not to come back to him until she’d lost 50 pounds? Yeah. It hurt her. It hurt her bad. But she believed in the rules. And so she tried to ignore how hurt she was and focused on trying extra-hard to get back to following those rules…

Having been unable to meet her doctor’s demand that she lose 50 pounds, she followed the only part of his stated rule that she could: she didn’t go back.

From that point on, whenever she got sick or injured and someone suggested she go see a doctor, she brushed them off. “Oh, they’re just going to tell me I’m too fat. Don’t worry, it’s just a cold/a sprain/a whatever. I’ll be fine.”

If you haven’t read the whole post yet, go do that now.

And if you haven’t read the comments, which are full of heartbreaking stories about the way doctors treat fat people, I’ve collected some of the highlights here.

I have PCOS and am overweight. My husband and I had serious infertility and loss issues. I was told by several OBGYNS to lose weight and I’d get pregnant. If only it was that simple.
-Jennifer

I wish that the medical community would read this, and really take it to heart. They must be reminded of the words they swore to uphold, “First do no harm.”

I went through a disturbing incident last winter when my husband, Jeff, suffered two bad falls on the ice in less than a month. The orthepedic surgeon he was referred to didn’t want to write him out of work or even do an MRI because he was just looking at my husband has a fat, out-of-control man who he couldn’t help at all until he lost 130 lbs! Jeff weighed at that point 350 lbs, the doctor ordered him down to “at least” 220 lbs before he could really treat his condition!

Fortunately, he was referred to a physical therapist who was very good to him, and rather than view him as lazy, viewed him as one of his most hard working and dilligent patients. He was the one who insisted that Jeff take some disability time for his recovery. My God, the man could hardly walk, he simply was in no condition to make it in until he had a chance to heal from the accidents! But that one doctor just wanted him to go to work like that, as some kind of punishment for being fat.

I’m glad Jeff is better now, but I won’t forgive that doctor for the shabby way he treated him anytime soon.
-Rose

My mom has been getting very sick over the years and refused to go to the doctor because she didn’t want to be belittled for her weight. But I have a wonderful doctor so I pressured her and pressured her and she finally went to see her a few months ago. Afterwards I asked her how it went and my mom just started crying, “She was just so…kind…”

That was the first time she’d seen a doctor since walking out of the hospital after giving birth to me 28 years ago.
-Heidi

My father’s discomfort with going to the doctor (a lot of which has to do with his weight) resulted in undiagnosed lung cancer. Luckily, it was successfully treated with surgery, but he’d probably had this for over a year before it was discovered.
-Spinsterwitch

I would toss a “just wow” into the ring, but unfortunately this outrageous crap is all too common. My MIL met a similar fate, not going to the doctor when she was panting like a German Shepherd just walking to her car, and when I told her that was NOT “normal,” she said she wasn’t going to bother going to the doctor about it because when she mentioned it to him before she’d just gotten the “lose weight and it will go away” lecture. And next thing I knew, she was dead.
-Meowser

My Mom died a few years ago, and your post is making me revisit all of the fury I had with her doctor, all the while thinking, “Well shoot — at least when she could afford health care, maybe I should be glad she went to the damn doctor.”

My Mom struggled with her weight and smoking her whole life. When I was really young, our family doctor “helped” her with her weight “problem” by prescribing “diet pills” (speed, to which she became highly addicted) to suppress her appetite and Valium (also addictive) to help her relax from the speed. To say that it made her moods erratic would be quite the understatement, and was pretty confusing to us kids!

Later on in her too short life, she would only visit a doctor (who was a friend of a friend) who she felt wouldn’t shame her about her weight and smoking because he was a heavy man and a heavy smoker. I am by NO means saying he was a bad doctor because of those things — but she had a bureau full of pills pills and more pills and then pills to counteract the side effects of those pills (blood pressure, diuretics, blood thinners, inhalers and fucking Vioxx) so I was pretty concerned. Any attempt to talk to her about getting a second opinion was met with “No, I know what they’ll tell me.” And I have to wonder … if I had been magically able to get her to the best doctors in the world (whatever the hell that means) would she have been able to put down her defenses and then listen to their advice? Shit, I’ll never know. But I do know that fighting with her about it until her (suddenly) last day was not the way I would have preferred to have our relationship play out.
-Suzanne

Even though I am a fat activist with a supportive partner who comes with me to doctor visits, and even though I have told each and every one of my doctors, in writing, that deliberate weight loss efforts are not going to be part of my treatment plan, they bring it up anyway. One comment about my weight or one momentary disgusted look on a doctor’s face will add months to the period between visits. I know they are my employees, but the societal pressure for me to feel that they are authorities over me is really strong.

