Editorial Masterbitch Theater: Is It Possible to Speak Rationally About Fat?

*Shakes magic eight ball.* “All signs point to no.” 

Yesterday, our friends at Jezebel posted a story about research from Harvard’s Project Implicit which indicates that doctors may be victims of their own biases when it comes to providing treatment to overweight patients. Of course, the comment section exploded. Among all the comments completely misreading the actual words in the article, our own Slay Belle came forward as the voice of reason. The rest of P-Mag’s editors jumped into a conversation, and it was pretty interesting. [TW for talk of disordered eating.]

Here’s Slay’s original comment:

I think maybe you’re mistaking what people complain about when they say doctors are ‘shitty’ to fat people. It means that their concerns are not taken seriously, that any issue they come to the doctor about can be overlooked because of their weight, and even people who are perfectly healthy – by medical standards, blood tests and pressure and all that fun jazz – can be subject to really horrible shaming and dismissal by their doctors.

I’ll give two brief examples. When I was still in university, I went to my university doctor complaining about incredibly painful menstrual cycles and strange periods of weight gain that didn’t seem connected to my eating or exercise habits. I was told I ‘probably’ had endemetrosis, was offered no explanation or treatment options, and my doctor said I was probably gaining weight because I ate too much and maybe I could take up swimming. This went on for 4 years, almost laughably to the letter. I had no access to outside doctors because my insurance came from the university and I was left bewildered and upset.

Now, as an older person with health benefits, I’ve been incredibly lucky to find a really excellent, caring doctor. My blood work was great and I was heavy (ier) than I wanted to be, but my doctor was clear that all my exercising and diet was paying off, and was willing to refer me to seek additional outside office help if I needed to lose weight. And then he was able to diagnose me with PCOS, which I had been suffering from since college, but since he actually listened to my concerns about my symptoms, he was able to give me a diagnosis.

During this time, I played roller derby and fell after a game without my wrist guards on, bending my fingers almost back to my wrist when I threw my hand out to catch myself. I was unable to move my fingers at all afterwards. I called the office but my regular doctor wasn’t available and was given an appointment with a different physician. Despite the fact that I knew EXACTLY how I injured myself, that doctor insisted I was suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome brought on by being ‘fat’ (her words) and when I told her what my normal work out routine was – 20 hours a week of high intensive cardio for derby, plus weight lifting – she told me I was lying. She didn’t hedge around it. She looked me right in the face and told me I was lying.

This is what people mean when they say they’re worried about going to the doctor ‘while fat’. It’s not because they don’t want someone to help them.

And here’s our conversation:

Selena: Slay Belle, you are a saint in that doctors hate fats post. I can’t believe more people haven’t read it and had their eyes opened. Instead it’s all about POOR DOCTORS CAN’T SAY ANYTHING OR FATS WILL EAT THEM, or FAT ACCEPTANCE IS TERRIBLE BECAUSE FAT, or FATS ARE TOO STUPID TO KNOW THEY ARE FAT. I don’t understand how a group of people so aware of the effect of bias, prejudice, and cognitive dissonance just refuses to read the words people actually say when it comes to fat. Or race, usually. Or ability. COME ON. WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE THE GOOD GUYS.

Slay Belle: Thanks. I really hate that ‘Omg, who cares about your feelings’ shit posted by concern trolls. They don’t have any idea what is really behind the issues, they don’t understand that doctors can have biases too, and that there’s a long and documented history of physicians dismissing women’s concerns or complaints. The truth of the matter is I would have had a diagnosis over a DECADE before I got mine if my doctor had taken me seriously and I wouldn’t have mistakenly thought that 9 day long periods with crippling pain and bleeding to the point of anemia was totally normal. I didn’t even tell the story about the doctor who called me after I lost a pregnancy and left a message on my phone saying they found abnormal cells in my pap smear and I probably had cancer.

Selena:  I had lifelong period problems that were chalked up to my being overweight, or having a history of depression, and now I don’t have any periods because I was afraid to go back to another vagina doctor until I thought I was dying. There are journal articles that say 90% of women exaggerate about their problems with their menstrual cycle. And we’re the silly ones for wanting to be treated like people who are also fat. Be 1. fat, 2. female, and 3. have a history of mental health diagnosis, and never expect any medical professional to listen to you again.

Liza: 4. All of the above. ‘Sup.

