Monday, March 15, 2010

The stigma of obesity

I'm delighted that the New York Times has run this piece, even though they cut the fabulous Marilyn Wann from my final draft.

Let me know what you think. And if you're feeling brave, venture on over to the New York Times' blog discussion of it. It's a stunning example of how deeply ingrained fat stigma is in our culture. Sheesh.

And a big welcome to Jezzies who land here. Love the photo of Gabby that ran with the post today.


mariposai said...

I think you have good reason to be proud of this. Time and time I observe prejudice against overweight individuals that would be seen as totally unacceptable if based on skin colour or anything else. It also annoys me how it is more acceptable for a person to be dangerously underweight than it is for a person to be dangerously overweight.

I'm so glad you wrote this piece. Hopefully it will open some eyes a bit..

Sarah x

Jackie said...

I love it! Thanks!

Nicole said...

Well said. Very well said. As a writer and a lifelong fat person, I've been struggling desperately to put into words how disturbing I am finding the current climate for people who do not fit within the size that society dictates. It all comes back to this, all these "debates" about whether it is "OK to be fat": They are debating my very right to be, to exist. And that's not OK.

Harriet said...

Amen, sister.

Carrie Arnold said...

Wonderful article, Harriet. It needs to be said. And said again. And then again. Your weight says nothing about who you are, and we (as a culture) just don't get that.

Harriet said...

Exactly. Thin, fat, in between--why the hell do people care about it so much?

I know, I know; we're a visual species, that's part of the reproductive strategy we were born with. But really.

Heidi Getz said...

Go Harriet!!

Jane said...

Go, Harriet!

Chrissy said...

First, beautifully worded and your message comes through clearly.

Secondly, I was moved, especially regarding doctors opinions and how it colors their approach to a patient. I have an unusual genetic disorder, Tuberous Sclerosis Complex, that has causes tumors to grow in my kidneys, as well as other health issues. It is a serious disease and required me to go to the University of Penn to a nephrologist there (requested by my local nephrologist).He admitted knowing very very little about TSC and left to print out a stack about 2 inches thick of information. When he returned, he stated bluntly (even though I had already been diagnosed by two other doctors and have a very very clear cut classic case of TSC) that I didn't have it (he had JUST admitted to not knowing much about it) and focused on my weight, wanting to know how I became so fat, how long I had been so fat, what I planned on doing about being so fat and what I felt the impact on my children was from my being so fat. No questions regarding family history with TSC, my childrens' history with TSC, no discussion of my kidneys. etc. I learned nothing about how to treat my TSC and left with the instructions to just live with it. I was crushed. I later found out that his hospital has a TSC clinic. How cruel. How very cruel.

I no longer pursue treatment of my TSC and the only reason I am even looking for a new nephrologist is to be cleared for weight loss surgery. Having multiple health issues I dread and avoid the doctors office now. Even my cluster migraines were blamed on my weight by one doctor.

I have begun to be leery of doctors, expecting to be treated as mentally and morally deficient.

Harriet said...

Don't give up on getting treatment for your TSC just because some doctors are assholes. There are also great, weight-neutral docs out there who really get it.

Don't let the bigots win.

I just finished reading some of the comments on the NYT blog about the piece. I expected ignorance and bigotry. What surprised me was the out and out hatred and loathing so many commenters expressed.

It makes me sad.

Jane said...

I'm so sorry that you've been treated this way. Maybe you want to check out this list Harriet blogged about last year and see if there's someone near you.
You deserve good, professional, compassionate healthcare.

Bill Fabrey said...

What a wonderful piece, Harriet! For what it's worth, here is what I posted to the NY Times comments section. Mine was #66--and they are still coming in!

There are some great comments, and some nasty ones. It's an education to read them all.


Bigotry and hate are usually based on fear–in this case, usually, the fear of gaining weight. How do people get that fear? They get it from childhood through adulthood, by observing how awfully many people behave towards people of size, and from the media, which carries commercial advertising that promotes rigid standards of beauty.

Fat people don’t get much sympathy or understanding from other fat people, either. I have known of many cases of parents abusing their fat kids in the name of getting them to lose weight, cases in which the parents themselves were fat. And Roger (comment #7), is typical of many dieters when he believes it’s perfectly OK to discriminate against fat people because HE lost 45 lbs LAST YEAR. He (and many other commenters on this blog) really believe that obesity is a life choice, and they themselves choose to ignore research that indicates otherwise.

Sadly, Dr. Cosgrove of the Cleveland Clinic, discussed in Harriet Brown’s article, will serve as a role model for thousands of doctors and employers. Everyone should strive for better health, just as they should live a less risky lifestyle, but they shouldn’t be hired, fired, or stigmatized because of it.

Nobody ever educated a bigot with mere facts. An entire cultural shift is needed–toward accepting diversities of all kinds in your fellow human beings. And by the way, the HAES philosophy (Health at Every Size) is worth looking into. It is the best chance we have of accomplishing what we say we want to do, which is to make fat people healthier–if that is really what we have in mind, and not to merely make them “socially acceptable.”

Bill Fabrey
member, Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH)

Meowser said...

I hope -- I really do -- that it's really just the same few hatebags who post over and over again, and that the people who don't have their sphincters pulled drum-tight about fat just don't bother to post in forums like that.

But yeah, there are a few subjects that tend to bring out the hatebags in full force. Fat is one of them. Autism is another (have you heard we autistic folks are all cold cold fishies who can't love or work, and that we bite or hit everyone we see and ruin our parents' happy lives together?). Single moms and rape (especially when it happens to someone who isn't a teetotaling pretty blonde virgin) are pretty reliable crank-magnet subjects too.

But the difference is, everyone thinks they're an expert on fat, because they totally lost five pounds once by cutting down to two Pepsi refills a day instead of three. At least a lot of people will admit they don't know squat about autism, rape, or single motherhood.

Thanks for putting that out there, Harriet.

Julie said...

Congratulations Harriet. A great article.

GourmetGoddess said...

Your article is wonderful... sadly, I am not surprised by the sheer amount of hate and contempt the commenters are showing. It seems par for the course.

On a little bit of a side note, I am the Heather Brown you quote in the article. I was doing a training on weight bias for some of my coworkers a couple of weeks ago and I told them the story you recounted in the article. When I finished, there was a moment of brief silence and then everyone started laughing. As the laughter started dying down, one person said, "I am so sorry you went through that, but I am so happy you are here now. Just think of what they missed out on!"

Harriet said...

Heather, It's great to hear from you! And especially to hear that anecdote.

It's mind-blowing, isn't it? I wonder what would happen to all that hate if it weren't directed at fat people.

Lori said...

Great piece! I'm sitting here enjoying my brand-new, 5-day-old daughter as I read it (who, by the way, has done almost nothing but eat and sleep for her entire life thus far--no wonder kids today are so fat! ;)), so I refuse to stress myself out by looking at the comments, but I really enjoyed reading what you had to say and am very, very glad it's out there for people to see. For every person writing a nasty or ignorant comment, I bet there's a bunch more who are thinking about the issue differently for the first time. Sometimes just planting little seeds is all we can do, and your article is a wonderful seed that I hope gets planted in a lot of NY Times readers.