And if it’s this hard for me, I know how much harder it must be for people who don’t have the fat-acceptance knowledge I have. Something really must be done. I wish I knew what.
-Stef

What also resonated with me, though–and my own mother’s experience–was the part about “following the rules” and dieting, only to find that the rules didn’t work. My mother tried everything to lose weight, including two stomach stapling surgeries. She was lucky enough to have a sympathetic doctor she liked and saw on a regular basis, but her body went through a lot over the years and through all the efforts.

She never learned to be healthy at her size. She didn’t eat well or exercise because for her these things were punishments that didn’t “work” since she couldn’t lose/keep off the weight. When she got cancer she wasn’t in a very good condition to fight it, because by then, failed dieting and the weight problems that came with it had convinced her that her body was a lost cause.

I hate that. I’m still angry about that. I can’t be angry at a doctor or point to any one thing that should’ve been different, that would have given her more time. But I’m angry that fat has been so misunderstood so many years, because that ignorance definitely took its toll on my mother.
-Wendy

I remember bursting into tears at the doctor’s office about 10 years ago…because she was kind to me. Simply kind. She did a comprehensive physical and asked about all sorts of things not related to my weight. For the first time at the doctor since becoming fat, I felt like I was actually receiving health care, not just scolding for being fat. It was so transformational to be treated with care and kindness rather than hostility and shame, I was overwhelmed with emotion.
-Maura

My mom had a similar experience. She went to a (male) doctor for her severe depression, and he told her it was just PMS and he couldn’t help her. She didn’t have the confidence to stick up for herself and tell him it was more than that, so she continued to suffer for 20 years… until I started suffering from depression, and saw a (female) doctor who prescribed me Prozac. I convinced her to see my doctor and she got on medication that’s really helping her. But 20 years of depression because some sexist ass assumed any problem with a woman’s mood must be PMS. I’m not a violent person but I want to hurt that man (and the one who was dismissive of Thorn’s mom, what the fuck is wrong with doctors?)
-Becky

The scariest part is, you just described me.
-Dawn

Your post describes the precise reason that I stopped seeing a “regular” doctor — I now visit an MD/ND — a male, which is a surprise for me — because he doesn’t give a rats ass about my weight — he cares about helping me to be healthy.

Insurance doesn’t cover most of his services, but I’m healthier than I’ve ever been in my life, with his help, and it’s been worth every penny out of my pocket
-Portly Dyke

It’s been eight years since my aunt died and I still get pissed about it. She was fat too, about the same height and size as your mom. She’d been having pain and symptoms for a looong time, but never went to see a doctor (and she worked in a fucking ICU!!! She saw doctors every damned day!) because she didn’t want them to tell her it was all because of her weight. She was treating her symptoms on her own, taking samples from work. And then, when she was 42, she had a stroke. And even when she was having the stroke, she still wouldn’t go to the hospital. She had talked to her brother that morning, told him she wasn’t feeling well. He was concerned, so he asked their other brother to check on her that afternoon. And so, nearly five hours after her stroke started, her younger brother gets her on the phone, hears her slurred speech and freaks out. He gets her to the hospital, but by then it was too late. She died less than a week later, after having another series of strokes that left her pretty much a vegetable.

They found out, via autopsy, that she had an undiagnosed autoimmune disease. It was causing her blood to clot and destroying her blood vessels. She’d likely had it for years, up to as many as 20 years, undiagnosed. If she’d been diagnosed? The treatment is one pill, one small, stupid, ridiculously inexpensive pill, once a day. But she wouldn’t go to the doctor, because she was so very ashamed of being fat.

Doctors tried to do the same to me, too. I’d been sick for years, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with me. Just told me I needed to lose weight and learn to relax. Gave me antidepressants. For years this went on and finally? I got tired of putting myself through it. So I stopped going to doctors too. And then my aunt died and, once I got over being horribly sad, I got mad. Extremely mad.

And I finally, finally found a doctor who would listen to me. (And yes, like so many others, I started to sob in her office because I was so expecting her to dismiss me.) And within a month, I was diagnoised with Lupus and Fibromylgia. My test scores were so high initially that they were afraid I was having organ damage. Years and years dismissed and it only took two doctors who were willing to listen to me, to treat me as a person, to figure out what was wrong and to start fixing me up. So now, six years later, I’m back to being healthy and happy. It’s just a shame it took my aunt’s death to get me here.
-Zan

About 10 years ago I went to see a strange doctor whom I’d picked out of book when I changed jobs and got new insurance.

I had just lost 20 pounds. He looked at me and said, “you didn’t gain all that weight through immaculate conception.”

