Size prejudice hurts us all – no matter what size we are.

Another reader writes:

Fat Prejudice Kills Thin Women Too

I work at a university where staff are given a membership at the school gym as one of our benefits. A few months ago I was in the weight room working out when I overheard a conversation between two of our better professors, let’s call them Sue and Nancy. Nancy told Sue that she was looking good lately, had she lost weight? Yes, said Sue! She’d been working out harder lately and had lost a lot of weight. Now, Sue’s not a fat woman by any means, so “a lot” is a relative quantity. But still, I remembered the conversation.

A couple of weeks ago the university received an email. Sue had died suddenly. I was struck by the loss of an excellent teacher and role model to our students.

It fell to the gossip network for me to learn what had happened. Sue had felt numbness in one of her arms and had gone to get it checked out. Shockingly, she was diagnosed with cancer. Some have said it was lung cancer, others have said it wasn’t. She underwent treatment, and perhaps because of the treatment experienced a severe stroke. Within a few weeks of her diagnosis she was dead at 35.

When I heard this my mind went back to that conversation in the gym. What if her weight loss wasn’t the result of diet and exercise? What if it was the first symptom of her cancer? Not knowing her closely, I have no way to know. But I wonder…

And I wonder how often weight loss, which can be a symptom of cancer and a host of other serious diseases, is ignored or welcomed! How few women of any size would see weight loss as a problem, and ask a doctor to try to find a cause? If fat is something to hate, no matter your size, to want to remove or reduce, then a person is very unlikely to see sudden weight loss negatively.

Could Sue’s cancer have been detected earlier? If it had, could she have faced a more gentle treatment that wouldn’t have killed her?

I think this is a moment to reflect that size prejudice endangers us all, no matter what size we are.

Leave a comment


  1. Liz

     /  May 18, 2011

    Wow, so true. I never thought about this. Because thin=healthy, weight loss must always=health. You even hear people say, “the best thing about being sick is that I lost so much weight!” So sad. I hope that wasn’t the case with Sue, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened to many other people.

  2. Anna

     /  May 18, 2011

    That’s very sad. I often wonder about this too. Last eyar I lost a rather significant amount of weight, and people were saying “congratulations” and stuff at me, then didn’t understand why I didn’t take it as a compliment.

  3. There are two things that need to happen in U.S. medicine for people to get the treatment they deserve and sometimes literally need to save their lives. First, medical treatment must be available to all people regardless of ability to pay. Second, the bigotry which keeps certain people, such as heavy people, from seeking treatment, must end. People should not have to feel ashamed to seek medical advice, no matter what their size.

  4. My husband went on a diet of rice cakes and cokes and thought he could lose weight that way. He would eat rice cakes and drink cokes all day then eat a normal dinner. To my amazement he lost weight weight – 20 lbs in a month. 3 months later he died of esophogeal cancer.

  5. lilacsigil

     /  May 19, 2011

    Rapid weight change in either direction is a danger sign (in my case, rapid weight gain was cancer, but I’m still here!) but we are so culturally accustomed to reading “weight gain LAZY AND BAD” and “weight loss VIRTUOUS AND GOOD” that actual, medically recognised danger signs are ignored.

  6. Mel

     /  May 28, 2011

    You make such a good point with this post. Like me, my mom is a fat woman, like my grandmother and great-grandmother were. She has a history of weight cycling, and in 2008 she lost a gigantic amount of weight because she had lost her appetite. Was she concerned? Yes.. but also thrilled! At last she could shop in all the stores where nothing had ever fit her. At last she was a “medium”! I was very concerned because I didn’t think she looked well at all, and it reminded me of when my grandma got sick and had lost a lot of weight.

    In the end she was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer which had spread several parts of her body.

    Happily 2 years on past a major surgery and good recovery my mom is living with cancer and doing pretty well. She has regained quite a bit of weight and laments it constantly.

    The lesson it has left me with is that if I start losing a lot of weight without effort, I am going to think that something is wrong.

    • My brother Scott wasn’t very fat, he was a coach and had been an athlete and sports nut his whole life. In high school he did crazy shit to play sports: gain weight in the fall to play football, lose it again in the spring to play baseball… he used to do heavy landscaping with his shirt off and no sunscreen, then in his 20’s had to have two subcutaneous masses removed from the topside his shoulder …
      He was 33 when he had a sudden dramatic weight loss, his doctors congratulated him. A year later he started pissing blood, you guessed it. He didn’t live to 35, kidney cancer.

      I am so sad for him, his wife and child, and the hundreds of people who loved him … and I’m pissed as well with the medical establishment for being that fucking blind.

  7. Rislaja

     /  July 19, 2011

    A couple years ago, when I was nineteen, I started losing weight rapidly. I dropped ~40 pounds over the course of three months or so. I was worried about it, but was told by everyone, including doctors that it was nothing bad, that it was so good that I was losing weight. Finally, I stole my mom’s blood sugar meter. You can guess the results…I gained all the weight I’d lost (from ketoacidosis!) back as soon as my newly-diagnosed diabetes started coming under control.

    • This happened to a relative of mine. She didn’t even TELL her doctor because she didn’t think anything was wrong. Fortunately the ER was able to diagnosis it quickly when her husband dragged her in (nearly unconscious).

  8. amanda

     /  August 17, 2011

    Years ago, I had food poisoning that totally emptied my intestinal system out. Completely. On day four of this torment, I finally felt well enough to go sit in the sun in my community garden. I was unlocking the gate when a neighbor walked up and started complimenting my weight loss. His wife (who is a fairly average 50 year old, but most definitely bigger than me) was a little more clued in, if not to my pallor and vacant eyes, at least to the fact that I was super uncomfortable for his barrage of “compliments.” She probably also noticed that I was having a really hard time getting the gate unlocked, I was that shaky. I just wanted some sun. I finally blurted out that I hadn’t held down more than water for days and he shut up, but … really? I’m prettier after four days of vomiting?

  9. K

     /  March 8, 2012

    I’m 21 years old. I had been overweight (about 20 lbs, I am 5’11) throughout high school. But when I started college, I lost 35 lbs in my freshmen and sophomore years. I thought it must have just been the extra movement, walking across a large campus daily and climbing two flights of stairs to my dorm. Everyone complimented my new thin physique and I didn’t really think about the cause, I was just happy. My junior year I started to notice my heart racing for no reason. I would nearly pass out climbing stairs too quickly, and couldn’t go to the gym. Turns out, I have severe hyperthyroidism, which had also caused the weight loss. Now I’m on medication and back up to my original weight, but I can and do exercise and my heart is healthier than it was when I was 35lbs thinner. I had had symptoms two years before my condition got severe, but I never questioned the weight loss.

  1. “Şişman Olduğun İçin” ve Doktorlarımın Söylediği Diğer Yalanlar* – ezgi epifani

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