The United States and any country following its shoddy, industrial culinary practices are finding themselves more and more filled to the brim with overweight people. Politics has called this relatively new phenomenon in our species an epidemic, and along with that definition, cultural narrative has grown (especially in the medical profession) to shame big folks, and shame them hard. According to medical professional Sayantani Dasgupta (in The Weeklings and in Salon), medical narratives are bursting with allusions to fat shaming, and tales of doctors, nurses, and other medical staff being overly mean to fat people. Dasgupta, who writes on behalf of fat studies and better treatment for the overweight, urges the medical world, as well as other cultural circles, to end this cycle of shame.
Dasgupta’s article comes as a response to an essay written by Dr. Edward Thompson that appeared in The Washington Post and which basically blasts the hell out of some poor dude who, because of his size, is a logistical burden for the medical staff at Thompson’s hospital. Some of the language in the essay, while alluding to probably legitimate problems regarding the treatment of someone larger than the inside of an MRI machine, is really horrific, worse in imagery than many YouTube comments (I WENT there).
Dasgupta argues that this language, whether used directly with a patient or among other medical people, is highly harmful, and fuels a cycle of overweight people going down unhealthier roads and avoiding treatment because of ignorant, rude doctors. According to a blog post Dasgupta cites, hating on the fat may just be the death of that overweight individual, and that is quite the problem (medicine is designed to save lives, correct?).
Weighing up your options…
On one hand, it is not all that terrible for a doctor to be blunt with a patient. If a patient is having pains because of weight related issues, it may be the best thing to outright state that the patient must take responsibility for getting healthier (there is just so much medicine can do, especially when the surrounding culture propagates weight gain at the same time as foisting an impossible body image on those same folks). Remember in that episode of Scrubs when that obese lady comes in and Dr. Kelso tells her that life is hard and a bypass is an easy but dangerous fix? That was inspiring.
But bluntness is on that razor’s edge of straight up malice, especially seeing as the words spoken are not always the words perceived by that second party. Medicine men and women have to be respectful of all patients, knowing that there are far too many mitigating factors in daily life to take full responsibility of one’s health. The industrial food system, coupled with a billion fun ways to be sedentary, is a killer, and nobody should be shamed for cultural and economic factors that are often overpowering. And if a doctor or nurse wants to be straight to the point, they have to offer as many solutions as possible, as opposed to reasons to feel shame (positive reinforcement, people!).
Dasgupta also brings up an interesting point about medical professionals yearning for a certain level of power over their patients. Being in the position to shame someone has a weird, satisfactory quality to it, and affords the wielder a sense of superiority.
I’ve been under the knife a few times for cardiac reasons (I was a blue baby; look it up), and I recall the surgeons being very egotistical about their work (it was weirdly satisfying to have a different surgeon perform the same operation better, which is super messed up in its own way).
According to Dasgupta, some doctors and the like feel they shouldn’t have to be sensitive, but that also shouldn’t mean they get to play god and say whatever they like.
Medical narratives are hugely powerful, and Dasgupta, a professional in the field, rightly says that medical folk should be more aware of the narratives and messages they may be unwittingly letting loose in the world.
Choose your words…
So, yes, medicine people, you may be correct in saying that a larger person is harder to treat, but keep discomfort to yourself (this is a profession that requires you get body fluids on you at some point, you know, like poop) and be careful about the things you say and publish. A positive message goes a long way, as does treating patients with respect and seeing the larger picture of where that patient is coming from. It’s the ethical thing to do. And, when you feel the need, tell someone they need to make a radical life change. If you’ve been respectful up until that point, you may have a grateful patient who respects your advice, and not an angry, embarrassed person who feels like an uncared for set of statistics on a clipboard (I may have taken that last bit from Scrubs; what a great show). Basically, people of the medical world, stop fat shaming, and begin universally accepting (diagnose that!).