When I approach Fatima Cody Stanford, a leading obesity expert at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the first things she does is gently correct my use of obese person, redirecting me to the most neutral obese person instead (and proving, in the process, that fat people are quite capable of playing with the culture of gordofobia). “When we call a person obese, it does not take into account that there is an actual pathological process controlled and regulated by the hypothalamus in the brain that causes each of us to regulate our weight differently,” explains Stanford. “When people look at patients who have obesity, be it mild, moderate or severe, they presume, ‘Oh, it’s something they did to themselves, and they became that way because of something they did.’ We don’t attribute the same thought processing or blame to people with cancer. “
Stanford agrees that physicians, in general, are one of the “worst groups” in terms of perpetuating gordofobia, but is determined to set a different standard of care for their patients. She is concerned with placing obesity within its broader sociocultural context, noting that racial minorities are more likely to be obese in addition to already having a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. “When obese patients come to me and ask if they should get vaccinated, I give them a statement that is an unequivocal yes because the data shows that COVID-19 results are significantly worse for patients who are obese. I will give them all the advice I can to make sure they are better protected against this virulent disease that has affected all of our lives, ”says Stanford.
While medical bias is a risk factor for many, if not most, overweight people, our own internalized fat phobia and our own judgment can be just as psychologically damaging. “At first I thought [my BMI qualifying me for the vaccine] It was ironic because it is possible that I would not have qualified if I had not gained the weight that I had during the pandemic, “says Catherine, 24, who will soon receive her first dose of the vaccine in Brooklyn. “I’m already dreading some of the things that people may say or think about getting vaccinated, not just because I’ve gained weight but also because I’m unemployed. It is very difficult not to feel that being fat and unemployed means that I am useless or lazy. “Catherine is glad to receive the BMI-based vaccine, but is also aware of the dissonance that a society deeply confused by culture has instilled in her. Diet: “It feels weird that I’m apparently being rewarded for failing.”