I cried all the way home.
-Sparkly_Jules

What I have to add doesn’t parallel it in severity obviously, but I thought I should add my own experiences to the discourse. I’ve suffered from a rare and life-threatening respiratory disease for nearly ten years now (since I was in my late teen years). While I always struggled my weight, I crossed the 200 lb. mark due to steroids. Once I got truly fat, I couldn’t get doctors to take my disease seriously anymore. I was literally passing out from lack of oxygen at one point because they refused to acknowledge the severity to which my breathing had become compromised. All they could see was the weight *that they had caused me to gain.* Although my graduate school performance never suffered in terms of grades, the in-class difficulties I faced were never excused because I was – let’s face it – considered ugly. Life was hell. When I got a spot of melanoma, I had a doctor leave a ragged, keloid 5-inch scar with stitch marks (prone to infections and splitting open) instead of using a skin expander like she should have because, what did it matter? It would be covered with clothes. God forbid I ever want to take them off in front of someone. I’ve been starving myself at about 600-800 calories for several years to get to a low weight where my collarbones and cheekbones pop and my stomach is flat. I’m not underweight, but I look thin now (calories in, calories out, my ass-I should be invisible). My disease, at this weight, makes me look nearly as sick as I am, all black circles and veins and frailty. And, finally, I get proper medical treatment without judgment. In other words, I have to hurt my body to get it help. Nice world we live in, huh?
-Secretly

I’m 54 years old, ‘morbidly obese, and I haven’t seen a doctor in four years. The last time I went was when I had taken a six mile hike, gotten covered with tick’s and developed Lyme Disease. By the time I got to the Doctor, I’d been running a 102-3 degree fever for almost two days and my blood tests came back with elevated liver enzymes. Immediately, and despite that I had saved all the ticks that bit me, he said the spike in liver enzymes was due to chronic gall bladder disease secondary to morbid obesity. He wanted to take my gall bladder out! But since I’m a nurse and it was my dime, I told him to treat me for Lyme and (to be on the safe side) ehrlichiosis, another tick-borne disease. Grudgingly, he did so. Voila! A week later I was nearly 100 percent cured and a month later my liver panel showed normal values across the board. I remain fat, healthy and active to this day.

What fat woman hasn’t gone into a Doc’s office only to hear him say, “You know, you’re very overweight!” It doesn’t matter what you’re REALLY there for, whether you have poison ivy or tennis elbow or got a piano dropped on your foot! No, no, the first thing the Doc has to tell you is that you’re FAT. Like you don’t already know. Like you’ve lived in a house without mirrors for fifty years and never caught a glance of yourself.
“Gee Doc, but for you I would never have known I was fat. Thanks, Doc, from the bottom of my fat, old heart.!”
-Maggie Kamp

This is the exact thing that scares me, my mother is about the same size yours was. She is always depressed, talking about herself (in reference to her weight) as ‘a giant waste of space’ like nothing she does is meaningful because she’s fat. She’s a smoker, a drinker, and one of those people that spread themselves so thin they barely have time to think. Everytime she tries to fix one area she magnifies another problem, she tries to stop smoking and gains more weight, she tries to lose weight and ends up working even more, she tries to work less and ends up drinking and smoking more.

Every doctor she’s ever been to has told her that she needs to lose not 50 but 80lbs. So like your mother she doesn’t go to the doctor unless her problem is serious, the last time she’s been to a doctor was when she had an ear infection that she let get so bad it affected her balance and couldn’t walk without the room feeling like it was spinning. The first thing the doctor said to her was “Ma’am you seriously need to lose weight.”
-Jaymi

My sister had a horrible time with lots of doctors when she was bigger- she was in and out of hospital for a long time before she got a doctor who took her seriously (probably because that doctor was also quite big).

I’ve just qualified as a RN, and having seen what my sister went through, I swear I will *never* treat any of my patients like that, whether they’re overweight or have any of the the problems commonly thought of as “self-inflicted”. Unfortunately, despite the mandatory ethics course, I can’t say the same for all my classmates.
-Nephron

I am about your mother’s size and it is difficult to live in a world that has decided that you are bad because your body is out of style. I am so lucky that my slender little doctor is not a fat hater, never tells me I need to lose weight because she can see that dieting doesn’t work for me. How I wish that your mother could have had a doctor like mine.
-Maya’s Granny

And if you complain about leg pain (a college problem I had), you are told “well, you are 100 lbs overweight…” and no one ever checks to see if there could be another problem, because being 100 lbs overweight wasn’t exactly a new condition in my life!
-Beth

My mom’s death was also preventable. A week before she died of an aortic aneurysm, we took her to the emergency room because she was short of breath and her face was greyish. She mentioned that she’d run out of her thyroid meds and was told “Well, then you’ve gained some weight and it’s making it hard for you to get your breath.” And she was handed some samples and sent home.

