As I mentioned in my last post, obesity need not be a reason that you avoid medical attention. That said, I know from very personal experience that it usually is a very strong reason. Essentially, when an obese person walks in the room, her “problems” walk in with her, too – very visually, very large. Obesity is associated with all sorts of negative connotations: laziness, lack of self-care, gluttony, etc. Sometimes these may be true…and sometimes they may not be. Regardless, an obese woman walking into a room is automatically classified and often viewed derisively. Every human has weaknesses & problems but most people can hide their weaknesses. An obese person cannot.
So, clearly, an obese woman KNOWS she is obese. Her shame walks with her everywhere she goes and dignity is hard to maintain. Going to a doctor who sees all your stuff on a little chart & usually expects you to be disrobed in some manner often shreds the last remaining vestige of dignity for an obese woman. More often than not, she also knows that she’s going to get “the talk”. So, from the start, she walks in expecting to be unveiled, categorized, humiliated, & lectured on her biggest failures. For an obese person, going to the doctor is a bullhorn announcement of failure and incompetence.
Sometimes you get a GREAT doctor (like my endocrinologist) – one who is helpful, thorough, & looking for roots. Other times you get a biased doctor who doesn’t bother. I’ll share some of my experiences with you – knowing that it may help you to realize you aren’t alone!
OBGYN. For years we tried to have a baby. I was referred to a specialist. He walked into the room, took one look at me (hadn’t even weighed me yet) & told me that I would never have a baby until I had gastric bypass surgery. He then proceeded to tell me about the great bypass support he could connect me to, etc. I left and then cried. And cried some more. The thing is, though, THAT WASN’T TRUE!! There were issues that have taken years to get to the bottom of (PCOS being one of them) but I did not need bypass surgery. AND, I had a beautiful daughter 2 years later. J The message I got from that was: Why bother. There is no help for someone like you. If you could just get it together then blah…blah…blah.
Random endocrinologist. NOT my current one. I tried this one two years ago b/c I thought something was up with my thyroid. The lady didn’t even check me out or look at my labs before she POKED ME IN THE STOMACH & told me that my belly was my biggest problem. She quizzed me about my family – expressing shock that my daughter & husband were not fat – and proceeded to shame me by saying things like: “Don’t you want your husband to be proud of you?” “Don’t you want to be beautiful?” Her parting orders were to write down every single thing I ate & to come back and see her with 20 pounds gone. I left in tears & it took me another two years to get up the guts to see another endocrinologist. Incidentally, the sad thing was that I did not get the treatment & help I needed. My thyroid was enlarged & way off balance but she couldn’t see past my weight to help me get to the bottom of my issues. I, in turn, couldn’t see past my shame to get the help I needed.
Those are just two of several negative medical experiences I have had. I responded to them just as most obese women do – with an overwhelming sense of failure and a heavy sense of shame. I also avoided doctors (again, just as most obese women do). It wasn’t until I got quite sick this past year that I tried again because I had to. This time, I did research (mostly word of mouth) & found a doctor that came highly recommended. For the sake of my family (and myself) I had to brave the shame & show up. The results have been wonderful. So, if you are an obese woman who is avoiding medical attention, please read the following points:
- You are not alone in this.
- Realize that your health matters & do research to find a doctor that will look past the surface and help you dig for roots.
- Don’t accept everything a medical doctor tells you. Just because he/she is an M.D. doesn’t make him/her any less of a person with accompanying prejudices.
- Don’t allow shame to overwhelm the love you need to have for yourself and your family. Take care of yourself in every way that you can. Show some love by seeking help when you need it. Don’t allow things like skin cancer, cervical cancer, or thyroid cancer take over your life because you were too ashamed to see a dermatologist, OBGYN, or endocrinologist!
- Though your weight is a problem you deal with it is NOT WHO YOU ARE! You are special, unique, & a necessary part of our human story (let alone your family’s life). Don’t underestimate your value.
- Be brave & courageous. If you have a terrible experience, don’t give up. Try again.