Today I’m thinking about the mental load of living as a fat person and how it’s affected by one small example: this Renfrew newsletter mess. (Trigger warnings apply.)
If you live in a smaller body, you can say, “Oh, that’s terrible” and move right along with your life. But if you live in a fat body, here’s what you’re likely to carry with you from this one incident:
1. You’ve just had it confirmed that yes, healthcare providers really do think you’re disgusting, and it’s widespread enough that people like this can say it out loud and it’s not only considered fine, but one of the best newsletter articles this company has ever had.
2. You’ve seen it confirmed that this is really how healthcare providers talk amongst themselves about fat folks.
3. If this is a relatively progressive healthcare company that dabbles in the tenets of health at every size (HAES), what must the rest of them be like?
4. From now on, you’ll be keeping Renfrew’s name in the back of your mind as an unsafe place, adding it to a long list of others.
5. Whenever Renfrew is mentioned, you’ll face choices about speaking up. Do you speak up when you hear healthcare providers mention them as a good place to send fat folks? Do you speak up when a friend mentions them? What will be the personal, reputational and professional consequences of speaking up?
6. If you decide to speak up, you’ll either need to have stored the details of this incident in your memory or remember enough about it to look it up. (And if you do the latter and find that Renfrew has managed to erase it from the internet, you get to look like someone criticizing without evidence.)
7. If you are a fat person with an eating disorder, you now have one less option for treatment — not that you had many to begin with.
And this is just one of the multiple daily incidents of fatphobia that we hear about or experience.
What might this do to an individual’s allostatic load, or “the wear and tear on the body which accumulates as an individual is exposed to repeated or chronic stress?” (per Wikipedia)
How might the therapist who wrote the piece have been affecting her fat patients and their physical, not just mental, health? How might the allostatic loads of the fat people who’ve seen that piece be affected?
How about the allostatic loads of every fat person who’s been in the presence of people who had to take deep breaths and grit their teeth to remain in the same room with us? (That’s all of us, by the way.)
This is why research is beginning to show that weight stigma is actually what’s harmful to health, not fatness.