The health sector has a fat shaming problem and it’s time it changed

Home » Finance & Career » The health sector has a fat shaming problem and it’s time it changed

1 January 1970

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Siena Yates has experienced micro-aggressions and flat out shaming first hand. She says the health sector should treat everyone equally, no matter their size.

It was a Wednesday evening in January. I was at home on the couch, rewatching Game of Thrones, when I got up to fill my drink bottle and felt a stab of pain on the side of my knee.

I didn’t even make it halfway up before falling back down in agony. The pain radiated from my knee down to my ankle and up to my hip; a grinding kind of ache. I couldn’t straighten my leg without feeling excruciating pain, and I certainly couldn’t bear any weight on it.

I was stuck on the couch for four hours before I finally bit the bullet and called an ambulance.

“Can I ask…” started the nurse on the line, obviously hesitating, “are you… a bigger person?”

I sighed. Here it comes. The inevitable blaming of my current state on my being overweight. The inevitable lecture about how excess weight overloads the joints. As if I can just carve off my excess weight in the next two minutes and have my ligament magically knit itself back together so I can run and jump again like a spring lamb.

“Can you get up on your own?”

If I could, do you think I’d have sat here in the dark with no food, water or access to a toilet for four hours?

“Well, have you tried?”

When the ambulance turned up four hours later – that’s a solid eight hours of being stuck on the couch – first the paramedics tried to dissuade me from going to the hospital. Then, when it became clear I needed to go, I was forced to limp and hop out the door and down the stairs in excruciating pain, bracing myself against walls, door frames and stair rails, because they didn’t want to carry me.

That’s not an assumption. I was told, “We’re not going to fireman-lift you,” in a tone that suggested that much should be wildly obvious, and then, “I really don’t want to use the carry chair,” which meant they had the means to get me out of the house but couldn’t be bothered doing it.

It sounds unbelievable, but I’d wager most of the fat people you know have
a similar story. Many of us barely even go to the doctor unless we’re near death.

Why bother?

It’s a waste of time and money and you’re pretty much guaranteed to leave with the same problem you walked in with, plus a few bruises to your psyche.

When straight-sized people go to the doctor, they get asked relevant questions and given examinations. They get cared for. When you’re fat and you go to the doctor, whatever you went in for will almost always be blamed on your weight, and even if it’s not, you’d better believe your weight will come up.

When you’re fat and you go to the doctor, whatever you went in for will always be blamed on your weight

Got a sore knee? It’s probably not the torn ligament – more likely, you just need to lose weight. Having stomach troubles? Lose weight. Sore back? Lose weight. Experiencing headaches? Try eating less sugar, it will help with the weight as well. Need contraception? Just be warned it could lead to even more weight gain. Got a cold? Just wait for it to pass. But also, while you’re here, let’s maybe discuss your weight.

When I was at uni, an on-campus doctor actually recommended that a friend of mine – who wasn’t much fatter than I was and who certainly wasn’t as fat as I later became – take up smoking to help her lose weight. Because apparently even lung cancer is better than being fat.

The craziest part of this whole ordeal is that I had weight-loss surgery last year and have lost a lot of weight since. I know grown women who weigh the same amount as what I’ve lost. Imagine if the same ambos had turned up pre-surgery. Would I have just been left to rot on the couch in a pool of my own filth? I shudder to think.

The real kicker is that this same injury also happened pre-surgery, and the ambos that attended that night managed to lift me, get me in a chair, out the door, down the steps and into the ambulance without complaint, so you can’t blame logistics.

This time, the hospital physio described my lateral collateral ligament as “virtually non-existent”, so my knee isn’t sore because I’m fat. I first tore said ligament while doing the Tongariro Crossing in 2019, so you can’t blame laziness either.

The only explanation I can think of is fatphobia. Pure and simple. And that, in the health sector, presents itself in the ways that I experienced that Wednesday night: people not believing us, blaming us and giving us half-arsed “assistance”.

I know so many other people have had to deal with treatment like this, and so often we don’t talk about it because we’re already embarrassed enough.

But here’s the thing. This isn’t an “us” problem that will go away if we could just stop being fat. I’ve lost a whole human’s worth of weight and I’m still being treated this way and will continue to be because I’ll never be a size 10. Why? Because we’re taught that fat people are unhealthy and we’re fat because we’re lazy, so it follows that our health issues are the results of our own laziness.

Well, I call bulls***. I’ve filed a complaint because we need to demand better treatment and advocate for ourselves, because if there’s anything the health sector has taught us, it’s that if we don’t, no one else will.

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