I Didn’t Mean You

An acquaintance of mine posted a fat joke on their online journal:

Doctor: At a healthy weight, I should be able to feel your ribs.

Fat Patient: Do McRibs count? What about baby back?

Personally, I think the joke is unfunny for many reasons — relying on tropes and relying on painfully obvious punchlines, to name a couple. But it was the commentary that got me the most:

If you’re fat enough that your doctor is lecturing you about your weight, it is time to cut out the McDonald’s, amirite?

Which, as someone who’s had doctors and other health care professionals lecture me about my weight in any number of circumstances (while I was eating too few calories, without knowing how much I ate or exercised, as I’ve continued to increase my physical strength and endurance, in the absence of any blood pressure/blood glucose/cholesterol/etc. readings that would indicate health problems), I’m pretty much no longer willing to accept doctors — or joke tellers or joke commentators — at their word. So I replied:

Not sure if you remember, but there was a time when I broke my foot (slipping on a household object) and was first thing lectured by the ER doc that I needed to lose 50 pounds. I’m fat: some doctors are prejudiced against fat. Sometimes, hearing the weight lecture means nothing useful in terms of changing diet or exercise.

For whatever it’s worth, I’m kind of over the “fat lectures for concerns that are incredibly likely not fat=related” phenomenon. I haven’t received other types of fat lectures from health care providers, so I don’t know how I’d react to those. Shit, maybe the novelty would amuse me.

I’m also kind of over people pretending my body size is not a real thing in the world. My clothing size is firmly plus, and my BMI has both feet planted in the obese camp. Those are the cold hard numbers of women’s fashion (always So. Consistent. from brand to brand) and weight divided by height-squared (with a coefficient if not using metric). There’s freedom in calling a body what it is without stigma, but there’s also stigma unacknowledged, which is why it’s not so great when someone’s response to that is:

I didn’t mean you! I was talking about people who don’t do anything about their weight then act surprised when docs call them on it.

Well, yes — all of that is a legitimate description of me.

First, WTF? I’m honestly not sure how that’s a legitimate conclusion from the conversation.

Second, I’m not doing anything about my weight right now, except eating in a way that fuels my life and exercising (almost) as much as I want in a way that contributes to both physical and mental health. My weight has not substantially changed in something like 10-11 months, which is as long as I’ve been keeping (basic) track.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, when someone calls into play — and indeed legitimizes — a form of social stigma and denial of medical care that I myself have experienced, then yes, you did mean me. Because I’m pretty much there in most of the justifications I’ve heard:

  • I’m talking about obese people.
  • I’m talking about people who don’t try to lose weight.
  • I’m talking about people who claim they’re healthy in spite of what they weigh.

You know — me.

Other people don’t get to pick and choose the parts of me they are or aren’t talking about — or to.

McDonald's McDouble close


I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

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6 comments on “I Didn’t Mean You
  1. That IS a terrible joke. Would anyone laugh at that?!

    In this case, maybe “I didn’t mean you!” translates to “Damn, I didn’t expect anyone to call me out, and now I have to scramble for an explanation!”

    • Tori says:

      Yup. I’ve encountered a fair number of folks who make weight or size related comments, apparently thinking one or more of the following:

      • Fat people are not fully recognized human beings but are basically humorous or distancing tropes.
      • Not recognizing that some of the people they know (and care about) are fat.

      When they are greeted with the reality of these assumptions, it can spur some backpedaling.

  2. Seriously, what a stupid joke. I have been inside any fast-food place for over 5 years. And that did precisely nothing for my weight.

    I’m not surprised that such jokes appear, though. I recently had a reader on my blog talk about staying thin as “a major achievement.” With this kind of mentality, a healthy discussion of weight is still very far away from us.

    • Tori says:

      I always roll my eyes when people ask how often I’ve been inside a fast food restaurant recently because they seem to want to cite that alone as “proof” that my diet is loaded with too much calories/fat/sodium/etc. In reality, the single item I’m most likely to order at any restaurant, fast food included? Black coffee.

  3. Miriam says:

    People acting surprised when doctors call them out about their weight? Does that even happen? I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to be overweight and not realize it in this society.

    • Tori says:

      I have been surprised a few times, but largely when doctors have attributed to my weight something that was likely or almost certainly not weight related. For example, bad periods (which I’ve had since I was borderline underweight as an adolescent and which turned out to be endometriosis) and the previously mentioned broken foot (which was caused by slipping on a vibrator and going airborne for a little bit). So it’s not that I was surprised that those doctors mentioned it at all but that they used it as an explanation where it didn’t make so much sense.

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