Plus-Size Women Deserve Adequate Medical Care

by Katie Cloyd
Tetra Images/Getty

Hello, gorgeous, vibrant, thriving plus-size women. I’m here to have a chat with you lovelies today. It’s 2019, the body positive movement is in full-swing, cute clothes are easier to find, we are feeling hot and sexy, we’re wearing bikinis if we feel like it… Fat girls are not here for the world’s nonsense anymore, and I am loving it.

But there’s something else we need to talk about, and if you’re anything like me, you might not like it.

Beautiful women of size, you need to go to the doctor.

You need to go even if you’re 7, 17, or 70 pounds heavier than you were the last time you saw a doctor.

When you’re sick, when you find out you’re pregnant, or when you’re in pain, you deserve to see a doctor. You deserve care when you’re depressed, and when you’re anxious. When something, anything, is “off,” and you just can’t pinpoint what it is, you should see a physician.

It’s a medical professional’s job to restore you to health when you’re unwell. You deserve to benefit from their knowledge, regardless of the number on the scale or in the back of your jeans.

If you aren’t going to see a doctor because you’re afraid you won’t be treated with dignity, believe me, I understand your concerns. I have inhabited a fat body for 34 years. I’ve never been any size but plus-size. I have my share of stories. The weight-related birth trauma I endured when I was having my first son still brings me to tears six years later.

It can be so damn exhausting to me. I don’t always have the mental strength to fight just to be heard, and it’s easier sometimes to suffer. If you feel the same way, I understand you. I see you. You are not alone.

I recently had a discussion with a group of fat women. I asked them to share a time when they felt dismissed by a medical care provider because of their weight. And their stories were staggering.

Jenn experienced pain in her lower spine that rendered her unable to walk. Her doctor wouldn’t order an MRI because she was fat. He “prescribed” weight loss. Months later, Jenn’s doctor finally referred to a physiotherapist when paralysis on her leg left her unable to walk. He discovered a completely ruptured disc and performed immediate surgery to save her mobility.

Chellie’s doctor told her she couldn’t get pregnant because she was just too fat. After years of heartache, a specialist found that her partner was dealing with male factor infertility. With all the facts in hand, they were able to make informed decisions. IVF provided them with the family of their dreams.

Lisa lost all her pregnancy weight in just a few months, but when she approached her doctor about postpartum depression and anxiety, he prescribed exercise instead of medication. Thankfully, Lisa was able to get in with another provider to address her concerns and receive the help she needed.

Perhaps the most gut-wrenching story came from Althea, whose concerns about her fertility were brushed off by her OBGYN when she said, “You don’t care about your body. Why should I? Talk to me again when you lose weight.” By the time a second doctor found her uterine tumor, it was too large for treatment. Althea had to give up her dreams of carrying a child. On the way to the OR for a second surgery to address complications of her hysterectomy, her surgeon told her she was a terrible candidate for any kind of surgery. He added that he “didn’t even know how” to close a patient with “so much belly fat.”

With experiences like these in our back pockets, I don’t think it’s hard to understand why, as plus-size women, we are sometimes hesitant to seek medical care for non-life-threatening health concerns.

Discussing your weight with a new provider can be a valid source of stress and anxiety. Years of suffering shame related to medical situations will do that to a person. A doctor who respects you should be able to frame the conversation about your weight in a way that is comfortable for you. If your provider discusses your body in a disparaging way, you have every right to stand up and walk away. There are millions of compassionate care providers who are willing to treat you like a person. You don’t have to stay with one who won’t.

Your doctor should know exactly what you weigh so they can prescribe medications properly, arrange for adequate imaging equipment, provide gowns in the appropriate size, and generally accommodate you in a comfortable way. Keeping an eye on the scale is a necessary part of monitoring your overall well-being. It’s appropriate for your medical care team to discuss weight as a piece of the health puzzle.

But the number on the scale should never prevent you from receiving appropriate medical care. You shouldn’t settle for a doctor who doesn’t take your symptoms seriously or doesn’t have the same desire that you have: to cure what ails you and restore you to health.

In the last few years, I have taken ownership of my body. I’ve started advocating for myself in every medical situation. I have finally assembled a team of doctors and nurse practitioners that listen to me. They don’t dismiss a single one of my concerns. It’s a beautiful feeling, and I didn’t have to lose a pound to “deserve it.”

I just had to find the right doctors.