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Fatphobia In Hospitals: First Hand Experiences

For our new mini-series, Chiamaka would be talking to a few plus-size people over the next couple of weeks, discussing the disturbing manner in which plus-size or queer people are treated in ‘safe’ spaces.

Seeing people, especially young women embrace my work on body politics and having my thoughts and fears validated is an experience that I did not fully know I could achieve at the point when it started happening. For the longest time, I blamed myself for the issues I faced daily as a young, fat woman in Nigeria. When I was not busy convincing myself that the constant fat-shaming I endured was my fault, I was convincing myself that what was happening wasn’t synonymous with casual violence. To make things somewhat bearable, I managed to completely delude myself that one day I would wake up thin, cool, savvy and the rest of my life would finally begin and make perfect sense.

That, however, hasn’t happened but the immense support that I have gotten from both friends and strangers since I started writing about my true feelings on body image has kept me going to this day. In fact, the work I do has become important to me and even the people around me that they sometimes ask me to write about some of their personal experiences to which I can relate.

Just recently, I received a direct message from an old friend. We had gone to high school together and had faced a good amount of fatphobia in school. She reached out because she wanted me to conduct a number of interviews, discussing the disturbing manner in which plus-size or queer people are treated in ‘safe’ spaces.

I obliged and for the first interview of the series (which would be running for a few weeks), I decided to feature my friend O, as she’ll be referred to in this interview, a twenty-four-year-old Montessori school teacher, speaking about fatphobia in hospitals.

Bside: Can you remember your very first memory of being in the hospital? Was it a routine visit or were you there to treat an actual illness?

O: My first memory of being in a hospital was when I was around the age of eight. My mother had actually brought me in to see our family doctor because she was worried about my weight. I remember that even before my first memory of being in a hospital, I would have major anxieties about being weighed, which is odd when you realize that at such a young age. A lot of the nurses gave me dirty looks after weighing me and I was not oblivious to the fact that other smaller children did not receive such nasty looks. The doctor who attended to us advised my mother to give me smaller portions [of food] and fewer sweets. I do not remember him being especially cruel, at least not like the nurses.

Did your mother’s feelings about your body ever change?

As I grew older, my mother actually became way more supportive of me and my body type. She is big too and I feel that she may have experienced pressure from outsiders to ensure I did not become the same. My father has been supportive from the get-go, he is the smaller one in the family but definitely experienced fewer worries about my body.

Have you changed hospitals since then? What has been your experience going to hospitals as an older, mature woman? Do you still feel the same issues you had when you were younger?

I have changed hospitals since then, but really once or twice. Since I have not had any debilitating, serious illnesses I have not been hospitalized over a period of time. I feel like that may have truly opened my eyes to hospital cruelty more so now. The truth is, I am often relieved when I visit hospitals and they inform me that I have good health because I am expecting to hear the opposite. With the way health professionals treat me as I walk into the room, I am sure that they are expecting the same too. Another thing that stands out for me is that I do not take daily weigh-ins every time I go for check-ups. I have opted out of them. Whether my doctor respects this or not is really none of my business. That is what makes me comfortable.

There has been little to no change in how medical professionals treat big patients since I was younger, at least not in my experience. One thing that I am getting a lot now is them predicting how difficult childbirth will be for me when I do get married. There has been shock ranging from “I thought you already had kids” to “Wow you will double up when you get your first pregnancy”. It is really dehumanizing how the fat body is engaged, even by people who are supposed to be concerned about your best interest. If I am a regular patient and I have never mentioned childbirth to you, why would you assume I had a baby and hid them somewhere?

They are very comfortable asking questions and passing judgements that they will never do to other non-fat adults, are they not?

Absolutely yes. It is almost like they believe we are not mentally capable of taking care of ourselves, simply because our bodies are not appealing to their standards. The BMI (body-mass index) conversation is truly backward, to say the least. And it has been disproven. I feel like at this point medicine is hanging onto many outdated and unrealistic ideals. Then again, the field has always been riddled with extremely problematic histories. Even gender-wise, the medical field has failed several women. This is why I sorely encourage people to seek the opinions of several competent doctors, where they can be found. As for me, I am just thankful to have ‘good health’ as that has really saved me a boat-load of stress.

Thank you so much for talking with me about this. I really hope that things do move forward and that more people speak up about their negative experiences while seeking medical treatment.

I hope so too. Thank you.


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