I came across an article on prejudice today that was on my Facebook time-line. I was shocked at the treatment of a person because of the colour of their skin. The husband Samuel Kemble was so in love with his wife, he never realized she would be treated differently than him. I love that he saw the real her and looked past her ethnicity. If only everyone could do that. I realize of course that racial prejudice still exists in this day and and age, but for me it's never been an issue. Call me naive but I've always thought that we Canadians were better than that. We all have the same colour of blood after all so why should skin colour make a difference? Why should skin make a difference at all? My skin is not who I am, it's just a covering that holds what is inside me in place. Unfortunately, it does make a difference and it isn't just the colour of a person's skin that brings out the worst in some people, but it's the amount of it too.
As I read through the Facebook comments on the article, I was gratified to hear the indignation and disgust of how Samuel's wife was treated. But one comment stuck out at me, which got me thinking and brought me here to blog about it. The woman had remarked how she and a friend were at a park and saw a severely obese woman. Her friend remarked that she "would never let myself get that bad," which made the first woman start to think about how brave the obese woman was for walking around and not sitting in a scooter or a wheelchair, but was working to make her body work. She also remarked that it made her think about where the woman had come from, that she might have lost a whole lot of weight and might be proud of the fact that she could now get out of bed and walk around. I was glad that this person thought the best of the overweight woman. However, they inadvertently showed a prejudice to overweight people anyway that I'm sure she didn't even realize she had.
By stating that "she wasn't sitting in a scooter or a wheelchair" the woman implied that overweight people who resort to using scooters or wheelchairs are just lazy. And as someone who has had people say that to her face it reminded me again, how anti-fat bias in this country is something that is not only prevalent among medical professionals but it is also a readily accepted form of prejudice that is used against overweight people on a daily basis.
As someone who has a disease that makes me severely obese I am one of those people who has to sit in a scooter. Many times I've had unkind comments come my way that I am just lazy or had let myself go on purpose. Anti-fat bias and prejudice is just as common and real as the woman in this article experienced. It is socially acceptable to berate obese people, so much so that even governments have targeted obese people to lose weight - for cash! Others believe shaming a person to lose weight is the more appropriate attitude. When you read the comments on that article it is clear - targeting obese people is socially acceptable. But when is prejudice ever acceptable?
Why do people assume that overweight people eat too much or are lazy? Yes, some people do have no self-control, but clearly they have emotional issues that are causing their problems. No one eats to get fat on purpose! That is a ludicrous assumption and I for one am sick of people treating me like I "did this to myself."
I have stage 3 lipo-lymphedema which is two diseases - lipedema and lymphedema. The primary disease is lipedema. It is a painful fat disorder, that if left untreated, can cause multiple secondary problems like lymphedema and mobility issues. Thought to be hormonal in nature, lipedema is usually triggered at puberty but can worsen during (and after) pregnancies, peri-menopause, gynecological surgery or any surgery which includes anaesthesia. It can affect both the arms and the legs and usually presents itself in women with pear shaped bodies. It is an abnormal fat that is resistant to exercise and dieting.
At the time of my diagnosis I was on yet another diet (Jenny Craig) and had a gym membership that I used frequently. I have probably been on every diet known to mankind. As for exercise, I used my gym membership but also liked to swim, bike, golf and walk. Yet no matter how much exercise or dieting I did, I could never seem to lose weight below my waist. My legs were always huge at the top, as were my hips and it wasn't until my first pregnancy when I noticed they were both getting bigger. But the big change in my health didn't come until after a fall down a flight of stairs. This injury (unbeknownst to me) sped up my disease and my lymphatic system was compromised.
While on Jenny Craig I noticed the tissue in my legs (surrounding my knees) was getting bigger and incredibly hard. When I told my doctor he ignored me, insisting that I was making excuses for my size. My nutritionist at Jenny Craig, however began to measure my legs each week and not surprisingly discovered they were getting bigger, while the top half of me was getting smaller. I took this info to my doctor who again ignored me. At this point in time I also found myself in the hospital with frequent cases of a serious skin infection called cellulitis, until finally one day the doctor in the ER (who had seen me all too frequently) asked me why I wasn't getting my lymphedema treated. I looked at him, like he'd grown two horns. Lymphedema? What's that? His shock at my lack of knowledge only grew when he realized my doctor had ignored what was apparent - my lymphatic system was shot (his words) and I needed immediate compression therapy and Manual Lymph Drainage to get it under control or I could end up in serious trouble. When I brought that news to my doctor he once again ignored me. That was the last day I saw him. I immediately went online to search for a lymphatic massage therapist and she informed me that I had waited too long and that I now had stage-3 lipo-lymphedema. This was a good news/bad news diagnosis. The good news was that all the dieting and exercising I'd done without seeing results, was not my fault. The bad news was that I was headed for a wheelchair. My lymphatic system was now shot because of the lipedema and I was devastated. If I had not experienced fat-bias from my doctor who kept insisting I wasn't trying hard enough to lose weight, I could have delayed the progression of this disease with compression therapies and would not be disabled today.