Slay Belle: Exactly. The medical industry isn’t some bias-neutral place where everything is equal and every medical professional is a paragon of open-mindedness and constantly up to date on the latest advances in care and diagnoses.

Liza: The irony* is that both my fatness AND my period problems can be chalked up to PCOS, but any ailment would be met with telling me to lose weight. (*The kind that makes me want to kick crotches.) Look, biases are mentioned all up in practically every chapter of my research methods book. I know that social sciences are even more subjective but the point is that EVERYONE HAS BIASES.

Slay Belle: Me too, Liza. That was part of the story I shared on Jez. My doctor – the current one – was actually really amazing about my treatment. He mentioned trying to lose weight, but he was more concerned that I kept exercising and treating my issue than waiting around to see if I shed some pounds and things got better.

Liza: Gotta love when weight loss is prescribed for a disorder that by definition makes it impossible to lose weight. I guess I’ll go chase my tail or something.

Pileofmonkeys: So, so, so not the same, I know, but one of the reasons I was misdiagnosed so many times when I was younger (I was treated for bipolar, and am not) was because apparently my first psychiatrist noted in my record that I was in deep denial about my obvious eating disorder. Along with not being bipolar, I’ve also never had an eating disorder, but Dr. Fucknut assumed I did and treated me based on that assumption. I was a 5’10” 14-year-old (hit 6′ when i was 16). Shit was going to be weird with my weight.

Liza: Can’t win either way.

Slay Belle: I totally think is the same problem, pileofmonkeys. Doctors not trusting/believe (women) patients to know what’s wrong and be honest about their issues.

Selena: That’s exactly the same! Some shit-ass doctor tried to save time by diagnosing you based on a five second appraisal. And THAT IS NOT SCIENCE. And it’s shitty doctorin’.

Pileofmonkeys:  Exactly. If doctors wouldn’t assume we’re lying and/or stupid, we’d get correct diagnoses. Thank god my current doctor is a unicorn.

Liza: There’s just generally a lack of understanding that all bodies are different, and that the person who has been living in it for X years might know what it is supposed to do, weight-wise, more than a doctor who has spent 4.3 seconds looking at it. I have told this story a million times, but probably not here: part of the reason I’m extremely sensitive and a little reactionary in my anti-diet ways is that I had a doctor who pressured me onto a diet that HE SOLD FROM HIS OFFICE that was basically all liquid, and when I said I was too hungry to continue instead of increasing my caloric intake he just prescribed pills.

 Selena: Jesus, Liza.

Liza: This is the part I don’t normally share, but I’m cool with having it out there: during that diet I actually went on pro-ana sites for tips a few times.

Slay Belle: That story makes me so angry, Liza. I can’t believe that some doctor was still pushing amphetamines as a weight loss aid in this day. That’s some serious Mother’s Little Helper shit.

Pileofmonkeys: That’s fucked up, Liza. That guy is no better than vets peddling shitty-quality Science Diet out of their offices for a cut of the sales.

Liza: And when I told the doctor I wanted to stop, he basically just said “yeah but you’re still obese.”

Pileofmonkeys: …

Selena: Fuck that, I hope he catches shingles from his chicken pox patients. Nut shingles.

Slay Belle: Nut shingles!

Liza: The only plus side of those pills was that I had a lot of energy and focus.

Slay Belle: I heard a couple of years ago that Adderal was being prescribed off target as a weight loss drug so I asked my Dr. about it. He was firmly against it. At the time I was really angry about it – I was frustrated and disappointed to work so hard for so little result – but now I’m relieved he was so responsible.

Pileofmonkeys: There’s just something so inherently paternalistic to being told that whatever’s wrong with you is obviously your own fault and that you couldn’t possibly have any idea what’s normal for your own body. It’s awful.

Sara B.: Nut shingles to them all.

Selena: My GP told my mom to put me on a diet when I was eight. We did Weight Watchers, and I don’t care how much it’s evolved, all I remember is having my weight yelled out to a room full of strangers and being told every week that I wasn’t trying hard enough, even though I thought about NOTHING ELSE BUT LOSING WEIGHT that whole summer. That was the summer I stopped swimming, because I was sure all my friends would hate me if they saw my fat in a swimsuit. I fucking loved swimming.

Slay Belle: Ugh. Kid diets.

Selena: I’ve never had a normal relationship with food since. It’s either too much or obsessive portion control.

