Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, and therefore the target audience for these news stories and opinion pieces. Maybe it’s because I’m drawn to human interest stories in general, and those that feature women in particular. Maybe my social media filters are not tight enough, or I have the wrong contacts. Maybe, deep down, I simply love a good hate-read. Whatever the case, I have really gotten tired of the concept of body-shaming (or, as some call it, fat-shaming) and the people who whine about it.
Every day, I encounter a new outrage (sometimes more than one). There are no fat leading ladies because society finds fat people repulsive. There are no fat models because designers don’t want to be represented by fat people. Designer X wouldn’t dress Celebrity Y because she is fat and Designer X is a fat-bashing snob. Stores don’t carry clothing in my size because the store owner is embarrassed to have fat customers. Some jerk at the beach looked at me funny because he thinks I should be wearing a mumu instead of a bikini. I feel embarrassed about my girth at the gym in front of all those mirrors, so gyms are fat-shaming enterprises. Airlines are mean because they make fat people pay extra for taking up extra space. Cruise ships are mean because they are reluctant to super-size their deck chairs. Hospitals are mean because they are grousing about having to stretch their already-paper-thin budget to buy special equipment to accommodate fat people. Taxing junk food is discrimination against fat people. Wah, wah, wah.
The latest mention has come courtesy of the Ottawa Citizen. Apparently, the health care system is mistreating obese women who are pregnant, or wish to become so. This is according to a study that includes 24 white, middle-class women in two unnamed mid-size Canadian cities. Excellent methodology, that – sure to lead to reliable conclusions. Two of the examples cited may have a case, in my view. One woman reported that her doctor refused to remove her IUD because she is so fat that pregnancy, for her, would be “a disaster”. Refusing to remove an unnecessary foreign object from a patient’s body is denying care, and her doctor should have done what she requested, while counselling her regarding the potential consequences. Another woman reported that her doctor never examines her internally. A good doctor does his or her due diligence, and internal exams are a required aspect of quality gynecological care. Both of these circumstances merit, at the very least, further investigation.
However, the rest of the complaints discussed in the Citizen article seem to be a matter of ignorance, skewed patient perception, and hyperbole. Women report dreading prenatal appointments, feeling like they are disgusting, or feeling like their doctor thinks they are bad mothers. This is too baseless and vague to properly address, with no anecdotes to back any of it up. How can it be proven, or even investigated, that a woman says she feels like whatever? Two more-concrete claims came from a woman who was refused fertility treatments until she lost 60 pounds, and one who was told that her infertility is caused by her fatness. These two stories make me feel sorry for the women. However, let’s consider the facts …. Obese pregnant women run a higher miscarriage risk. They are more susceptible to high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. Their babies are more likely to have congenital abnormalities. Obese pregnant women are also far more likely to require a caesarean section, because labour and delivery are complicated by extra weight and its attendant health problems. These are important medical issues.
If I tell a pack-a-day smoker he shouldn’t try to run a marathon until he quits smoking and lets his lungs clear out, I’m not trying to crush his dreams or hurt his feelings or make him feel like a bad person – I’m merely trying to protect the fool from pushing his damaged body past its limits into dangerous territory. Doctors who tell fat women they might not be able to conceive in their condition are not trampling on hope. They are giving medical facts to their patients. Doctors who warn fat women of the dangers of pregnancy are not being mean. They are trying to help their patients prepare for the strong possibility that they will face more limitations and problems during their pregnancy and delivery than a woman with a healthy body weight. Doctors who refuse to help fat women become pregnant unless they lose weight are not practicing “soft eugenics”, as ridiculously suggested by the authors of the study. They are giving the woman and her future children a better chance for a healthier outcome. All of these things are a doctor’s job. If a plumber is called to my house to replace a toilet, and he notices and comments on a leaky sink, he is not pipe-shaming me. He is doing what he is supposed to do as the particular expert I’ve consulted.
This nebulous study, and the attention it has received, is yet another example of the daily hand-wringing I’m done with. The reaction to perceived body-shaming mainly comes in the form of an online rant, with a few well-meaning lines about bodies coming in all different sizes and loving the skin you’re in – and then the accusation of body-shaming. I let you make me feel uncomfortable because I’m sensitive about being fat – so you must be an asshole. The whole situation is painted black and white, and the only side anyone should be on is the side of the so-called victim. It seems that the whole world is out to get fat people. Or is it?
I’m not without sympathy. Some children are mercilessly bullied over their weight. Some people have been treated poorly by the healthcare system and the service industry because they are fat. Extra materials, more complicated patterns and manufacturing processes drive up the cost of plus-sized clothing – and having to pay more for clothing is frustrating. Simple economics: extra weight means extra wear-and-tear on a vehicle, and extra fuel – and buying two seats on an airplane is a hardship many people can’t afford. It must be painful to know that your dream of being a mother or the health of your children may be hampered by your weight. It can be the battle of a lifetime for some people to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. And on and on …. However, along with the sympathy, it’s time to administer a healthy dose of reality.
Sure, it’s annoying to see that the entertainment industry consists mainly of people who are smaller than you – but, in many cases, famous actresses and singers and models are smaller than most people. It’s not pleasant to hear that a designer refused to dress whoever because her bones don’t protrude. However, we’re talking about a rarified world that reflects very little of our daily existence anyway. That’s why it’s entertainment, not the evening news or a documentary! No intelligent person I know is looking to Hollywood to see a reflection of herself and find the meaning of life. Clothing stores are businesses. What they care about is money. If they don’t carry your size, it’s because it’s not profitable – they don’t need your money badly enough to cater to you. Whining about how mean they are and posting desperate online diatribes begging them to value your business because you are so much more than your dress size will not shame execs into stocking your size. Instead, take your money to a store that will sell you clothing that fits you, and enjoy stepping out in it. Airlines also only care about money. All they see is extra weight = extra fuel = higher expense to fly you somewhere. They don’t want to deal with multiple passengers complaining that their space was partially occupied by someone else’s ass, so they will make make you buy an extra seat. When you protest, they don’t care that you are never going to fly with them again. Everyone else still will, and – if you’re honest – you probably will, too, if their seat sale is juicy enough. As for how people “make you feel”, if you examine the situation in detail, you may find that how you feel has alot to do with your own perception of yourself coupled with the oh-so-human tendency to make everything about ourselves. People are not looking at you all the time – in fact, most of the time they aren’t even thinking about you. Don’t assume that every negative facial expression or action or comment is leveled at you and your weight. By frantically flinging the body-shaming accusation in every possible direction, you’re diverting attention from areas of true concern and helping society build up an immunity to actual cases of body-shaming.
You love yourself? Great! Rock on, and enjoy your life. You don’t love yourself? Change yourself! But please stop this stupid trend of yelling at companies and organizations and the old lady at the pool and the meathead at the gym for not seeing things your way, then claiming fierce love for yourself and complete peace with your circumstances – then making excuses for, and begging us all to look past, the same self you just claimed to adore. It doesn’t wash, and it’s really irritating.