Ask Bodyposipanda: How Do I Handle Being Body Shamed At The Doctors?
I have been battling myself with being okay with how my body looks and I feel like I've been able to learn to accept my body more and ignore the negative thoughts my brain wants to think. I'm still having the problem of not listening to what others say; especially my doctor. Whenever I go in for my routine check-up, I always get the same remarks from her: "If you didn't have those stretch marks you would be beautiful." How do I make sure I don't take these words to heart and ignore what she says?
I think a lot of people reading your question will be thinking exactly the same thing as I am, which is: WTFFFFFFFFFFF. It is absurd that your doctor believes she has any right to comment on your stretch marks, or for that matter, any other part of your body that isn't the reason you went in.
Stretch marks are not a medical issue. I repeat: STRETCH MARKS ARE NOT A MEDICAL ISSUE. They are not an indicator of health, they are completely natural, extremely common, and have no impact on your beauty or your worth. And your doctor – who you go to for medical assistance, not an opinion on cultural beauty standards – commenting on them is frankly inappropriate.
You are entitled to respect when you go to the doctors. Regardless of how you look, what size you are, or what you went in for. You deserve to be treated with respect and competent care.
Body shaming at the doctors is a real fear for a lot of people and ultimately makes us less likely to go for those check-ups – who would want to voluntarily go somewhere guaranteed to make you feel worse about yourself by the time you leave? Particularly for fat people, medical fatphobia is not only hurtful and degrading, but dangerous. When doctors can't see past fatness and simply prescribe weight loss for every complaint, serious illnesses go untreated – just take a look at the blog First, Do No Harm: Real Stories of Fat Prejudice in Healthcare, which chronicles individual experiences of medical fatphobia and the effect it has on fat people's health.
Again, absolutely everyone is entitled to respectful health care, and although we like to believe our doctors wouldn't do something has harmful for our mental health as body shame us, it happens. Because while doctors are medical professionals, they're also humans living in the same fatphobic culture we are, with opinions and prejudices just like the rest of us. And they're often exposed to even more fat shaming rhetoric in the context of the 'obesity crisis' than a regular person is.
So yes, body shaming and fatphobia at the doctors happens, and it's never okay. Here are some key phrases that you can use to combat it and get your check-up back on track:
When they make completely absurd and irrelevant comments on your body:
Could we focus on what I came in for please? Your opinions about my stretch marks aren't necessary and aren't what I come here for.
When you're worried about being weighed:
Is taking my weight medically necessary at this point? If not I'd prefer not to be weighed, and if it is could you please not say my weight out loud and record it silently as I don't want to know it, thank you. (There are times when checking your weight is medically necessary, like when dosages are being calculated, when there's a sudden change in weight, or in some eating disorder recoveries. But you are still allowed to ask that they keep it to themselves and don't say it out loud, and if they ask why you can simply say that knowing is harmful for your mental health – which should be as important to them as your physical health).
When they keep trying to prescribe you diet plans:
Why are you prescribing me a treatment with a 95% failure rate? And one that's likely to make me gain weight in the long run due to the physical effects of yo-yo dieting? Not to mention the negative effects that dieting has on people's mental health.
When weight loss is their only advice, regardless of the complaint you went in for:
Actually I'm much more interested in pursuing a Health at Every Size approach to my overall wellbeing. Can we focus on long term healthful behaviours rather than a quick fix weight loss which has a 95% chance of not working anyway? If a thin patient came in with this same complaint, what would you advise them?
There are medical professionals out there who are respectful, believe in a weight neutral approach and would never body shame their patients. If your current doctor just isn't getting it, then it might be time to go searching for a different one who does. And for more information on HAES, medical fatphobia, or advocating for yourself at the doctors, check out Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby, Fat! So? By Marilyn Wann and Fat Talk Nation by Susan Greenhalgh.
Love & bopo,
P.S. If you like this column and want more advice like this, I wrote a whole book of it! You can find Body Positive Power here.