Have you ever been shamed by a doctor for your size or been prescribed weight loss for completely unrelated symptoms? We sat down with fat discrimination expert Virgie Tovar for her tips on how to advocate for yourself at the doctor’s office.
How to Advocate for Yourself at the Doctor
Research has shown that patients receive poor medical care and treatment due to sizeism and biases within the medical profession. This is a widespread issue amongst plus-size people, even though these issues often feel very isolating and extremely personal. We sat down with Virgie Tovar, author of You Have The Right To Remain Fat and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image, to put together a list of tips to help you feel empowered to get the medical attention and care that you deserve. Think of this as a tool kit to empower people of all sizes to be their biggest health care advocate.
Tip #1: You deserve to have a doctor who listens to you and observes your health holistically.
It is a well-documented issue in the medical field that weight-based biases lead many doctors to simply prescribe weight loss to plus-size patients, without consideration of the individual patient’s circumstances. Weight loss is a go-to prescription for plus-size patients regardless of their symptoms. A disproportionate focus on weight can lead doctors to overlook symptoms indicating other serious, unrelated health issues.” Because many doctors exhibit biases, including weight bias, you may sense this and find that your current doctor isn’t the right fit for you. Natasha shared her story of being treated by biased doctors and even theCURVYcon founder CeCe Olisa recently shared her story too. While there are many great doctors that are happy to respect their patients’ boundaries and see beyond their patients’ size, others are quick to jump to conclusions. If you don’t feel good being around your doctor, it might be a sign that it’s not a good fit. If they don’t hear or accept your boundaries, that is another red flag. If you have a doctor that isn’t open to respecting your boundaries or who pushes back saying things like, “You don’t know what’s best for you,” it might be time to find a new doctor.
Before you book an appointment with a new physician, Virgie recommends checking out Ample, a resource you can use to discover if a doctor’s office is accommodating, as it is full of reviews from other people living in marginalized bodies who rate various businesses on just how accessible they are.
Tip #2: You have the right to medical advice free from fat-negative bias or weight loss recommendations.
While you may want to discuss weight loss or gain with your doctor, you also should be able to receive medical advice purely about the symptoms you came in to discuss, without weight loss being recommended. With so many fat people not being treated properly, it’s important to remember that no matter your size, you should be able to seek the care you need for the symptoms that are on your mind. If you’ve experienced something similar to Natasha’s story, it’s important that you set this boundary with your provider so you can get the care you need and deserve. Virgie offered some language to use if you need to set this boundary with your doctor:
“I need to tell you before we proceed that I do not want to hear about weight loss. I am only here to talk about the symptoms I made the appointment for.”
Similarly, CeCe wrote the sentence she uses to set boundaries with her doctors, “I’m a big girl and while I’m open to hearing your thoughts on my weight, I hope you’ll be able to support me with more than weight loss advice.”
If you feel uncomfortable setting this boundary with your doctor, Virgie suggests role-playing with a friend to get comfortable breaching the topic. Have your friend pretend to be the doctor to practice until it feels natural to do so in a doctor’s office.
Tip #3: You have the right to terminate an appointment at any time, for any reason.
From a young age, we’re taught to listen to and respect figures of authority even in uncomfortable situations. Therefore many of us feel uncomfortable at the idea of terminating an appointment in the middle of the appointment itself. But if you are uncomfortable, in pain, or if you feel that the boundaries you set were violated, you should feel empowered to terminate the appointment. Virgie offered language for two different ways to terminate the appointment:
- “I’m really uncomfortable in this appointment. I’m going to put my clothes back on and leave.”
- “I’m feeling overwhelmed right now. Is it okay to reschedule this appointment?”
Keep in mind that if the doctor asks you to explain yourself, you don’t have to do so. Also, doctors have experienced it all before. This is most likely not the first time that your doctor has had a client walk out from an appointment. For reference, review the patients’ bill of rights to see that you have the right to refuse medical treatment that’s recommended by your physician and that you should be able to work with your doctor on mutually agreeable terms.
If you’ve been prescribed weight loss for symptoms that are completely unrelated or have ever been made to feel unworthy in a doctor’s office, remember that you deserve a high level of care. You are worth it, today, exactly as you are now, in the body you are currently in. Want more tips for advocating for yourself at the doctor’s office? Check out Virgie’s post about practicing medical self-advocacy, and CeCe’s story on speaking up to her doctor.
Header Image: BiancoBlue/Dreamstime.com
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