Liza: When I went for a physical a few months ago (different doc) she basically insinuated that I didn’t know how to walk. We were talking about exercise and I mentioned that I was living pretty far (like 3/4 mile or so) from the nearest subway, so I felt like I got a decent amount of walking every day. She got super condescending about how if it takes me 30 minutes to walk that far (more like 15), I should strive to go a little faster every day and that most people don’t know that you need to keep going even after you feel tired. Blah blah blah I’m fat so I’ve obviously never exercised before and don’t know how to walk.

Slay Belle: Ugh! HULK SMASH.

Liza: Oh I was also put on diets as a kid. My mom feels bad about it now but didn’t know better than to listen to doctors back then. Vagina shingles for that one because it was a ladydoc.

Slay Belle: I don’t think I ever did any kid diets – I did have a Get In Shape Girl work out set though – but I remember watching my mom do all sorts of messed up diets. Like the cabbage soup diet.

Pileofmonkeys: Kid diets are horrifying. Obviously not the allergy kind, but the weight loss kind. Talk about fucking up your relationship with food for the rest of your life. I had a Get in Shape Girl, too! It had that rad streamer-on-a-stick thing!

Liza: Now I believe there is research that shows kid diets actually make you fatter as an adult. And if a pregnant lady diets it’s more likely that her kid will be fat. I don’t have the actual studies on hand but it was something like that. I don’t think I’ve had a normal relationship with food since I was like 8 years old.

Selena: It was the ’70s, you could still get legit speed from the doctor, so no one had any excuse to be fat, apparently. Even second graders. Also, fuck Get in Shape Girl.

Slay Belle:  I was just told to ‘remember where I came from’ (my biological father’s side was very obese) and then told I couldn’t get up from the table unless I ate everything on my plate. Talk about prescription for an eating disorder.


(After that, the conversation turned to a Cosmo article on smooshing bananas in one’s vag.  I chose to edit that part out. ~Selena)

And that’s it for another episode of Editorial Masterbitch Theater. Feel free to add your own two cents in the comments, and feel free to pass on stories you’d like to see covered here.

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

24 replies on “Editorial Masterbitch Theater: Is It Possible to Speak Rationally About Fat?”

I was seeing my GYN and asked for Seasonale. I had been on regular BC pills before, and they were not effective enough at treating my debilitating periods. She blew me off, and was all “are you sure?” about regular BC pills. This is AFTER I had one of my ovaries removed due to cysts- which was only found because I had a life threatening GI episode where they had cat scanned my abdomen. Before that, the pain was chalked up to GI issues because obviously my body couldn’t be working right.

Fast forward about a year. I have had symptoms including excess body hair and overly intense sweating for years, and my PCP (who is a doll) referred me to an endocrinologist at last. We didn’t even get to the end of the appointment- where I had mentioned the intense periods- before she said “oh, regardless of if it works for what you are in here for, I’ll put you on the seasonale or generic because no one should have to endure the kind of periods you are describing.” For the first time in 12 years (I’m 25), I’m having periods that don’t leave me totally incapacitated. I still get cramps, don’t get me wrong, but. (She might still put me on Metforim because it hasn’t helped with the body hair and other things. Including weight not aligning completely with lifestyle.)

Another story:

When I was 12, I was a little chubby but not really fat. But I was being cycled through a ton of different psych meds. Spring of that year, they put me on one that. . . well, in 3 months I gained 60lbs. Can I just say, the worst timing for that sort of thing? Even when I was actively bulimic and actively doing severe restricting in high school, I couldn’t get below the weight I gained then.

A few weeks ago, I was at my Psych doc. The Doctor was great, we are okay with how my treatment there was going, and so forth. I was leaving the office and the nurse comes running after us. She always takes height and weight and blood pressure before the appointments. My blood pressure was pretty good. But here she comes, rushing after us, asking if I’ll take a little information about stuff because my BMI was so high. And then kept pushing it after my initial no.

I didn’t go into details- that I’ve had doctors trying to get me down in weight since I was 12, that I had severely disordered eating in high school, that I’m very aware that what I see and feel doesn’t line up with reality because hey, I can’t even recognize myself in pictures because of dysmorphia- but I let her know that I’ve heard it all before. Was I rude? Yes, but so was she by pushing after my initial no.

Oh, and this was all in front of my mother and my 4 year old niece. Thanks a lot, nurse lady. As if P-doc appointments aren’t terrifying enough for me.

