What to do when the fat-shaming is well-intended (and comes from a medical professional)

The other day I went to the doctor. Not because of any issue I have with my weight. Specifically, I went because I’ve developed some odd, pinkish bumps on my arms and I wanted to know if, perhaps, I’d developed an allergy to something.

After forty-five minutes fantastic minutes in the waiting room, I finally made my way into the inner sanctum for the ability to speak to this marvelous man. After the traditional weighing and measuring, during which the assistant noted that my weight was more or less consistent with previous measures, I was finally allowed to see the doctor. A bit like waiting for the warm-up band to finish, to see the band you actually came for, except minus all of the excitement and joy.

After looking at my bumps and telling me, in a deep, professional voice that he had no idea what they are, he left me with the advice that I should maybe get a humidifier and moisturize more.

And then he decided to address the elephant in the room (i.e. me). He began by asking me if I’m trying to lose weight.

I’m trying, I told him, but I’m not trying very hard.

I explained to him that I eat relatively well and exercise regularly, but that the weight really isn’t coming off and there aren’t really any extreme lengths I’m prepared to go to, since I’m actually pretty healthy, outside of the weight.

Herein began the mention of fat camps (apparently, there’s one in Utah and one in San Diego) and other patients who had gotten weight reduction surgery (not that I’d recommend it for you, he explained hurriedly, mentioning that he’s against the surgery in general, if it can be avoided).

And he began telling me about his poor, poor niece. His niece who has advanced degrees from Harvard and who has a fabulous job in New York, working for one of the country’s top companies, and who has plenty of friends and spends lots of nights going out to dinner with them. And she seems, by all accounts to be happy. Despite the fact that is (horror of all horrors!) fat. She is, he assured me, ‘much larger’ than me.

How dare she be happy? In spite of her weight? And in spite of the fact that her mother and her uncle are supremely worried about her health and well-being?

Honestly, I want to meet this girl. I want to be friends with her. Not because she’s fat. Or even because she apparently shares the same kind of over-reactive, over-worrying mother that I have. But because she sounds like a fabulous, kick-ass, smart person. And I think we’d get along really well.

I told him, honestly, that I don’t think perfect health or longevity should come with the sacrifice of enjoyment in life. And I mean it. I think a life without the occasional dessert is utterly unlivable.

I told him that I eat relatively healthily and exercise regularly and that there isn’t anything I feel I could reasonably do (or should do) beyond that. I’m not going to starve myself. And I’m not going to haul myself out to a fat camp to waste tons of money for an extended exercise in misery. It’s not worth it to me.

He responded by telling me that if exercising four times a week isn’t making the weight come off, I should work out longer and more frequently.

I had no idea what to say to that.

The thing is: I’m healthy.

Or at least, I’m mostly healthy.

I am, in fact, a fat girl …. But I don’t have any weight-related health issues. I’m not diabetic. As a matter of fact, when I told him I’d recently gone on a sugar detox, he said “Why? You don’t have high blood sugar.”

I don’t have asthma or high blood pressure. And, as I’ve pointed out, my weight hasn’t stopped me from doing anything I’ve wanted to do. I dance as much as I want to. I’ve taken Zumba classes several times a week for years and a few months ago, I became licensed as an instructor… Not that any of that is his business.

I’m not sure why this man was so hell-bent on telling me how badly I need to lose weight, but it was obviously, among other things, well-intentioned.

He clearly wanted to help me, mentioning joint damage caused by obesity and long-term ramifications of being overweight. The word ‘diabetes’ bubbled up. He obviously felt that giving me this advice was the best thing for me and I didn’t feel that he was speaking out of malice. I don’t suspect any doctor would.

But he didn’t say anything I wasn’t previously aware of. Nothing that came out of his mouth was news to me. And somehow the fact that I am generally healthy didn’t seem to matter as much as the fact that I am fat.

So… what do you do when fat-shamed by a well-intentioned health professional?

I honestly don’t know what to tell you. I suppose if I did know, I would have done it.

Maybe, in retrospect, I should have told him he was wrong. Or stood up for myself. Or stood up and walked out.

But I’ll tell you what I did.

I cried a little in the car on the way home.

And then I had a glass of wine. I complained to my Mom about it.

And then I let it go.

I’ll be finding a new doctor, the next time I need one, but in the meantime, I don’t intend to let this unhappy moment stain my life.


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