I didn’t want to write this today.
My emotional strategy in this time of pandemic has consisted of three parts: Stay informed of every news update, stay home as much as possible, and distract myself. I’m reviving my love of jigsaw puzzles. I’m texting my relatives, who live far away from me. I’m re-reading the Dragonriders of Pern* series. I’m giving myself grace and not forcing productivity, though I’m also working my way through some backlog tasks while I’m not able to work with photography clients.
But it’s become increasingly urgent to speak up, because no one else is. And here’s what I need to say:
I don’t know how to make you care about fat people.
Almost every fat person I know is living with an additional layer of terror right now — on top of what the rest of you are feeling — because we know that, if we need any sort of medical attention due to COVID-19, weight stigma will kick in.
- Stigma will affect how seriously we’re taken when we describe our symptoms.
- Stigma will affect how quickly we’re seen and tested.
- Stigma will affect how we’re treated by the medical professionals who interact with and treat us.
- Stigma will cause some of those providers to assume that, purely due to our body size, we also have underlying health conditions on the list for lower triage priority.
- Stigma may kill us.
And yet the zeitgeist in the body-positive and Health at Every Size communities has consisted almost entirely of:
- How can we make sure that people feel okay eating food during this time?
- How can we ensure that people with eating disorders feel supported?
These are worthy causes, of course, but there are elephants in the room, wearing plus-size clothing and desperately seeking reassurance that they won’t die at the hands of fatphobic healthcare providers. These fat folks are being met with silence. Their cries for help are being ignored.
A terrifying meme made the social media rounds that claimed BMI was being used as a reason to kick people off the list for triage. Like all good urban legends, the source was vague and varied, at first claimed to be “happening in Italy,” then at “a hospital in Seattle.” Despite there being no evidence whatsoever that this has happened anywhere in the world, the meme burned across hundreds of feeds, boosted by an uncritical share by a high-profile, well-meaning HAES proponent.
What else don’t we have actual evidence for? Despite the CDC’s inclusion of BMI as a risk factor, we don’t have any evidence whatsoever that body size is likely to make any difference in the severity of symptoms or recovery prospects of coronavirus victims. None. In fact, the numbers we’ve seen so far show that about 2/3 of people admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 are fat, which is about the proportion of fat people in the general population.
You know how many HAES pros I’ve seen posting about this? Three.
We see you, and we can’t figure out how to make you care. And it’s vital that you care, because you — if you live in a thin body, and especially if you are a healthcare provider in a thin body — are the ones who get listened to. By virtue of your acceptability you have a great big microphone.
In fact, fat folks have laid it all out for you, exactly what you can do to make a difference. Fat and other marginalized folks have created an entire campaign called #NoBodyisDisposable to help people targeted by triage plans during the COVID-19 pandemic — people with disabilities, fat people, old people, people with HIV/AIDS or other illnesses. They — we — demand policies that avoid discrimination in triage.
It sounds like actual work to demand change, but the No Body is Disposable crew have come up with simple, easy, streamlined actions you can take that will actually help fat people. They’ve even put together scripts you can copy and paste to contact your governor, senators, representatives and the HHS (in the U.S.). In addition, you can show your solidarity with the very easy act of posting a solidarity selfie on your social media.
I’ve been posting in various HAES spaces for a while now, asking thin folks to be the heroes I know you can be in this time. And I’m being ignored, while the causes that are easy and pretty and most likely to bring you admiration and marketing advantages and revenue absorb you.
(How many HAES pros have I seen reassuring non-fat folks that it’s okay, don’t worry, you won’t get fat during this time? Dozens.)
If you’re in the HAES community and you’re ignoring our terror — especially if you’re one of the people who posted that horrifying, evidence-less meme — you are throwing away a chance to:
- build bridges with the fat community
- make a real difference in the world
- save actual human lives
Is it because you’re embarrassed by us, fellow #HAES advocates, providers and community? Is it because associating yourselves with our despair might make you and your business look less desirable in public? Is it because you don’t think of us as real people deserving of real allyship? Is it because writing a few letters to your governor, representatives and senators sounds less fun than eating on camera for a primarily thin audience?
I can’t read your heart, but I can read your Instagram posts, and what they tell me is that when push comes to shove, you’d rather shove us out of the picture in favor of your preferred colleagues, collaborators and clientele.
You know why the fat community doesn’t trust you? Because you haven’t earned it.
Let’s dig deep.
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