Fat Stigma in Healthcare

There is a negative relationship between healthcare and women. You can take an intersectional approach to this topic and see how womanhood along with other identities can impact one’s relationship with doctors and healthcare. Identities and appearances can impact the quality of healthcare that one gets. Larger women are a group who experiences a negative connection with healthcare. 

As a larger woman, I have heard and experienced countless stories of inadequate treatment by medical professionals. If you are shaped like me, you will understand the struggle that I will discuss but if not let me explain my relationship with healthcare and my weight. 

Starting at 11, I was in the early ages of adolescence and puberty. Hormones were raging and my body was changing. I would eat as much as my friends and family but I seemed to be gaining weight at a much faster rate. I know that first question that is popping into your head, “well, did you play or get any exercise?” I was an active child. I played softball and soccer and spent most of my time playing outside. 

When my parents began to notice the weight gain, they decided to discuss it with the doctors. I fell into the category of overweight but not yet obese. The doctor told my parents to get me to exercise more and watch the portions and snacking. This made my parents become ultra-concerned about my body and food. 

With time, the problem got worse and as I began to feel a negative relationship towards my body and food, I developed an eating disorder. That is a self-diagnosis but it doesn’t take a professional to deduce what was happening. I would still visit the doctor for check-ups and was repeatedly told the same thing. Eat less, exercise more. 

This pattern repeated for years. During this time, I had new anxiety. “Why are all of my friends getting their periods but I’m not?” I went through adolescence and experienced approximately 8 periods. My mom grew concerned and sent me to a doctor and for years, she told me the same thing my other doctors told me. Eat less, exercise more. “Will I get my period?” I pleaded and she ensure me that weight loss is just the solution for me. In high school, I would dread my check-ups because I was tired of being told I was too lazy and too fat (no in those words exactly,  but that’s how the younger me took it).

I wasn’t getting bloodwork or physicals that would diagnose my lack of periods. I was sent to a dietitian, who overcharged my parents, to tell me the same crap I already knew. After that last appointment, I told my mom that I couldn’t take it anymore and I am giving up. She bargained with me and said once you turn 18 you are responsible to go and find a doctor and listening to what they said.

I did just that. I found a doctor and explained my situation and frankly said, “if you are going to tell me to just lose weight, I will walk out and find a new doctor”. My doctor looked at me and said losing weight isn’t the only thing that needs to be done here. I had bloodwork and ultrasounds and finally found out that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) as well as hypothyroidism (which is genetic and runs in my family). Well, at least there is a name to it that isn’t just being obese. I got prescriptions and medications that finally regulated everything. I had periods and I could see weight loss. All I needed was someone to listen to me.

All I needed was someone to listen to me.

The pain and needs of larger people, especially larger women are only ever equated to weight. Depression, anxiety, stress, exhaustion, lack of periods, infertility, and countless other things are automatically blamed on weight. The stigmas against fatness can be detrimental in many cases. Losing weight is a long-term solution but in healthcare, sometimes we need a quick fix that can help us regain health enough to focus on those long-term solutions. The healthcare system should not be structured in such a manner that it begins to bully and berate those who struggle with obesity. 

My medical and family history was not brought into consideration but my doctors should have been on the lookout for these conditions if they considered my history and my symptoms. To be fair, I don’t fully blame the doctors I had when I was younger. My parents had a responsibility to advocate for me from a young age to ensure I was getting the proper care I need. What I learned through my experiences is to be firm, and direct, and not settle for a response that has not worked in the past. 

I talk about my experiences and frustrations with classmates and friends. It felt that everyone around me had stories to share about where healthcare had failed them. I know more people than I can count who experience PCOS, if it’s so common why did it take forever to finally be diagnosed? It is like a breath of fresh air being able to discuss how my childhood experiences occur and having someone who listens and understands. It is sad to know that someone else went through it but at least someone finally gets me.

Even though, I had the validation of a diagnosis I got the bulk of my information from personal research. Quick and easy tips are available on Tik Tok, Twitter, and Instagram. Find a community of people who can fully understand what you are going through and be the support that you need.

I can’t change the past but I can use my experiences as one of the millions of stories who healthcare mistreating and misrepresenting groups. Let’s not blame individuals but rather an entire system that allows this issue to go unnoticed, unregulated, and uncriticized. Things will never change if we don’t discuss it and your health is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed by. Speak out and stand your ground to have the care you need. It is time to get pissed off and call out healthcare in America so that all people have fair and quality medical access.


National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline

PCOS & Hypothyroidism Information:

Johns Hopkins Medicine

Mayo Clinic

Find better healthcare:

Strategies to decrease fat stigma

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