Yesterday, I read an article in The New York Times entitled “Breaking Down the ‘Wellness-Industrial Complex,’ an Episode at a Time“. It was a surprisingly interesting and disheartening read. I wasn’t attracted to it because of the title, though. I decided to read it because of a quote that was used to draw attention to the article.
A man named Scott Cave, who lives in the Appalachian Mountains region of Virginia and has a doctorate in history, is a regular listener of the podcast, “Maintenance Phase”. The popular podcast, which has existed for about a year, is named after the concept of maintaining weight loss after a successful diet. The hosts, Aubrey Gordon, and Michael Hobbes, “spend each episode exploring what they call the “wellness-industrial complex,” debunking health fads and nutritional advice.” Gordon got started because she collects vintage diet books, and realized that a lot of them were full of ridiculous ideas that ultimately don’t work in keeping people slim and fit.
Cave says he listens to “Maintenance Phase” because “he appreciates the way the podcast examines and evaluates primary sources in a way that’s fun.” He also relates to some of the topics, since he himself has a weight problem. One time, “Maintenance Phase” did a show about how people who are overweight or obese are more likely to avoid seeing healthcare professionals. Cave identified with that, as once he visited an urgent care practice because he thought he’d broken his finger. He was told, “We don’t think your finger is broken. It might be, but you’re very fat, so you should probably deal with that.”
Mortified by the shaming comment about his weight, Cave ignored signs and symptoms of an autoimmune disease for a long time. He didn’t want to deal with more negative stigma about his size. So he suffered in silence with his swollen finger, and felt ashamed. That negative comment, while based in truth, dealt a terrible blow to Cave’s self-regard and trust in the medical care system.
I can relate to Cave’s reluctance to visit doctors. I haven’t seen one myself in about eleven years. In my case, it’s partly due to not wanting to be lectured about my size or my bad habits. It’s also due to some legitimate trauma I experienced at the hands of an OB-GYN who physically hurt me as she examined me, then fat shamed me.
This doctor’s pelvic exam was so painful that I cried out, and she basically told me to shut up as she stuck me with another, smaller speculum that also hurt. I bit my lip and gutted through the rest of the exam, hoping I wouldn’t pass out. I had to complete the exam so I could join the Peace Corps. Afterwards, the doctor told me I was too fat and would gain weight in Armenia. Then she basically shamed me because she wasn’t able to get a “good look down there”. She claimed I wasn’t “cooperative”. She offered me birth control, even though I was a virgin at the time. I left her office feeling completely violated, humiliated, and frankly, like I had just been assaulted.
It took twelve years for me to have another gynecological exam by a much kinder, more understanding, and professional physician’s assistant. She let me cry, and heard my explanation about why I was so upset and anxious. Then, when she did the exam, it didn’t hurt at all. I remember being so relieved that I wasn’t in pain. Then I was very angry, because the doctor who had done my first exam had hurt me without reason. I hadn’t thought to complain about her. I now wish I had.
I was so upset and stressed out during that second exam that the P.A. thought I had high blood pressure. I ended up having to visit her several more times before she was convinced that I had white coat hypertension. Sadly, we had to move out of the area. The P.A. also changed her practice, and now only works with cardiology patients. So even if we had stayed in the D.C. area, I wouldn’t have been her patient for long.
I last saw a doctor in 2010 at Bill’s insistence, because I thought my gall bladder was giving me issues. It’s probably full of stones. But the ultrasound didn’t show that the gallbladder was so inflamed that it needed to come out just then. And then we moved a bunch of times…
So no, I don’t go to doctors. I know I should, but I don’t. Aside from mycophobia (fear of mushrooms), I also have a touch of iatrophobia (fear of doctors). And I can understand why Cave doesn’t go to doctors, either. The experience is often demoralizing, expensive (for those who don’t have Tricare), and just plain awful.
As you might have guessed, after I read the article, I read some of the comments. Naturally, they were full of people who hadn’t bothered to read the article. Some were very unkind and lacking in empathy. One guy wrote that the article was “stupid” because it was full of people “making excuses”. In his comment he wrote that “all I see” are people justifying being fat. Then he added that he’d lost 100 pounds.
He got some blowback for that comment, including from yours truly. I wrote, “All I see is a guy who is a judgmental jerk. Congratulations on your weight loss. Looks like you also lost your ability to empathize.”