A week later she was back with crushing chest pain, but her EKG was normal (it wasn’t her heart after all). She was retaining water severely, short of breath, and her chest had a bluish tint. All symptoms of a bleeding aneurysm. She was given lasix and put in CCU for observation. 24 hours later she was dead, and no attempt had been made to find out WHY her chest hurt and she couldn’t breath. After all, she was fat.
-Jo

This is the “obesity crisis,” people. Doctors neglecting, terrifying, dismissing, and misdiagnosing people because all they can see is fat. People in pain and suffering, too afraid to go to the doctor, because they know they’ll be scolded and shamed for their weight — and whether they’ll actually be treated is much less certain. My own story is nothing compared to these, but I’ve got one: when I fell down some stairs and twisted my knee, the best pain management advice my doctor had for me was “lose weight.” Same doctor once said, “So, what are we going to do about your weight?” while giving me a breast exam — ’cause that wasn’t a particularly vulnerable moment for me or anything. And I’ve never even been over 200 lbs.

If you aren’t outraged enough yet, check out some of the stories at Fatshionitis.

Stef, the fat acceptance activist quoted above, maintains a list of fat-friendly health professionals and tips on obtaining good health care. These are amazing resources, but the need for them is tragic and shameful.

Anybody want to tell me again how fat people don’t take care of themselves and burden the system with their doctor visits?

(Cross-posted.)

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56 Comments

Filed under 09_kate_harding

56 responses to “First, Do No Harm

  1. dolia

    ….and most of these patients are women, too. Pure coincidence, of course….

  2. Every doctor visit has been a lecture to lose weight, from age three. The most ridiculous was around age 9 or 10, when the doctor told me that my allergies were caused by my weight. I’ve dreaded going back since, though I have been many times. Now, I’ve been without insurance for almost 4 years, and I sure don’t look forward to getting a new doctor, and a new lecture for the same old thing.

  3. Constant Comment

    An important thing to remember–and it’s so simple–is that you can choose NOT to be weighed. I haven’t been weighed at a doctor’s office in years. I usually say something like, “I’d rather not got weighed today, thanks…” Of course, that won’t stop heinous doctors from making hateful or counter-productive remarks; in those cases you should find a replacement pronto. If it were me, I would register some complaints.

  4. Jewel

    What horrible, horrible stories. I had no idea things were that bad. I know fat people are horribly shamed and mistreateds, but I really had no idea that it was so bad with doctors. DOCTORS, for crying out loud. They’re supposed to know about medical stuff, like how to diagnose illnesses. If anyone should know better, doctors should. Sue the assholes for malpractice, maybe that’ll wake them up to reality.

    My heart goes out to all of you who have been mistreated and harmed by the very people who are supposed to do just the opposite. May you all find competent and knowledgeable doctors and put the ignorant fat-shaming ones out of business.

  5. Sometimes I feel like I’ve lived a charmed life. Those stories are heartbreaking.

    Our family doctor is overweight – well, I suppose she is based on what I’ve always been told being overweight is. She doesn’t bitch at us about our weight, and I honestly think that she wouldn’t even if she were really thin. The other 3 docs in the practice aren’t overweight, and thank God none of them obsess over it with us either.

    I like to think of myself as a strong-willed guy, but I don’t know what I would do if my wife or I ever had any of the experiences recounted above.

  6. NameChanged

    I feel very lucky to have found a great midwife who is concerned about health, not weight, for my first pregnancy. I am even more grateful to have found the fat acceptance movement before I went through decades of self hatred and inadequate healthcare. Thank you.

  7. Kate Harding

    Stephen and NameChanged, it’d be great if you took a minute to submit the names of your doctors/midwife to Stef’s list, so other people can find them.

  8. Kate, I want to thank you thank you thank you for running that series of posts by Thorn.

    Maybe the hardcore lipophobes still won’t get it, maybe they’ll still dismiss her story and all the others as, “Well, if you really wanted to be thin you would be, and you shouldn’t expect anyone to respect your fat ass, so quit whining.” Or, “I lost weight and kept it off, I don’t know what her problem was, she must have been sneaking doughnuts, so fuck her.” But I have to believe you turned a few heads there, at least.

    Me, I’m still kicking myself, four years later, for not dragging my MIL to the doctor myself, or at least calling him up and going, “WTF? This woman is PANTING just walking to her car! Even if she was TWICE that size that wouldn’t be normal!” If I’d known how dire it was going to be for her to ignore that, maybe I’d have done so. She might not have gone anyway, she had what I’d call “exaggerated sense of duty” and thought tending to her sick husband (who outlived her!) was more important than paying attention to what her body was telling her. But at least she would have known just what she was brushing aside.

  9. It’s been really hard to find a good doctor. I had a great doctor I loved in Boston; a former hippie chick who was more interested in finding root causes for problems and then fixing them than worrying about my weight. I miss her terribly. Since I moved back to the Midwest, I have been struggling to find a good local doctor who is helpful and not harmful. It is particularly difficult because I had gastric bypass surgery three years ago, so now the doctors focus on “still fat after stomach stapling.” The last time I went to the doctor, I went because I wanted an STD test after finding out my lover was being unfaithful to me. I’m in there scared out of my mind and the doctor starts lecturing me about being a weight loss failure.

