I was Fat-Shamed
Updated: Jan 13
Three years ago, I went to my local health clinic to get a routine flu shot. At my clinic, the nurses use flu shots as an opportunity to do a full health screening on each clinic member. They weigh and measure you, take your blood pressure, ask about your diet, exercise, smoking and drinking habits. Because there is never any real privacy here in Israel, they do this all in a room full of other patients.
When it was my turn, I stepped happily on the scale and answered all the questions:
- "Yes, I eat really well and have been a vegan for over 10 years."
- "Yes, I work out daily at the gym and am also a personal trainer, active and on my feet all day."
- "No, I have never smoked. Anything. Ever."
- "No, I do not drink alcohol regularly."
- "My health is great. I have no illnesses or complaints. My cholesterol numbers are stellar. My blood pressure is normal. My blood sugar is perfect. I am full of energy and feel great."
"BUT", the nurse said, "your BMI puts you in the OBESE category! You need to see the dietitian! Your weight puts your health at serious risk!"
I politely declined the dietitian, but she persisted. Loudly. My scale weight was an emergency in this woman's opinion. Instead of congratulating me on all my healthy habits, she basically insinuated that I must be LYING because I am fat as fuck.
People began to stare. I started to get really flustered. I pointed out that I am incredibly healthy. Why was she so fixated on my weight? There were a million things I wanted to say, but with my poor Hebrew and my agitated state, I was unable to respond. I almost started to cry. I felt so, so ashamed.
I never returned for a flu shot ever again. There is a flu epidemic here this year and I am unvaccinated for the sole reason that I cannot face being shamed for my weight again. When I worked as a nutrition coach, I cannot tell you how many clients told me that they had illnesses that were going untreated because they couldn't face the humiliation the doctor would heap on them for being overweight. Some doctors claim that whatever you are complaining about is because of your weight and refuse to explore any other treatment until you lose weight.
Dudes, have you ever TRIED to lose weight? Do you think your patients are not trying?? It is super hard and quite often simply unsuccessful. Why can we not say "Losing weight will probably help this issue tremendously. While you work on weight loss, let's explore this other treatment."
The other day, I was telling my clinic story to a friend of mine. I was recalling it to her because I want to start applying for jobs training in gyms and not only am I feeling crippling anxiety about interviewing in Hebrew, I am having residual anxiety over the possibility of walking into a gym interview and being shamed for not being the thin, young, typical trainer. Those two fears together have been enough to keep me stuck from applying for jobs for almost a year now.
My friend dug a little deeper. She asked me if I think my body is deserving of shame. "Absolutely not!" I replied. "I am SO proud of my body! Twenty years ago I weighed 40 lbs more and had diabetes. I lost that weight and kept it off all these years and now have normal blood sugar and great health!"
In fact, what I had wanted to say to that nurse at the clinic, was that she didn't know my story. She didn't know that I used to weigh much more and was sick, but beat the odds to keep this weight off. Although my medical test stats were right in front of her, she didn't know (and didn't care) that I also have incredible aerobic capacity and have run a full marathon at my current weight. Although I told her that I work out at the gym every day, she didn't know (and didn't care) that I am a weight lifter and am stronger at age 53 than I have ever been in my entire life, squatting 50kg, deadlifting 60kg, and benching 45kg. She judged me by ONE standard only - the number on the scale.
To her my body was a failure, but to me it is my greatest victory.
My wise friend said the words that sunk straight into the center of my heart: "Emily, you are not a receptacle for fat shaming. You have been given this unique and wonderful opportunity to educate people. You are here to remind people that when they look at someone's body, they do not know its story. The snapshot they are judging today is not the entirety of that person."
A receptacle for shame. Those words. Something heavy clunked into place in my soul. I started to think not just of this instance at the clinic, but the many more. All the times someone has made me feel wrong for my body size. Like the time I was at the race expo before the Tel Aviv Marathon and I asked the salesperson if they had clothing sizes other than small and extra small. He sniffed at me "No we don't because no runners are bigger than size small." I slunk out of the store ashamed. The next day I ran 42 km in my size XL shorts. I wanted to send that asshole a photo of me with my finishers medal.
I have been storing a literal lifetime of those comments in a shiny little receptacle of shame.
I cannot control what ignorant things other people say. I WILL be the recipient of shame in this lifetime and probably so will you. But I don't have to be a receptacle. I don't have to hold these comments in my heart and mind and replay them over and over just to hurt myself further. And I certainly don't need to let them fester to such an extent that I am paralyzed from moving forward.
I'm sending my resumes out. I might not get hired. Maybe they won't hire me because I speak Hebrew like a ton of bricks is falling from my mouth. Maybe they won't hire me because of how I look. Maybe they will even say something horrible to me. But I will think VERY carefully about what I choose to put in my receptacle. I hope from now on I will only carry that which serves my good, not that which erodes my confidence.
Lastly, I want us ALL to remember that we don't know anyone's full story. A person's weight is just his/her current relationship to Earth's gravity. You might look at someone and think you are seeing their "before" but maybe it is their "after" or even their "during". Maybe they've been through something horrible and their only solace was an endless supply of Nutter Butters? Maybe they have had to take a medication that has caused cravings or weight gain? Maybe they have already lost 100 lbs but can't lose anymore?
Shut your damn mouth and do not hand out any more pain for them to carry.
Here is me, my husband and youngest son, in about 2003. I am not ashamed of this body either. I was doing my best:
Here is me with that same son today. This is what an "obese" BMI can look like:
P.S. Thank you Caitlin. Geez, the power of that one word...