I tell you all this because anti-fat bias has to stop. It has to stop in the medical profession who all to often assume fat people don't have any self-control, when it is more likely they have an underlying disease. Approximately 17 million women in the U.S. alone have lipedema that is misdiagnosed as obesity. It is not their fault they are fat.
And that's the number one problem for people with obesity related diseases. They are shamed by strangers, doctors, the government, T.V., the diet industry and sometimes their own family, when in reality they are probably eating healthier than any of them because of years of dieting, trying to "fit in" to societies norms.
It all comes down to one disease really - prejudice and the assumptions that people make in regards to not only obese people but to people of all colours and races. It's just skin. Get over it. Because whether you like it or not - on the inside we are all the same.
I am not big because I sit around all day stuffing my face with food. I don't eat junk food. I don't drink pop. I don't binge either. In fact, I eat less than 1200 calories a day. I am large because I have a disease that went unchecked for over 35 years (largely because doctors see an overweight person, label them, and make up their minds that "they just aren't trying hard enough") called lipedema, which turned into lipo-lymphedema because the disease advanced. I am currently stage 3 and holding out hope that I won't reach stage 4 anytime soon. But that's another story. You can read all about what I have here.
Last month I saw a surgeon about the gallstones. To give you an idea of the kind of prejudice I go through with doctors and my disease, he wrote on his chart that I was 400lbs, without even weighing me. I am pleased to say I am NO WHERE NEAR that size. But this gives you a good idea of what he was thinking about me while he was talking to me. He informed me that not only did I have gallstones but I had a hernia as well. He would prefer to not touch the gallstones (since they don't bother me [and they really don't]) and because it's so difficult to operate on people of "my size". He then proceeded to tell me that I should stop eating junk food, getting fast food, drinking pop, etc. (all the things I don't do) if I ever hoped to be operated on. I tried to tell him about my disease and he said to stop using that as an excuse. I then tried to tell him I didn't do any of the things he mentioned and he said, "Well you're obviously doing something. You're only lying to yourself." A typical male doctor. Prejudiced and judgmental. He was very lucky I didn't bop him on the nose!
He then told me something "funny" was growing on my hernia. When I asked him what he meant by funny he said, "Unusual, you know...odd." Odd? Funny? I guess I should be relieved it's not cancer because if it was he wouldn't use the word "funny" right?
Flash forward to today. I saw another surgeon (referred to me by the other one) who is going to perform an endoscopy on me to look at this "funny" thing on my hernia. This doctor came in and said he was glad to see that I wasn't 400lbs. and wondered why the other doctor would write that in his chart. He said he was very glad that I wasn't because operating on a person of that size would have been difficult. Good...already I feel better. A nice doctor who isn't judging me. Off to a good start. He then added, "But operating on someone of your size is also a dangerous thing."
Sigh. Moving on . . . he wanted to discuss the "funny" thing the other surgeon talked about. Apparently it isn't growing on my hernia, it is growing on my esophagus and according to him and my medical charts it's been there since my last CT scan (several years ago) that no one bothered to tell me about! He then informed me that it was unusual because it looked like metal. Metal!?! He then asked me if I'd had any operations on my stomach. Nope. Only my legs and abdomen. "Well then," he asked. "Have you swallowed something metal?" I racked my brain. "Maybe it was a penny when I was a child?"
For some reason back in the 60's, mothers used to bake coins into birthday cakes. Could I have had a nickel or dime in my stomach for all that time? He said it looked calcified so...maybe?
"But it could be diverticulitis."
"Whatever it is I'll take it out when I do the endoscopy."
"Okay. Great. So what about my hernia? Are you going to fix that?"
"Well you have two hernias..."
At this point my inward dialogue is something like this: "Why am I only getting little bits of information at a time about what is going on inside me? For crying out loud this is my life, my body. Be truthful and stop hiding things from me! Do all doctors do this? If it's cancer will they even bother to tell me?
Okay, so I have two hernias. How did I get two hernias? Then the thought popped into my head about all my exercising (I do sit-ups in a vain attempt at thinking it will make a difference. I know it won't but I do them anyway).
"Would doing sit-ups have caused this?"
"Sit-ups would definitely make it worse."
Of course they would! (BTW, he never answered the question).
"So . . . the hernias? Are you going to fix them?"
"No...a woman of your size ..."
Really? You're going there? We were doing so well...okay...so a woman of my size?
"Makes it dangerous to operate on you. So unless they aren't bothering you we'll leave them alone."
Really? So all the coughing I'm doing after and during each meal and every drink I take isn't bothersome enough?
"When they start getting painful ... sharp ... excruciating pain ... we'll fix them then."
That's what the other surgeon told me in regards to my gallstones. But he was more, "When it feels like you are having a heart attack, then we'll take them out."
So basically if you are big and you need surgery don't count on it. But if you are in so much pain that you end up in the ER you might luck out and actually get fixed!
If you don't die waiting to be seen in the ER. Which in Canada is a real possibility.