    So, now I don’t know what I am going to do. I need monthly B12 shots, and I am having problems with the scar tissue from my surgery but I am exhausted by the thought of having to try to find yet another doctor who will treat me like an intelligent human being instead of a lump of tallow.

  10. late

    Terrible stories – I’d say fat-phobia in health care (and everywhere) is a huge problem. It is, however, part of an over-arching problem: doctors think they can be asshats and treat anyone poorly and/or refuse treatment or merely underhelp.

  11. That round-up is amazing. I’ve also had similar experiences with doctors, which has made me–someone already just generally reluctant to go to the doctor for various reasons–even more reluctant. Which itself may be the worst health habit I have now that I’ve quit smoking.

  12. NameChanged

    Kate I submitted my midwife. Thanks for making this list more visible.

  13. The medical profession can really be a bunch of jerks. I swear, it’s getting worse, and what’s more I’m convinced I know why, having taught pre-meds forever. (It feels like forever.) The med schools chase after neurotic grade grubbers instead of future doctors.

    The discrimination fat people put up with is mirrored in what black people sometimes go through, or menopausal women, or the elderly, especially (of course) elderly women. The low status groups get, “lose weight and call me in the morning.” Middle class white males get MRIs.

    One minor point re the official reason why weight is one of the measurements they take during doctors visits. Any rapid and UNEXPLAINED departure from your normal baseline can be a symptom of some quite nasty diseases, especially unexplained weight *loss*. (The worst one in that case being cancer.)

  14. I am a fat lesbian. I had a horrible experience with a GYN nurse practitioner while in graduate school and would not go for GYN care for nearly 10 years. When I did go because I was having symptoms I could no longer tolerate, voila, endometrial cancer. While the cancer is likely related to my weight, my current GYN/ONC is fabulous. He has mentioned losing weight but has never harrangued me about it and has always treated me aggressively. In fact, despite being a surgeon, he treated me non-surgically twice. The first time he wanted to preserve my fertility (I was floored that he even considered it given the fact that I’m queer.) The second time (when the cancer reoccured) he treated me with radiation because we were trying to preserve my ovarian function so I wouldn’t go into menopause at 38.

  15. DerelictDaughter11

    Those are all outrageous stories. Thank you all for sharing them. Here’s my own, paling my comparison, but it just points to the fact that you don’t have to be “morbidly obese” to be (un)treated as fat.

    Years ago, while I was in my first year of college, I went to my then-OB/GYN. Now, for extra hypocrisy points, the doctor was a woman, and though pregnant, was not especially thin before pregnancy. I am 5’4″ and was probably about 180 at the time, a lot of it was (and still is) boob and thigh, my heaviest to date.

    After my exam, in her office, as she’s handing me – the *freshman in college* – her *birth control* prescription, this doctor tells me that I was overweight, “even after ‘adjusting’ for my frame”. According to her niffy little chart, see, I should weigh 135. I asked her if her recommendation for me to lose weight was based on any medical reason, if my health was in any danger, and she said no. She seemed kind of dumbfounded as I explained to her that back at college, I worked at the Women’s Center where we, among other things, tried to promote having a *positive body image*. I said that if she couldn’t tell me why I should lose weight aside from not matching up to her abstract chart, then I’d be ignoring that piece of advice.

    I soon after started visiting the campus Health Services. The NPs there gave me some of the best care I’ve received. I just started seeing a new OB/GYN last week, too, who was absolutely phenomenal. I think I’ll add her to the list, too. I’m not “fat”, so I can’t say from experience in that regard, but having had shitty doctors before, I am 100% confident that she is a good referral. We talked a bit about the struggle of weight loss and smoking cessation. Her feeling was “when you’re ready” and, I’m confident, that includes “if you want to” when it comes to weight. She’s giving me til 35 to quit smoking, or I’m cut off my anti-baby-forcefield pills. BTW – Congrats, Melissa, on quitting…how’d you do it?

  16. Pingback: Frivolous Post-Vacay Update « Shapely Prose

  17. BTW – Congrats, Melissa, on quitting…how’d you do it?

    Thanks. Did it cold turkey. It was seriously, seriously hard for about a week, then I only vaguely wanted to kill myself for a week, and then it got way easier.

    This weekend, I went to Todd’s hubby’s birthday party–and it was the first time Todd and I had been in a social situation where we were drinking since I quit. Todd only smokes when he drinks, and we always loved to have a smoke together at parties while we shared a bottle (or two) of champagne. There was a part of me that wanted to have a smoke with him, but a much bigger part of me that didn’t. And, bless him, he didn’t beg me or cajole me; he snuck off to smoke well away from me with no fanfare.