Did you get diagnosed with PCOS? Those are pretty classic symptoms. I switched over to Seasonale when I got my diagnosis and things are so much better, menstrual wise, now. I think it took.. oh, at least 6 months for the hair that shouldn’t be there to stop growing in so fast and so much and for the hair that was falling out to start growing back. My eyebrows only started growing back in in the last year. I also took Metforim (I’m off now) and that helped a lot too. Be forewarned though that it is rough on the stomach.

And I’m so sorry for your experiences. None of us deserve to be treated like that.

Yep, that’s my diagnosis. Though what the surgeons saw when one of my ovaries was removed doesn’t *quite* line up with the Poly- part, but it could just have been the condition at the time. (I had one cyst that had consumed most of the ovary to the point where the Surgical GYN didn’t think it was worth trying to save it. But the other one looked “fine” by their standards.)

I have an Aunt with it as well with near identical symptoms, though I’m hoping that in my case we caught it in time before I become infertile. I want kids someday, and if I need a surrogate, my sister got really sick during her pregnancy so I wouldn’t be able to ask her to carry for me. It’s scary to me because I desperately want kids some day. I even have a plan of who to ask for sperm donation if needed, but. . . yeah.

I’ve been on it for what will be a year January 1, and I’m not having much luck. It’s possible I’m one of those cases where the generic isn’t effective but yeah. We’ll see how the metformin does, as it’s likely I’ll get put on that after my appointment next month.

This just made me remember one of the times I was discriminated against be a doctor…2 in a row actually. I have this, I think, horrible reaction to being extremely pissed off – I start to tear up. About 4 years ago I started having extreme pain in my right ear and bouts of vertigo (evil, hellish shit). My regular, awesome, female, doctor was on a mission trip in Chile, so I had to see the old man doc at the group. I tried explain to him the sheer amount of pain I was in and he told me there was no way I could be in that amount of pain and still be sitting up-right. I was fantasizing about shoving a meat thermometer in my ear at that point, just to relieve the pressure…I was sure being partially deaf wouldn’t be as bad as the pain and vertigo. Then the doc looked in my chart and said “I see here you have a history of depression…” I was so pissed off and in so much pain the tears started to leak. He told me there was nothing wrong with my ear, I was having a migraine, and gave me migraine meds. Later that night the migraine meds didn’t help and the pain was even worse. I called the doc’s service but they said I’d have to go to the Urgent Care clinic. Off I went. Again a male doctor looked at me and said there was nothing wrong with my ear and I couldn’t possibly be in as much pain as I stated. I was so angry at being dismissed again I, again, started to cry. So this doc very sympathetically asked me if I’ve ever taken anti-depressants. At that point I walked out. 4 days later I got to see my regular doctor, who immediately sent me to the ENT suite at the hospital where they did lots of torturous tests and told me I had a severe case of chronic labyrinthitus – infection and swelling in the labyrinth of my inner ear. I was on a constant diet of valium, vicodin and steroids for 4 weeks. I now have permanent scarring in my eustachian tube – all because I was a ‘hysterical female’.

I’m so sorry! I had an extreme earache in my right ear brought on by a very bad cold in high school. It was so incredibly painful, and there was nothing that they could do at the school infirmary other than get me a heating pad and some tylenol to help with the pain. (I was at a boarding school at the time so…no doctors.) My right eardrum ended up bursting from the pressure/congestion, and I can hear fine–at least I think it’s fine–out the ear now as it healed, but that pain…that was the worst pain I’ve been in–worse than all but my absolute worst migraines. I’m so sorry that you had to suffer with that pain for so long. :(

OHMYWHAT! Totally just Googled “banana whooshing cosmo” (as per Liza’s suggestion below). That is some f’ed up sh*t.

I just… I have no words. I really really hope no one out there is foolish enough to do that. smooshed fruit pieces all up in there just sounds like the worst way to get a UTI or yeast infection… oh the explanations that Gynos must get…

(sorry this has been unrelated to the gist of the entire rest of this piece… which was awesome and illuminating and brilliant.)

I had to google it too, and I”m horrified that anyone would suggest that and even more horrified at the idea that someone might actually take that advice. Furthermore, if you have fruit shoved in your vag and you’re having PVP, where does the penis go?! Does the fruit get shoved up through your cervix and into your uterus to make room?! D: AUGH!!!

