I had a light bulb moment the other week that I’d really like to share with you all. It came up in conversation last week when the lovely ladies form Body Positive Australia came out to present to us at uni about weight stigma and I thought it was really important to expand on my thinking.
A couple of weeks ago I struck down with the most horrendous nausea, so I took myself off to the doctors.
One of the first questions the doctor asked was “could you be pregnant?”
This was followed by “Are you absolutely sure??”
“Yes, I just had my period and it was normal”
Then, “I believe you, but I’m going to need you to take a pregnancy test. Just because of your age, we need to be sure”
Now I’m not one to cause a fuss, so I just politely nodded my head but inside I was seething. What the eff are you implying, doctor? Are you assuming because I am young that I am promiscuous? That my partner and I are clueless about contraception?
I’d been afraid of this conversation, so afraid of it in fact that I had delayed seeking medical treatment. Yep, I’ll admit that I put up with the most awful nausea rather than facing a stern faced doctor who I thought would just assume that the young female coming to see them must be pregnant.
The conversation eventually moves on and she reaches a possible diagnosis, writes me a script and we’re done. She tells me she’s fairly certain of her diagnosis, hands me a cup and asks for a urine sample for that pregnancy test. “We’ll call you if it comes back positive.”
I wizzed in the little cup as asked and took it to the front desk.
“Ah, erm the doctor wants this so she can ahh do a um pregnancy test” I squeak. I pay and rush out in a hurry.
The whole experience was embarrassing and a little humiliating.
I sat in my car feeling a little deflated. Thoughts such as she wasn’t listening to me and why couldn’t she just drop it swirled around in my head.
Then it hit me- this is what it must be like for people in larger bodies. Maybe how I’m feeling now is how many people feel every time they go to the doctors.
The research is pretty clear that people in larger bodies delay or avoid going to the doctors because they know their doctor will hassle them about their weight or health problems that are surely a result of their weight, even if it is not the presenting complaint.
After that experience at the doctors, I feel than I am beginning to understand the struggles and prejudice that some people face when accessing health care.
As I go out on placement for the first time its really important that I understand this. I may be able to help someone but if I alienate them I can bet they won’t come back for a second appointment (just as I will not go back to that particular doctor).
As a society we also need to address this. Weight and size stigma is rife in the community and now I am aware of it, I’m a little embarrassed to see such ingrained prejudice against people in larger bodies.
It’s so ingrained in our society that there’s even such a term as thin privilege– the idea that you ‘get’ things just for being thin. Thin privilege can take many forms- it may mean you are more likely to get promoted if you are thin or you might not be screened for some diseases because its assumed you are healthy.
I know I have thin privilege. When my blood pressure is a little high the doctor smiles and asks if I’m nervous or if I’ve had a few coffees. People in larger bodies do not get that same treatment. Even if their blood pressure was not the reason for going to the doctors (it’s standard procedure at my doctors to take blood pressure at every appointment), things like medications, low salt diets and weight loss might be discussed.
I don’t have the answers or indeed even an answer to tackle this problem, I just know action needs to happen.
And doctor, imagine my surprise when you didn’t call me back! Surprise, surprise, I’m not pregnant!