    His cigarettes were sitting inches away from me for most of the party, though, and I was never even tempted to take one. In fact, I haven’t had a single drag since I quit last Thanksgiving.

  18. I’ve had doctors that mentioned my weight, but I’ve never been belittled or ignored the way all of those people telling their stories were. I had one doctor who was just a cheerleader for me, he always made me feel so good, no matter what my weight was – he mainly talked about “getting healthy!” – he never once said “getting thinner!” (He relocated, I’m not sure where he practices now.

    I think part of the reason I haven’t experienced the same thing is because I go to a family practice group that is staffed by residents. I’ve only met one resident who was well on his way to a career of douchehoundery – most of them want to learn from the patients and I always feel like I’m treated respectfully there.

  19. I remember my first a doctor in Alameda. I asked about visiting with a nutritionist within the HMO. She told me to just go to Weight Watchers. Between that, and the OB/GYN who, after looking at my birthdate on my chart, basically told me I needn’t bother with birth control because I probably couldn’t get pregnant anyway, I haven’t been back to KP in a year and a half.

  20. I submitted my doctor to that list, Kate. I haven’t really looked at them from the perspective of all those criteria, but I think they pretty much fit them.

    Quixote, I wish I could take a class from you.

  21. everstar

    My little brother grew up fat and terrified that he’d be dead before the age of thirty from a heart attack. When he was in middle school, there was an elective period in the required gym class where he got to pick what he wanted to go, and he picked swimming, because he liked it.

    The gym teacher — my hand to God — said to him, in front of his classmates, “You can’t take swimming, because if something happened to you in the pool, I couldn’t get you out.”

    My mother hauled the principal and the teacher into a meeting with him and demanded an apology. She got it, too.

    It’s been over ten years since that happened and thinking about it still makes me want to go find that teacher and flatten his face. What really upsets me even more, thinking about it in this context, is how that gym teacher could’ve made it a positive experience for my brother instead of humiliating him. It could’ve been about enjoying a healthy activity, but instead that fucker made my little brother cry.

  22. The asshat gym teacher should know that it’s way easier to get a heavy body out of a swimming pool than to drag one off a football field or basketball court. Water immersion negates gravity, y’know. I’m sure he must have heard that one in his college science courses, but it’s easy to forget when you’re looking for a reason to humiliate someone.

    Nowadays they’re all about scaring the fat kids like your little brother was. Doesn’t anyone realize that cortisol surges are, like, rilly unhealthy?

  23. Brynn

    His cigarettes were sitting inches away from me for most of the party, though, and I was never even tempted to take one. In fact, I haven’t had a single drag since I quit last Thanksgiving.

    That’s so great. You rock!!!

    A bit off-thread, I saw the latest Harry Potter this weekend and was really disgusted and put off by the fact that his evil aunt, uncle and cousin were portrayed as fat. Not just fat, but it was obvious we were meant to laugh at their weight and equate their fat with their evil natures. It was really disturbing.

  24. Jess

    everstar, I think the correct response to that is “oh wow, guess you’d better buff up a little then.” Not that it’s fair for body judgment to cut both ways, but I’d be tempted.

    Just to continue the HP hijack, I just reread the fourth book and was pretty put off by the way they portray Dudley’s diet… of course Dudley is pissing and moaning about how he can’t have his favorite treats, because ha ha the fat kid is a spoiled glutton, but then Harry is all smug because he’s been stockpiling sweets and has been living off candy and cakes all summer. What a triumph, for the skinny kid to eat all the junk he can! That’ll show those greedy fatties!

  25. I knew there was a reason I couldn’t fall in love with Harry Potter. Even partway through the first book, I thought, “Great, another conflating of fat with evil, just what kids need to hear.”

  26. Dammit, I’ve been happy to ignore that aspect of Harry Potter all along, but I fear the movie’s going to make me very, very angry. And great point about the way Harry and his skinny friends eat, Jess.

  27. Betsy

    Everstar, that makes me want to cry. It’s bad enough when adults get such biting, insulting, or condescending comments, but when children do…there are no words. Except a story in the Boston Globe from a few days ago about how teasing is much worse on a “fat” child’s self-esteem and psyche than the mere fact of being fat alone (I know, it’s astonishing, what won’t the scientists think of next?). The story is here: http://www.boston.com/yourlife/health/children/articles/2007/07/11/taunting_may_affect_health_of_obese_youths/

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  29. everstar

    Jess: I think that might be asking a little too much presence of mind from a seventh-grader, though? I mean, coming up with a biting rejoinder is a little easier when you’re in a slightly more equitable relationship than grown teacher and teenage student. I know if a teacher had said something like that to me when I was in seventh grade, my first reaction would’ve been to go curl up somewhere and pray for a swift and merciful death.

