by Jes Baker
Note: This is a modified excerpt from Jes Baker’s upcoming book Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls, out October 27, 2015.
The majority of opinions about fat (which isn’t a bad word or thing to be) people and health still fall into two general camps that go something like: (1) Fat isn’t healthy, you Obeast! and (2) You may not need to be a size 2, just be healthy and fit .
Let’s talk about the connection between our obsession with health and our belief that all doctors are reliable consultants when it comes to defining this important factor. Because the world believes the “obesity crisis” is going to cause an apocalypse (and the only way to survive is by working out every day and eating shit tons of carrots), we need to question the mouthpieces that most people refuse to contest and ask ourselves: Where is this definition of health coming from, and is it accurate?
In short? It comes from people who are as susceptible to brainwashing as the rest of us, so not really.
In 2013, hundreds of doctors gathered at the annual meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA) to vote on organizational policies. One of the policies up for a vote was a particularly brief resolution: “That our American Medical Association recognize obesity as a disease state with multiple pathophysiological aspects requiring a range of interventions to advance obesity treatment and prevention.” Even though many AMA professionals already know what many do—that fat bodies aren’t always unhealthy—it passed anyway. This was followed shortly thereafter (this year, 2015) with a new guideline for all medical staff: Treat the weight first.
Now, of course, like every industry that’s ever existed, monetary gain is always a key motive. There is a lot of money to be made by “treating” fat people in general, and there are compensations as a result of that 2013 decision: Now that obesity is officially a “disease,” doctors can write the diagnosis on their chart and get compensated by insurance companies. Fact. Is unbiased health always the priority for medical professionals? No way.
“It sounds like you’re saying fat people are victims of some sort of medical conspiracy. GOD, YOU SOUND SO DRAMATIC, JES.” Nah. I’m just presenting the facts. I’ll let you decide.
Now, is every fat person who shows up at the doctor going to have a clean bill of health and have zero weight-related issues? No. Will some people benefit from weight treatment? It totally depends on what they believe is best for them. Should we discredit everything that comes out of a doctor’s mouth? Not necessarily, but let’s at least ask questions. Is weight the only contributing factor to health issues? Nope. Does our medical system operate under this premise? F@!k no.
Now, when fat people do have medical issues (and use those tax dollars everyone likes to bitch and moan about), it’s important to think about why it can happen since it’s not always because of weight. There are several issues that I feel are especially relevant that don’t draw a direct line to the scale. One of which is weight-biased healthcare.
Weight-biased health care isn’t anything new. We like to assume the medical professionals we come in contact with are honest, nonpartisan, and well . . . professional. This is not always the case. There is a boat load of documentation that explores how these professionals feel about fatties, and it’s not very awesome.
It’s been heavily documented that doctors share the same high level of intolerance and disgust of fat bodies as the general population. One study showed that over 50 percent of primary care physicians viewed fat patients as “awkward,” “unattractive,” and “non-compliant”. A third of these physicians described fat patients as “weak-willed,” “sloppy,” and “lazy.” In another study, 45 percent of a sample of physicians agreed they have a negative reaction to fat individuals. It is so common for fat people to go to doctor appointments with a particular non-weight-related issue and leave with a prescription that will “help” them lose that weight. One hilarious (darkly so) cartoon illustrates this concept: A fat woman with a wooden post stuck through her midsection says, “DOCTOR! I’ve been impaled!” to which the doctor responds, “Well, maybe you’d feel better if you lost some weight.” I wish this were an uncommon response to serious medical issues, but unfortunately it’s not. Blogs like First, Do No Harm (“Real Stories of Fat Prejudice in Health Care”), are chock full of stories of experiences people have had with weight discrimination in the medical field. It will make you cringe.
Even further, a recent government survey indicated that more than half of the “overweight” adults being told they are unhealthy by doctors are metabolically healthy, and nearly one in four “normal-weight,” metabolically unhealthy adults are overlooked by doctors. So a majority of fat people are being told they’re not okay when they are, and “straight-size” bodies are automatically assumed to be up to snuff. This simply goes to show that medical weight bias negatively affects us all.
All of this, understandably, can make fat people really hate going to the doctor. So much so that they often don’t. And I DON’T BLAME THEM. Not only is so much of our worth attached to our “health” and what the doctors say, there’s more than a 50 percent chance that the mouthpiece of that info is gonna be a jerk. Fat people are surrounded by judgmental jerks all day long. We certainly don’t want to pay to see one. Y’KNOW?
As a general rule, avoiding doctor visits isn’t the best thing, and can, of course, lead to other (yep, costly) ailments. Fatness itself isn’t the health issue we think it is, but our hatred of fat plays a larger role than we ever bother to acknowledge. Period.
Jes is internationally recognized for her writing on her blog, The Militant Baker, and for the “Attractive and Fat” campaign, a response to Abercrombie and Fitch’s controversial branding efforts. Her extensive body advocacy work has continued to garner attention from hundreds of national and international media networks.
When not blogging, Jes spends her time producing the renowned Body Love Conference, speaking at universities, taking pictures in her underwear, writing for several online publications, working with clothing companies to promote more plus size fashion, and trying to convince her cats that they like to wear sweaters and bow ties. Learn more about Jes at TheMilitantBaker.com.