I got many likes for that. The original commenter came back and wrote that he DOES empathize, but Americans are all eating their way into diabetes. And I wrote that while it’s true that obesity leads to a lot of health problems, it’s not helpful to accuse people of “making excuses”, particularly if you’re a total stranger. I didn’t see any “kindness” or actual concern in his comments, only judgment. And then I wrote…
“If you truly do empathize and want to help people, you should be kinder and more empathetic. Instead of insulting and judging, you could be encouraging and enthusiastic. You could learn a lot from Richard Simmons on how to motivate people. Richard Simmons used to be fat, and like you, he lost a lot of weight. But instead of being mean to people, he encourages them. He actually CARES about them.”
Of course, I wrote that taking the commenter at his word that he’s really trying to “help”. A lot of people who make comments about “personal responsibility” and concern troll the overweight are really just getting off by acting superior and being jerks.
As I wrote that comment, I couldn’t help but remember an old episode of Fame I recently watched. The character, dance teacher Lydia Grant (Debbie Allen), decides to teach an exercise class for some extra money. She thinks it’s going to be a “piece of cake”, since these were just middle aged women trying to get into a new dress. But when she teaches, using her usual demanding style, she finds that the women in the class aren’t successful. One woman in particular, name of Renee, is about to give up because Lydia is just too demanding.
But then Richard Simmons interrupts and shows Lydia how it’s done. He asks Renee if he could have this dance. Renee nods and the two proceed to work out. Richard is encouraging, enthusiastic, and kind, and Renee responds in kind. And not only does she complete the workout, but she also leaves with a big smile on her face!
Lydia says there’s no way Renee can meet her “impossible” goal of losing twelve pounds in two weeks. So Richard says, “That’s okay. Let her lose six pounds!” I think that makes a lot of sense, don’t you? There’s nothing that says Renee can’t meet part of her goal and take a bit longer to get where she wants to be.
I’m not saying I love Richard Simmons. In fact, I used to cringe when I saw his ads for Deal-A-Meal and “Sweatin’ to the Oldies”. And I laughed when I read about how he slapped some guy who mocked him at the airport. I did like his 80s era talk show, but it was always on when I was at school.
I just think that when it comes to motivating people to lose weight, Richard is onto something that actually works. Fat people are people, too. Just like everyone else, fat people want to be valued and accepted. Nobody enjoys being insulted, shamed, and judged, especially by total strangers! Moreover, nobody wants to PAY for that experience, especially when the doctor dismisses the patient and says all of their health problems are brought on by a lack of discipline and willpower. And while the commenter on the New York Times piece may actually empathize and care about others, he has a really shitty and off-putting way of showing it.
I got another comment from another person who praised the first commenter for promoting “personal responsibility”. I think personal responsibility is all well and good. But you don’t know why someone is fat. You don’t know what their story is, or if they’ve actually done anything to lose weight. What if that overweight stranger you see has actually been losing weight? What if they’re out and about for the first time in weeks because they’ve lost twenty pounds? How do you think they would feel if you lectured them about personal responsibility and admonished them to slim down? Do you think those words would motivate them to keep going? Or is it more likely that they’d get depressed, say “what’s the use?” and go out for a double cheeseburger?
Besides being cruel and rude, fat shaming people is potentially very damaging. And a person’s weight is also none of your business.
The fact that fat people have to work up the gumption to see doctors is a serious issue. I recently read a horrifying story about a 27 year old woman in Los Angeles named Amanda Lee who visited a doctor because she had lost 35 pounds, was having abdominal pain, and couldn’t eat. Instead of getting to the bottom of why Lee was losing weight and experiencing pain, the doctor said that maybe it was a good thing she was in pain and couldn’t eat. He continued the horror by saying that only being able to eat things like pureed apples was a “blessing”. And he added that she didn’t look “malnourished”. I would add that according to the photos and videos I’ve seen, she doesn’t appear to be that overweight, either. But then, it is Los Angeles. In any case, the doctor refused to do any testing on Lee, and she left his office in tears.
“Maybe that’s not such a bad thing” not a time to joke.♬ original sound – Amanda Lee
After her appointment, the mortified young woman recorded a TikTok video in her car. She was sobbing hysterically as she recounted what had happened during her appointment. Commenters encouraged her to see another doctor, so she did. That doctor did a colonoscopy on Amanda Lee and discovered a large tumor. She had surgery to remove it, and was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer!
As of June, she was receiving chemotherapy. I hope she also looks into suing that first doctor for malpractice! I’m grateful that the commenters on her video were kind, rather than fat shaming. I’m also glad she shared her story, because I think it will help a lot of people on many different levels.
Well… that about does it for today’s fresh content. We didn’t go out yesterday, so I suspect Bill will want to do something this afternoon. Enjoy your Sunday.