    Betsy: Yeah, I know. My brother’s still dealing with his body issues and self-hatred. He wants to take up running, but he’s afraid people will stare at him if he goes outside.

    I am not a violent person, but I swear, if I could go back and choke all the little bastards who ever made him feel like crap, I would. Now when I see stuff like Shaquille O’Neal running “fat camps” and telling little kids that they’d better shape up or ship out — well, what some of them hear, Shaq, is that they’d better ship out of life because they’re too fat to be worthwhile.

    I hate shame-based approaches. I just hate them.

  30. I hate shame-based approaches. I just hate them.

    You and me both, everstar. I’m so sorry those bastards treated your brother that way.

  31. My wife, who was a pudgy little girl, still has memories of an optometrist telling her at the age of eight that she’d be blind by the age of thirty if she continued to be fat.

  32. twig

    The gym teacher — my hand to God — said to him, in front of his classmates, “You can’t take swimming, because if something happened to you in the pool, I couldn’t get you out.”

    Color-coded school-supplied swimsuits in junior high! Oh yeah baby, the fat kids got to wear poo brown!

    Real life might still suck but man, nothing was quite like that state-enforced sadism.

  33. Now when I see stuff like Shaquille O’Neal running “fat camps” and telling little kids that they’d better shape up or ship out — well, what some of them hear, Shaq, is that they’d better ship out of life because they’re too fat to be worthwhile.

    The (bad) joke of that is that Shaq himself has been faulted as a player for poor conditioning and the injuries that have resulted from that poor conditioning. He’s kinda the Mickey Mantle of basketball, in that regard. (Not saying Shaq is an alcoholic, mind you, because I don’t know that — just that like Mantle he’s probably not nearly as great as he could have been taking better care of his body, though still pretty amazing due to sheer native ability.)

    And of course, that much of his vaunted musculature is quite possibly (don’t know for sure, but can’t rule out either) the result of performance-enhancing substances, which as we know are sooooo very good for you (nawwwwt). Now, I’m on record as saying health isn’t a moral imperative, but if you’re going to run around saying we must get the children slimmed down for the sake of their health health health, then baby, you’d better the flying hell be walking (and running) that talk.

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  35. The (bad) joke of that is that Shaq himself has been faulted as a player for poor conditioning and the injuries that have resulted from that poor conditioning.

    And that he spent the previous decade or so shilling soft drinks and fast food to kids.

  36. DerelictDaughter11

    OT, sorry, but…

    Melissa, congratulations! That’s mighty impressive. I know when I have tried to quit in the past, it’s those types of social situations that are hardest. It’s so easy to say, “ok, just one”. But that’s not how it really works, now is it?! And double bonus points for going cold turkey during the holidays. Woah. 🙂

  37. Seriously, Liss! Guess the rutabaga industry wasn’t offering him as lush a paycheck, huh?

  38. lyn

    At my dr.’s office, the scale is out in the hallway in full view and hearing of the waiting room. Oh they’ll take you into a private consultation room to do whatever else you’re there to do that day, but they make sure to weigh you out in front of everyone (this is a family practice office). And PS, out in public isn’t a great place to take off your winter coat or heavy shoes in case you really want to know what your official weight is.

    Next time I go, I’m going to raise hell about the location of the scale.

  39. Thorn

    Everstar – I’m so sorry that teacher was such a shit to your brother. I don’t know if he’s online, but I’ve recently discovered a LiveJournal community called Fathletes which I’m finding pretty inspirational, for all that I haven’t turned it into action yet. I’ve also found blogs by fat athletes out on the tubes, which I find really boosts my confidence when I read them.

    I hope he’s able to find the courage to not let the haters tell him what he can and cannot do.

  40. anon

    ….and most of these patients are women, too. Pure coincidence, of course….

    Not coincidence at all, dolia. Women are supposed to take it, sit down, shut up, and be quiet. Especially since most conclusions about functional human anatomy are drawn from research performed on MEN’s bodies.

    This one of the reasons why I think some doctors hate questions from their patients. But as I and some of my friends have casually mentioned to a few, we’re pretty sure they resent questions a lot less than they’d resent

    – a formal complaint filed with the AMA and
    – a call to the lead paper in which the physician practices sharing news of the complaint.

    BTW, did Jo’s attorney’s investigate a suit? Sounds an awful lot like possible misdiagnosis and/or possible wrongful death to me. JMHO.

  41. everstar

    Thorn: Thank you for that, and the link. My brother fell prey a few years ago to the depression to which our family is prone, and had something of a nervous collapse. I have no doubt that his body image issues are heavily tied into it. He’s been on suicide watch multiple times and went through a round of ECT back in 2005, but luckily he’s putting his life back together and is hanging in there. I tell him he’s brave. I think someday he’ll believe me.

