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Sarah Thompson, founder of Resilient Fat Goddess, writes about body positivity, body liberation, and fat liberation at the intersections of gender, sexuality, and eating disorders. 

The Effect of Weight Stigma on Seeking Medical Treatment

A great deal of larger-bodied people avoid medical care at all costs. This is my story.

 Braving a walk while visiting a friend in Seattle, and not knowing how my foot or body would handle it. Photo by: Me

Braving a walk while visiting a friend in Seattle, and not knowing how my foot or body would handle it. Photo by: Me

A great deal of larger-bodied people avoid medical care at all costs. 

Because it isn’t safe.

I injured my left foot during March 2016. It was painful to stand barefoot. It was slightly less painful with tennis shoes.

I didn’t seek acupuncture for it until 3 months later in June when I finally couldn’t ignore it anymore. By this time, I couldn’t walk longer than 10—15 minutes without being in extreme pain. I couldn’t stand to do my dishes without extreme pain.

Up until this time, I was forcing myself to be physically active, because I thought being active was more important than my healing my foot. You can tell I wasn’t quite in recovery yet.

I sought out acupuncture, because I trusted my providers weren’t going to tell me the solution was to lose weight. This helped a little bit. I’d have some short-term relief. The pain would be reduced for slightly, but always return.

It took me until a year later in June 2017 for me to make an appointment with a doctor trained in natural foot care. I’d only heard good things about this doctor. Yet, I couldn’t believe that someone in my size body would be treated without the suggestion of weight loss as a solution to my foot problem. People go to the doctor with a sore throat and weight loss is used as an intervention. So, I waited a year to pursue this option, hoping that at some point the acupuncture would become more effective.

It was easier to put up with my chronic foot pain, than to deal with a new specialist who might stigmatize my body and receive substandard care.

The new doctor provided with new options, and it took a while for these new interventions to work. I ended up returning to see her in January 2018 to follow-up and request physical therapy. It was this appointment where I learned that I had misunderstood how often to wear the toe spacers that I had purchased back in June. I still couldn’t stand straight without back and hip pain for more than 10-15 minutes even though now my foot was improving. I still was unable to wear any shoes that were not tennis shoes. Often, it hurt my back to lie flat, too.

The only thing that I could determine was that having the foot pain for so long completely disrupted my gait, and caused lower back and hip pain. This was why I was finally going to ask for physical therapy. I was tired of being in pain more often than not, and I had to find out if PT would help. I’m still not sure why this isn’t automatically offered when someone has suffered from pain for so long. I still question if it would have been offered to someone in a thinner body without them having to ask for it.

It took two years to start resolving foot pain, and the resulting disruptive, pain patterns from my initial injury, because I was afraid of being stigmatized at the doctor.  

Two years.

Because I was afraid of being stigmatized and treated poorly for being fat at the doctor.

And I’m not alone.


 

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