The way medical professionals talk to women about weight makes me so angry sometimes. The conversation never seems to be about nutrition or fitness when we talk about women- even in a doctor’s office. It is about weight loss, weight management, and weight control. My doctor never asks me if I exercise regularly or if I eat my 5 fruits and veggies a day- he just weighs me, like that reveals all there is to know about my overall fitness level.
This obsession with weight is not only a reductive way to look at overall health, but it can be dangerous. Eating disorders are on the rise in the U.S., partly due to our culture’s obsession with weight. If you are a young person who is at risk for an eating disorder, the last thing you need is your physician reinforcing the attitude that weight is everything.
Of course, like with most bad things, women suffer from our health care system’s obsession with weight more acutely than men do. A recent study revealed that doctors “recommend greater weight loss to female patients than to equivalently overweight male patients.” It is unclear why this is, but the study’s authors suggest “societal bias is one possibility.” I understand that doctors are just people, and that they internalize the same impossibly thin images of women that we all do. But, really, if doctors can’t be objective about what is a healthy weight for a woman, who can?
I am particularly upset about this tonight because of an experience I had in doctor’s office waiting to be tested for strep earlier today.
I had waited for four hours when a young-ish physician’s assistant called me in. He took my temp (I still had the fever I had that morning) and asked me to step on a scale.
He asked me how much I weigh as I stood on the scale and I gave him a rough estimate. As the numbers got larger he said, “Well, someone has been eating some barbeque.” As the numbers got even larger, he said “Well, someone has been eating a lot of barbeque.”
I let him know, in words only someone with strep who has been waiting four hours can, that he should shut up.
Later, the asshole came in again. As he was putting the cotton swab down my throat he remarked, “For someone so uptight, you don’t have much of a gag reflex.”
I reminded him that there are laws against sexual harassment, finally got someone else to help me, and later filed a complaint.
When he made the first comment about barbeque, I thought maybe he was just an asshole, not necessarily a sexist one. When he made the crack about my gag reflex, I knew he was sexist and suspected that might have been the reason he thought it was okay to insult my weight.
When I heard from the other room that his response after weighing an obese man was “Alright, step down, please,” my suspicions were confirmed.
So what have your experiences with medical professionals been? Have you ever experienced them making inappropriate comments about your weight or seen them treat women differently than men?
Come on; don’t leave me ranting here alone.