Friday, 11 May 2018

Grey’s Anatomy, WLS, and the Thin/Fat Double Standard

facepalmI was watching an old episode of Grey’s Anatomy (I think it might even be from the first season.) That illustrates perfectly an issue that is still happening in the double standard of care between thin and fat people.

In the episode, a girl with an extremely critical and overbearing mother is discovered to have gone to Mexico to have secret Weight Loss Surgery. (Note that this practice is still happening, for example, it was recently discovered that the owners of LuLaRoe were profiting from sending fat consultants to Mexico to have their stomachs amputated.)

The players here are: Dr. Bailey, the resident who is supervising Dr. Grey, who is an intern. Claire is the patient. Let’s take it bit by bit.

After discovering that the girl had surgical scars,  Dr. Grey gets the required scans and shows them to Dr. Bailey where they note that she has had a stomach amputation.

Bailey: Is this girl fat?

Grey: Not at all, she’s a normal college kid.

WT Actual F?  “Normal college kid” is not the opposite of “fat girl!” Fat college kids are normal college kids (inasmuch as “normal college kid” is really a thing.)  But it sets up the foundation for the rest of this episode which is something that the brilliant Deb Burgard first pointed out to me – that we prescribe to fat people the same things that we diagnose and treat in thin people.


Next we move to a conversation with the parents:

Grey: Gastric bypass is a procedure normally done on obese patients to help them lose weight.

Dad: Claire? She doesn’t need to lose weight.

Mom: Are you kidding? This means the world to her. But it is so typical of this girl to take the easy way out. She’s done it with everything since she was a little kid.

Bailey: Mrs. Rice, nothing about this is going to be easy. She’s gonna face a lifelong struggle with malnutrition unless she has surgery to reverse the procedure.

Note that if the girl was fat, they would not only be fine with a lifelong struggle with malnutrition, they would have recommended the procedure rather than freaking out and insisting it be reversed.

Next Dr. Grey is explaining to Claire that her parents have agreed that the best option is to reverse the surgery and she balks. Dr. Grey explains that there are “serious complications” and says “This is about your health.” Claire responds “But I’d rather be thin.”

This is supremely frustrating to me because when fat people tell doctors that they aren’t interested in being thin if it means risking serious complications, we are scoffed at. But here it’s shown as absolutely tragic that a thin girl would ask for the exact treatment that a fat girl would be pushed to accept.

During the surgery to reverse the procedure the doctors speak to each other:

Bailey: This poor girl, what was she thinking

Grey: She wants her mother’s approval, she wants to please her.

Bailey (sadly): and this damaage is the result?

Again, not to put too fine a point on it, but if a fat girl agreed to undergo this dangerous, often deadly, procedure to please her mother, doctors would congratulate the mom for helping her daughter make the right decision.

Dr. Grey tells Claire’s mom “I think Clarie is killing herself to please you.”

Then Dr. Grey lets Claire know that she’s called social services to help her parents, telling her:

“You don’t know this yet, but life isn’t supposed to be like this. It’s not supposed to be this hard.”

“Killing herself” by having a surgery that is recommended to fat people literally every day. And I can’t help but note that the behavior that we are all supposed to see as overbearing, overly critical, and harmful from Claire’s mom (because it is!) is behavior that is the recommended treatment for fat people, even by (severely misguided) bio-ethicists.

And I’m pretty sure what she meant to say was “life isn’t supposed to be like this FOR THIN PEOPLE. It’s not supposed to be this hard FOR THIN PEOPLE,” because doctors and plenty of other people seem to want life to be precisely this hard for fat people.

I’m here to tell you that if you are a fat person facing medical fatphobia and doctors who would rather risk your life to make most of you disappear, than help you live your best life in a fat body, life ISN’T supposed to be like this. It’s NOT supposed to be this hard. Your body is never the problem, fatphobia always is.

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