This was TOTALLY like reading the Jez comments before they switched to the no-stars-anyone-can-comment system. I forgot how much I missed it.

On-topic: I started getting fat-hated at the doctor while I was in the military. And wearing a size 12 (which, on me, meant my hip-bones and ribs were no longer visible). I was worried that it was my turn for my thyroid to decide it was done working properly, and the doctors consistently told me to work out more (when I was exercising 1-2 hours each day) and eat less (I was maybe, MAYBE eating 1500 calories a day). I was accused of lying any time I showed them my exercise or meal logs. This was, of course, after growing up in a house where my dad and brother would be given twice as much food as anyone else (I’d usually get the smallest portion, because my mom didn’t want me to “get fat”).
THAT is a great way to convince someone that her body is disgusting, btw.

Well, I finally did manage to get tested for hypothyroidism — it took an appointment with the OB/GYN nurse practitioner on base, who was much more inclined to believe women rather than assume that I was lying. (She was basically awesome.) And as of then, I did not have hypothyroidism. (My mom, aunt, and sister both do, and my niece has hyperthyroidism, so I’ll definitely stay aware.)

But, yeah, it’s *infuriating* that so many doctors just assume that women (and girls) are lying about their medical needs for attention or to get out of class/work/other responsibilities.

Oh man. I remember as a kid a doctor wanted to check and see if I was malnourished because I was very skinny and Mom was fat. I have never seen my mom lose her shit like that since. He kept pestering her and I about my eating habits until she yelled at him about how she was not eating all the food and letting me starve with some language I got told I was not to repeat.


And I won’t lie, I am more than curious about what Cosmo could possibly be saying about crushing bananas in vaginas.

But I was also a child exposed to some “kid diets.” It’s not really a mistake that for the longest time, I thought that an under 1000-calorie eating habit was good for me. It was a bit of a shock to learn that I had been so wrong. But that’s all I ate the entire first year of college.

Discovering HAES was the way I’ve come to have any semblance of a good relationship with food.

Every once and a while, I make the mistake of looking at the calories of something…but now I just try to follow the rules of “food is tasty” and “I eat what I want.” I feel a lot better this way than I ever did before.

And as for shitass doctors, I have PLENTY of stories about that, courtesy of the BF. He had yet another one recently, because he had to get a physical since, this past week, he FINALLY got his job (yay!). This doctor said horrible things, loudly, right outside the door. Things like, “oh, that doctor that told him his bloodwork looked fine and he didn’t have diabetes anymore must be a hack!” “she told him he should only see a doctor every year? That man needs to see someone every three months so he doesn’t drop dead!”

And every time a medical test showed him as perfectly healthy, the doctor either grumbled that the test must be wrong, that he still needed to lose weight, so on and so forth.

What was especially bad about it is, this doctor visit was paid by the school district he’s now working for. And it was a visit to, you know, get him approved to work. So, if this jackass didn’t approve him, he was going to have to pay out of pocket somewhere else, because he doesn’t have insurance.

When the doctor signed him off, he said that he was only doing so because he “technically” passed the health tests, but kept spouting bullshit about how he needs to lose weight, etc.

And as many fat people know, this is not at all an uncommon occurrence.

I wish more people really understood what he, and a lesser extent what I, have to put up with.

That doctor is awful.

I know a lot of people are blissfully unaware of the abuse that happens, but I also think there is a subset of people out there who know this kind of thing happens, but thinks it’s OK because the fatties did this to themselves and deserve anything they get. Which is even more twisted.

Maybe fatties should all start wearing a wire to the doctor, to prove it happens and it happens a LOT.

ETA: the banana thing is from a horrible Cosmo sex tip that made its way around Tumblr. Google “banana whooshing cosmo” and it will probably come up. I’m at work so I can’t go get a link right now.

but I also think there is a subset of people out there who know this kind of thing happens, but thinks it’s OK because the fatties did this to themselves and deserve anything they get. Which is even more twisted.

This is also true. If the fatshaming that takes place in the Bioethics class I TA is any indicator. :/

Just today, we discussed the ethical issue of whether or not it is okay to give organ transplants to death row inmates or, say, a liver to an alcoholic.


We also, apparently, shouldn’t give organ transplants to fatties! Cause they’re fat! And they eat cake all the time! TEN MILLION CAKES!

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