Sunday, 24 June 2012

Jennifer Lee on the case for Fat Activism

Great piece by Melbourne academic Jennifer Lee: A big fat fight: the case for fat activism 
My left-wing, friendly and kind GP says, “You’re bigger than you were last time so it’s harder for me to get this in place,” as an apology for groping around during a pap smear – an apology that blames my body for her less-than-perfect technique. 

That’s a subtle example, because I try to choose my medical professionals carefully to avoid the standard fat prejudice. It demonstrates that sometimes we are hit with fat prejudice in the most vulnerable or intimate situations. Why aren’t medical students trained to deal with fat bodies? Why isn’t medical equipment generally made for different kinds of bodies – fat ones included? Fat people are sent constant messages that they are wrong, that they need to change, that the world around them is fine and doesn’t need to cater for them.
Still, in some moments I do find myself wishing I were thin. But I catch myself and think, “Why do you want to be thin in this moment?” The answer is inevitably about thin privilege. If fat was the sought-after attractive body in the media, if doctors separated fat from disease, if big clothes sizes were available everywhere, would I ever want to be thin?

When I speak about thin privilege, I am talking about the advantages that thin people in Western culture experience, such as being assumed healthy and having a wide array of clothes available, as well as a body that aligns with dominant ideas of what is attractive. It’s time to acknowledge thin privilege the way the Left has acknowledged white privilege, class privilege or straight privilege.


Psycho Milt said...

...blames my body for her less-than-perfect technique.

Or "...accurately describes the nature of the problem she's having" - but yeah, God forbid the answer might not be something to complain about.

Scar said...

I get where you're coming from here. At my latest endo visit, he chided me about my weight. I was surprised, since I've never had anyone comment about my weight... ever. Seems now I'm in the 'overweight' category, after being in the 'underweight' category for most of my life.
I'm stoked to be a really healthy weight (i.e. not borderline anorexic anymore), but apparently it's still not good enough.

"It’s time to acknowledge thin privilege the way the Left has acknowledged white privilege, class privilege or straight privilege."

But not cis privilege, eh?

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Literal and figurative navel-gazing.

Brett Dale said...

I'm left handed, is there such a thing as Right handed privilege, Im also short, is their such a thing as tall privilege.

I remember seeing a BBC doco, they dressed up a six foot guy in a expensive suit and asked people what his job was, the replies were, "Ceo of a company, stock broker, banker, upper management"

They then dressed up a five foot guy in a expensive business suit and asked people what his job was, the replies were "Kitchen hand, unemployed, minimum wage job, hes off to see his parole officer"

I'm guessing there is a lot of type of privilege.

LudditeJourno said...

Thanks Katy for a great post.
Psycho Milt - yeah, fancy complaining when the medical profession treats you like there's something wrong with you? What cheek.
Scar - maybe the writer was acknowledging that the Left hasn't got it's head around cis privilege. Or maybe that wasn't supposed to be a very nuanced list.
Lindsay - isn't that what a blog is?
Brett - yep, lots of types of privilege for sure. I def think taller men in the western world are privileged in terms of being seen as attractive, blah blah blah. It feels like your point isn't that respectful of this blog though?
I'm slimmish and constantly hear fat hatred from other people. Acknowledging that shouldn't be this hard, people.

katy said...

Psycho Milt and Lindsay Mitchell, within the context of the article I disagree that this is just complaining / navel gazing. This article was posted to give people the opportunity to discuss the issues raised by Jennifer Lee, future contributions should keep this in mind.

Scar, indeed. I had an interesting talk to a friend recently who is training to be a nurse, she had been working hard on this idea of not "policing" the bodies of patients. I thought it was positive to hear that she was able to think about her role in that way. As for cis privilege, yeah, the Left is indeed a work in progress :-)

Brett, yeah, body shape privilege does take different forms. This writer was talking about what being fat means in her day to day life because of how that aligns with ideas of what it means to be healthy and attractive. I agree that other body types also seem to have become associated with intelligence or power or whatever and we need to be aware of this and there are other kinds of privilege that are also reinforced through predominant health paradigms as "thin" privilege is.

