If you're fat, you already know that talking to your doctor can be hard. Frankly, even getting into the doctor's office for your scheduled appointment can be a feat of will power. I have been known to have panic attacks in a physician's waiting room because my body knew I was possibly entering an environment hostile to it.
Here's the deal: fat people are judged on their outward appearance at least once a day. There is no respite from our society's size standards (even in church, although it shouldn't be that way). Healthcare professionals are not exempt from judging based on appearance or from a number on a scale. If you doubt that anti-fat bias exists in the medical world, this article by Gina Kolata in the New York Times gives details on the existing evidence of healthcare providers' prejudice against fat people.
This is a life and death issue.
It is common for fat people to put off going to the doctor because the weight of judgment and shame about our size makes it really uncomfortable and even hostile. That's not good, because then health issues can grow without being attended to properly.
Here are some things you need to know before going into an appointment with your healthcare provider:
- You deserve the same level of care as every other person around you.
Not all bodies have the same abilities, but all bodies are good bodies. We are created in the image of God and being fat--no matter the reason--does not disqualify you from being treated with decency and according to the dignity that is inherently yours.
- Be prepared.
Being in a doctor's office is intimidating to me, so I need to write down what is troubling me so that I can make sure I articulate it and get information or proper treatment. I also have to be mentally and emotionally prepared. While some doctors are jerks (you can read my experience here), some doctors are oblivious to the fat-negative things they communicate. Doctors tend to assume that I desire to lose weight and just can't figure out how. There is a lot of repeated, unsolicited information about different diet programs, which tells me that I am perceived as lazy and forgetful.
Related: I am prone to anxiety when it comes to anticipating criticism, which includes trips to the doctor's office. I bring headphones and my fully-charged phone to zone out in the waiting room, and I practice some body-love techniques before I even walk in the door. Having a plan in place for managing anxiety helps me a great deal.
- Speak up.
If you feel like you are not being listened to, or if your practitioner insults you (directly or indirectly), speak up. Don't let the doctor dismiss you. Write a letter to the hospital. Change doctors. Find a doctor who listens and responds professionally and thoughtfully. Remember that you deserve dignity and respect, when the overwhelming voices in our society say that fat people are guilty and immoral and not worth time.
I have had the opportunity to find a healthcare practitioner who listens to my concerns and, while taking my weight into consideration, does not assume it to be the source of all my body's limitations. Here's to finding one for yourself, too.
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