I read this post from Dr Samantha Thomas over at The Discourse and I must say, while I’m absolutely disgusted at the way Amanda Bell has been treated, sadly I am not actually surprised. Because most of us who live in fat bodies know all too well that respectful, dignified health care is not something we can find easily, and that part of the reason so many of us find ourselves ill is because we avoid going anywhere near medical providers due to the amount of shame and bullying that is heaped on us when we do.
As I mentioned in my last post, I have recently been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which is a chronic illness that comes with a whole host of it’s own shaming, which is compounded when it is suffered by someone who is fat. I am lucky, I have a GP who is supportive, sympathetic and treats me with respect and dignity. She also listens to me. However I was in my 30’s before I found my beloved Doc Jo. But I dread the thought of needing a specialist of any kind, because it is fresh in my mind the horror of having to deal with fat shaming and the general disrespect of fat-hostile medical professionals (and I use the term “professional” loosely).
But as I have read more and more on the topic of T2 diabetes, all I have found is further fat-shaming from both health care professionals and from every “expert” member of the media and the public who profess to have an opinion on a chronic illness that they neither suffer nor have studied. The most common message is that T2 diabetics, or to be specific, fat T2 diabetics, have “brought it upon themselves” and are now “clogging up our health care system on something they did to themselves.” Somehow thin T2 diabetics escape this criticism and are often heaped with sympathy and disbelief on how they should get a disease that the commenter believes is something that only “unhealthy fat people” get.
And just tonight, on Twitter I have had some two-bit television doctor from the UK dismissing me as “being silly” when I tried to speak to him about the disrespect and shaming that fat people suffer at the hands of medical professionals. Clearly he fails to see that a patronising tone is not an adequate argument.
What I want to talk about today is the commonly held belief that fat people do not deserve respectful, caring medical attention and are unable to advocate for their own health. Now, let’s pretend, for just a moment, that all the evidence we have found about there being no causal links between fatness and disease, only correlation, and we’ll pretend, just for a moment, that there are no healthy fat people, nor unhealthy thin people, and we’ll even pretend for a moment that 95% of diets and weight loss regimes do not fail over the long term. So if we ignore all of that evidence, and pretend, just for a moment, that fat really is something that can be controlled and eradicated by diet and exercise.
Let’s just pretend for a minute (bear with me).
If that’s the case, wouldn’t that mean that EVERYBODY who engages in risky behaviour or does things that are detrimental to their own health should be shamed, bullied, intervened into and vilified for their behaviours? Wouldn’t that mean that ANYONE who is not in 100% tip-top physical form through some kind of activity or behaviour that may possibly do damage to the human body should be held fully financially responsible (without any support from private or public health care) for their illnesses and injuries?
Let’s think about that.
Do you tan/sunbathe/expose ANY of your skin to the sun? Well, that counts you out for respectful health care, because you’ve let yourself get skin cancer. Do you drink alcohol? No respectful health care for you, if you let yourself get cirrhosis, stomach ulcers or alcohol related illnesses. How about anyone who plays sport? If you let yourself get injured on the field/course/track/court – no respectful health care for you. Have you ever had sexual intercourse in your life? Well if you get any of the long list of illnesses and diseases that can be contracted from just one sexual encounter, then it’s your fault, you are also exempt from respectful health care. Do you drive a car? If you have an accident, you let it happen, so off the list you go too. Take public transport to commute to and from work? Well, if the bus has an accident, or you get the flu from other people on your train – you let that happen by engaging in behaviour that has risks, so you’re off the list there. Choose to get pregnant? Well, all those things that can happen during pregnancy and childbirth – you let those happen by exposing yourself to that risk, so nope, no respectful health care for you either.
We could go on like this for ever. Because every single action we do in our lives, can and does have health risks. Not to mention that we humans do a lot of very stupid things to ourselves and end up sick or injured because of it. We drive big metal and glass vehicles at high speeds, we perch atop small things with wheels on them and hurtle along roads, down hills and around car-parks in the name of fun or transport. We hurl balls, sticks, spears, discs and other projectiles at each other in the name of sport. We jump out of planes, strap huge cans of air to our backs and dive to the bottom of the ocean with big creatures that have teeth that and see us as food, we go places where there are things that can bite, sting, spear and poison us. We have sex with all kinds of people and things, we use mind-altering substances and we engage in all kinds of purely cosmetic procedures that can go wrong. In the name of entertainment, pleasure or convenience, we do hundreds of things that are not entirely necessary, and carry risks to our health.
Such is life. Simply being conceived, gestated and born is the riskiest thing any human being can do – all the stuff afterwards is just the icing on the risk cake.
So why is it that fatness is singled out? Why is it that there is this general perception that fat people aren’t capable of making informed, conscious choices about our own lives and the risks associated? Why is it believed that we need to be shamed for our own good?
Because it’s not about health. It has never been about health. It is about appearance and moral superiority. A fat person offends the eye of a fat hater (and fat hatred is encouraged in our society), so they need to be shamed and bullied until they are either thin, or hidden away where the fat hater cannot see them. Or better still, eradicated. And our culture encourages people to feel moral superiority over others, so as we are encouraged to hate fat, who better to claim moral superiority over to make ourselves feel better than the fatties?
Yet so many people still can’t understand why fat people avoid going to the doctor…