Following on from my last post about concern trolling, I think it’s time for us to talk about self advocacy with our bodies, our health and our lives.
Let’s start defining self advocacy. This excellent definition comes from EDAC but you can find lots of similar versions on many social justice sites. I like the simple language of this particular definition:
Self-advocacy is the ability to speak-up for yourself and the things that are important to you. Self-advocacy means you are able to ask for what you need and want and tell people about your thoughts and feelings. Self-advocacy means you know your rights and responsibilities, you speak-up for your rights, and you are able to make choices and decisions that affect your life. The goal of self-advocacy is for YOU to decide what you want then develop and carry out a plan to help you get it. It does not mean you can’t get help if you need or want it, it just means that you are making the choices and you have to be responsible for the choices you make.
Rembember, that as adults, our bodies, health and lives belong to us. They do not belong to anyone else – not your family, not your employer, not your doctor. Your body is yours to decide what to do with, what you feed them, how you move them and how you care for them. You decide who you allow to touch them and engage in sexual activity with. YOU are the boss of your body.
Fat people continually find themselves having our self advocacy removed from us. We are constantly told that we don’t know our own bodies, aren’t competent to make decisions about our health and wellbeing, are “out of control” and we have our realities questioned repeatedly. We are regularly accused of lying about what we eat and how active we are, or at least being in denial. Our right to speak for ourselves and make decisions about our own lives is removed from us when people engage in this kind of behaviour.
When it comes to health care, it’s a bloody minefield to get decent, respectful, helpful medical care as a fat person. We are judged incompetent to self advocate on sight of our fat bodies, are patronised, disrespected and discriminated against by the very medical professionals who we pay, either through our own payments, our private health insurance or our tax dollars, to care for us. So often, lazy medical professionals look at us and prescribe weight loss for everything from a sore throat through to cancer.
Just to give you a prime example, some years ago (before I found my awesome Doc Jo), I hit my knee on a fence while riding my bicycle and bruised under the kneecap quite severely. It was taking ages to heal so I went to the doctor, and even though I explained to her that it was sore because I whacked it on a metal fence while riding a bicycle, her response was “You need to do some exercise and lose some weight.” I repeated that I actually got the injury WHILE exercising, to which she repeated “You need to do some exercise and lose some weight.” She must have said that to me four or five times, no matter how I tried to phrase that I had got the injury while cycling. She wasn’t listening to me at all, and it was like the only thing she could hear or see from me was “Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat!”
It’s tough going to a doctor or any other health professional knowing that you’re likely to be shamed or ignored. Not to mention many people don’t have the option to go to another health care provider if they don’t get treated with respect from the one they are allocated. Thing is, we have to keep reminding ourselves that we are the owners and decision makers for our bodies and that we are the ones who actually pay for the services – again, be it through direct payment, private health insurance or our taxes contributing to public health insurance. You are well within your rights to stop a health care provider and say, firmly and clearly “I will not consider obesity a suitable diagnosis nor weight loss a suitable treatment method, I am here to be treated for my illness/injury, not my body size.”
The good news is, you’re not alone. We have a strong community of fabulous fat positive people who know exactly what we are going through, as they have experienced it themselves. We have a network of Health at Every Size professionals who can give us advice and remind us of our core believes in those vulnerable times. We also have resources from within our community, from fab fatties who have put together letters to health care practitioners, lists of fat positive health professionals and social media communities based around health and wellbeing for fat positive people. Just off the top of my head, ones I have used are:
- The All Bodies Directory
- Raising My Boychick’s Letter, Dear Health Care Provider
- Dr Linda Bacon’s HaES resources.
- Diet-free Talk for Diabetes/Insulin Issues – Facebook Group
- Fierce Fatties Facebook group (run by the amazing Virgie Tovar)
These are just a few that I personally have found really helpful and wonderful, please feel free to add any others in the comments.
However we of course don’t just deal with health care professionals removing our self advocacy about our bodies, but lots of other people in our lives do it too. From friends, family and colleagues through to complete strangers, both on the street and on the internet. Many people LOVE to tell fat people we don’t know how to look after our own bodies, and to predict our imminent deaths. I think Amanda aka Fat Waitress from Love Your Body Detroit hit the nail on the head when she said:
I’m convinced those who think fat people are going to die and need to tell us repeatedly really fear death. By pointing at the fatty in the corner it makes them feel that their death is somehow farther off than ours.
Ding! Ding! Ding! First prize to Amanda for summing it up perfectly. Thing is, it’s a lie. We all die someday, and that will be when our time comes. Thin people die young, fat people die old. And shaming someone about their perceived health isn’t going to change that one iota.
I also think they do it to feel superior to someone. So long as they’ve got someone to look down on, they can cope with their own fears, low self esteem and general self loathing.
So I’ll leave you with this. I want you to always remember that YOU own your body. You are in charge of what you do with your health, your life, your body. Every one of us will suffer illness and injury in our lives, fat, thin or somewhere in between, because human bodies are both vulnerable and complex. But how you deal with those illnesses and injuries is your business. How you decide to treat your body along the path of your life, and through good times and bad is your choice, not anyone else’s.
Anyone who tries to take that self advocacy away from you is undermining your competency. Don’t let them take that away from you, no matter what size you are or what status your health is in.