*Today’s post is written by guest blogger Fat Fox.*
I have been thinking a lot lately about how fat stigma and fat shame is often linked to concerns for people’s health. This is a very intimate topic for me because I am a fat person with a chronic illness. Returning readers will be familiar with my previous posts about Fat and Fibromyalgia. Today, however, I want to talk specifically about the negative impact that our fat-hating culture has on my ability to take care of my health. This negative impact seems oh-so-contrary to its often referenced concern for ‘health’.
Let me first start with a definition for one of the conditions that I have, which is Fibromyalgia:
According to the National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain association, fibromyalgia is:
“A central nervous system illness that is characterized by chronic widespread pain, multiple tender points, abnormal pain processing, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and can be accompanied by psychological distress that comes with all chronic illness. For those with severe symptoms, fibromyalgia can be extremely debilitating and interfere with basic daily activities”.
I was fat before I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. I often am asked whether my fat affects my Fibromyalgia. I always give the same response: no. Despite the fact that I am 5 foot 9 inches tall and weigh 370lbs, without fibromyalgia I am an active, happy, and energetic fatty. This is still evidenced by the fact that when my pain is sufficiently medicated, I can still participate in most activities enjoyed by people half my size.
However, Fibromyalgia pain is difficult to treat. Despite the use of opiates, I still average 6 or 7 out of a 1-10 pain scale most days. Daily pain is exhausting. It makes sleeping difficult. Most days, a shower is a difficult feat to manage that requires several hours of recuperation afterward. Going to the grocery store requires at least a day to recover.
You may be asking yourself what this has to do with fat shame, and that is the point I’d like to get to. The difficulties that I have with fibromyalgia often manifest as stereotypically fat behavior. I walk slowly, I need frequent breaks, and I am exhausted by very little activity. Sometimes brushing my teeth results in a searing, burning pain in my shoulder that reminds me of the muscle fatigue one gets when lifting weights.
When I go to the Fibromyalgia message boards, the Mayo Clinic website, or any other place where I should be able to get help and find comfort, I am inevitably met with weight loss discussion. This baffles me. We are dealing with a central nervous system issue. Yet, many people feel that fibromyalgia can be helped by weight loss. Even doctors! The idea behind this is that you won’t hurt as much if you don’t have as much mass to haul around.
There is much discussion about what to eat, what not to eat, how to work out, etc etc. This can be an extremely daunting concept when you are in a physical position where lifting your arm to wash your hair or brush your teeth results in exhaustion and agony.
So how does this affect my ability to take care of myself? The constant drumming of weight loss, and diet, and exercise completely ignores my reality. I think to myself – “well, if they got better because they lost 15 lbs, maybe that means I would?” Or when the voice creeps into your head that tells you that Fibromyalgia is made up and it’s just an excuse to be a fat lazy ass. I end up lying in bed at night thinking “what if I’m really not sick. What if I am just really out of shape?” This question is inevitably followed by the reminder that I have brushed my teeth religiously 3 times a day since I was 11 and got braces. Exactly when did my tooth-brushing muscles atrophy from lack of use?
And there, my friends, is the crazy making bit. Even when a person is acknowledged to have a syndrome that causes unrelenting pain and affects the central nervous system, they are still encouraged and cajoled about weight loss. Weight loss is the answer! It’s the panacea! It’s the key! This is extolled by both doctor and patient alike. Fibromyalgia is not a uniform disease. It does affect people differently. There are people within the FMS range who do benefit from exercise. There are those of us also, who are completely intolerant to exercise. However, this last category is hardly ever spoken of. After all, we don’t want people getting the idea that they don’t need to exercise!! Amiright?!
It is difficult to live in a culture that is obsessed with weight loss when you inhabit a body that visibly represents everything that is found to be abhorrent. It is difficult to come up with ways to take care of yourself, when there is a never ending chorus of voices saying that your fat ass is the only problem. I find that when I get enough pain medication, and I feel a little more ‘normal’, my first thought is always that I just need to pull up my boot straps and show no mercy! Lose that weight and get that body in shape. That I’m a weak, fat, lazy bum who is just out of shape from sitting on my ass. These thoughts are reinforced by the anti-fat rhetoric that is all around us, day in and day out.
That is how anti-fat rhetoric is damaging to my health. It is crazy making. It seeps into my brain and tells me lies about my body. How can I be convinced to be gentle, to take care of myself, to move in ways that are good for me, when the messages around me are that my body is a direct display of my failure? The assumption that my Fibromyalgia is BECAUSE I am fat, not that perhaps, I got a bit fatter (I started out fat) because of the limitations of my Fibromyalgia. There is a constant flow of messages to do things that are hurtful to me, in the name of ‘health’. I am told that if I treat myself with care and tenderness that I am hurting myself. I am making myself worse. I will die from my fat unless I go for a scorched earth regimen to rid myself of it. How can that possibly be ‘good for my health’?