The Harvard Implicit Association tests are interesting because they can help us to see our own prejudices, I read about them in a Malcolm Gladwell book and he made the point that as someone who is black himself he was even more horrified to find that he found implicit associations of white=good in his own responses. Worth a look if you are interested

Brett Dale said...

There are so so many people that face bias's every day because of their body shape, what they look like, their race, etc etc.

At times it seems the world is design, for just one type of person.

Anonymous said...

@Brett - the fact that people are discriminated against because of how they look is not reason for complacency. It's reason to fight the system and change it so that stop happening. Your "well it happens to everyone stop complaining" logic is flawed. If it's happening to everyone there's even more need to change it.


Brett Dale said...


I wasnt saying stop complaining because it happens to everybody, I was making the point that its sad that it does happen to most people.

But how do you handled it???? How do you call people up on it??

I went into a chemist shop a couple of years ago, to get some panadol, I was coughing and sputterling and sneezing, my face was all red, I of course had a bad dooze of the flu, when I bought the panadol I got the third degree, they asked me my address my phone number, my GP's name and what medication I was on, they then told me, I couldnt use it for illegal reaso

Fair enough I thought, but then the very good looking young man whom wasnt sick at all, he looked quite healthy in fact, put his pandol on the counter, he got a smile and no questions.

Now should I have question the shop assistant?? about why someone who is sick got the third degree, while someone who is healthy got no questions at all???

I just walked out, how would you handled that situation?

Anonymous said...

Brett: Was your medication actually the same as the very good looking young man? ID and address is normally asked for when buying over the counter medication including pseudoephedrine (precursor substance to methamphetimine), such as the Coldrel/Sudafed/Panadol Cold+Flu types that were around, before replacement of the pseudoephedrine by phenylephrine.

Purchase of Panadol brand medication containing pseudoephedrine would be treated differently to purchase of pseudoephedrine-free Panadol products.

Back to the subject at hand:

When I was in hospital recently for emergency surgery, one staff member had issues with removing a cannula. Was it the nurses fault? The reason? My hirstue arms. Was I to blame? No - assigning cause is not assigning blame.

I quote from the original article

"an apology that blames my body for her less-than-perfect technique"

Should the GP take offense at the judgement on her skills, which have been apportioned blame by the author, in the same manner as the author took offense on the perceived judgement on her size?


Anonymous said...

thank you for your post - one of the most harmful moments i experienced in fat-fobia was when i was on the table for a pap smear and my doctor (who wasnt as sensitive as yours) said (as she was doing the smear "so i see you are a compulsive eater. i can refer you to a group for that". this judgement was made based on the size of my body rather than anything i had said. at the time, i could barely afford food and was a 'massive' size 18.
in that moment and many others since, i wished that i could offer her an experience of what it is like to be a curvy woman in a world not accepting or built for curvy women. where is the understanding that people can be fit and fat OR even thin and unhealthy??
thanks for raising awareness and rock on your gorgeous self.

Anonymous said...

I had a horrible experience where I went into hospital for surgery, I was really scared about this (it was to explore and remove a lump in my uterus) and when I was having a consultation with the anaesthetist (who I had never met before) directly before going into theatre, she made some comment about my BMI. I was already quite scared and I thought she was saying because I had a high BMI my life might be at risk, turns out that wasn't what she meant but I really wondered why she thought that was a good time to make a comment about a patient's weight. I had talked to medical professionals leading up to the surgery and it hadn't been raised as an issue before. I know I am overweight, had the anaesthetist asked me I would have told her that I had been working hard on this but it was like she just wanted to make me feel ashamed of my weight.

Another time I was told a medical issue I had was because of my weight, despite the fact the problem is one I had had for many years, including when I was thin. The specialist I was talking to seemed busy and harassed and I didn't have the confidence to tell her again that this was a longstanding issue and to ask her to consider other possible reasons or responses, I just picked up my bag and left.

Like some of the stories already shared here it is the most horrible thing to be in an environment which is already a scary and intimidating one and to be confronted with this kind of stuff, I am an educated person who has travelled a lot and earns a good income but I feel really vulnerable in these situations because of these (and other) experiences and it really makes me want to avoid having to interact with medical professionals at all.