    I also want to say, I’m so sorry about your mom. Losing somebody you love is hard enough without also knowing that it could have been prevented, and without people being well-meaning asshats about it. Take care of yourself — I mean in the spiritual sense. I trust you with the physical.

  42. random HP geek

    J.K. Rowling addressed the “fat Dudley” issue on her website a while back. She wrote that it was never her intention to make fat=bad. Aunt Petunia is rather thin and horsey, while my beloved Neville is described as round and chubby. The evil Malfoys (and the Dursleys) mock Molly Weasley for her weight. And actually, by Order of the Phoenix Dudley’s weight is supposed to be pure muscle, which he uses to do greater harm than he ever did while still fat. So the movie got that (and many other things) wrong. I always had a problem with the portrayal of fat people (and women!) in the books, but I think that once it was brought to Rowling’s attention, she tried to rectify it.

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  44. random HP geek

    Did my first comment disappear in moderation? Here it is again. Hope it doesn’t double post.

    J.K. Rowling addressed the “fat Dudley” issue on her website a while back. She wrote that it was never her intention to make fat=bad. My beloved Neville is described as round and chubby, while the Malfoys (and the Dursleys) mock Molly Weasley’s weight in another example of their overall bigotry. And actually, by Order of the Phoenix, Dudley’s weight is supposed to be pure muscle, which he uses to do greater harm than he ever did when he was fat. So the movie got that (and many other things) wrong. I’ve always had a problem with Rowling’s portrayal of fat people (and women!), but I think that once it was brought to her attention, she tried to rectify it.

  45. Wow. Reading some of these made me tear up.

    I was once told by a doctor that I was “at risk” for becoming unhealthily overweight. I am 21 years old, 5’2 and weigh 137 lbs, and am doing what I should be doing to maintain a “healthy” weight. According to the BMI (which, in my estimation, is a load of crap), I am in the “danger zone,” and have been since I hit puberty (for the past 10 years or so). Interesting how the fear of fat also works to maintain the lie that fat = something that should be avoided at all costs. As these stories demonstrate, such a myth is extremely dangerous. Not only do some doctors see “actual” fat (and that’s all), bu they see “potential” fat as well!

  46. Brynn

    Aunt Petunia is rather thin and horsey,

    You know, I went back and looked at a still from the film. Aunt Petunia isn’t fat…it’s the uncle and dudley who are portrayed as fat. S’funny how memory distorts.

    That said, Uncle Vernon especially is portrayed as morbidly obese and Dudley as noticeably fat.

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  49. cp

    It might be different in the US to Australia; I’m fat but have never had rude questions or comments about my weight from doctors. Or maybe my “don’t f*ck with me” field is just working too well; I would have no hesitation cutting someone down to size if they tried that sort of shit with me. I’m 5ft even and somewhere on the “wrong” side of 80kg. But I ride a bike daily, and I swim in the summer – not just a few laps but a kilometre and more. I eat much less than just about anyone I know. I’m just fat. And healthy. My lover likes my curves. A lot 🙂

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  51. Nikki

    These stories…are absolutely heartbreaking. When I was little, I was always afraid to go to the doctor because I didn’t want to get the finger prick. Then, when I was about 7 or so and decided to be brave about that, I got a new enemy-the scale. The scale said I was fat. The doctor pulled my mom out in the hall and told her that SHE needed to get a scale to measure my foods and make sure I ate less. Because I was fat.
    That was TWENTY years ago and I remember it like it was twenty minutes ago. I am still petrified at seeing a doctor. They can jab me with a million needles and I am not afraid. The scale frightens me. I can’t say how many times I’ve let myself be sick because I can’t get over my fear of what the scale will say and what the doctor will say.
    Every time I skip a meal or throw up, I think about that doctor and his scale.
    F*ck you, doctor. F*ck you very much.

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  54. J.S.

    Not as awful as many of the stories here, but this one’s very recent.

    A couple of weeks ago I had my family practice doctor decide that I was prediabetic, even before he’d done any bloodwork on me. (Can diabetes be diagnosed visually? Apparently it can, if you’re this guy, and if I’m fat!) He was trying to talk me into using an injectible diabetic medication to treat my supposed condition, because it can cause weight loss due to an appetite surpressant effect. I told him repeatedly that I don’t overeat, so surpressing my appetite is not likely to help anything, but he didn’t hear. Later after my bloodwork came back with normal results he actively LIED to me, still claiming that I have prediabetes, even though a specialist has since confirmed that I do not. I’ve got to think that this entire interaction was between a doctor and his prejudices about me, a fat patient, and certainly not about any real evaluation of my health.

    I’ll skip telling you about his comments about my unmarried status when I asked him for STD testing.

    It’s definitely time for me to find a new doctor.

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