Get Me To The Emerald City

Musings on life, art, body image, books, belief, and being a geek grrl in a girly-girl world.

Respect: Priceless. No, really.

The other day, the BBC published an article on the fact that many Type 2 diabetes patients in the UK are failing to get essential tests, which could help them control their condition and avoid serious complications.  During a Facebook discussion about this,  the question came up as to whether fat-shaming (because we know how indissolubly linked fat and Type 2 are in most people’s minds now, despite evidence that it’s not that simple, and we also know doctors are no strangers to fat-hate) might put people off attending clinics.

There was some agreement that a good, respectful, non-shaming relationship with one’s doctor is essential to controlling Type 2.  But there were also those who balked at the mention of respect.  ‘Respect needs to be earned!‘ declared one contributor – his implication being that it’s earned by weight loss, and that fat patients therefore had no right to expect respectful treatment from their health providers.

I disagree, obviously, but since this is a common assumption – that fat people should lose weight, not just to gain decent medical treatment, but to have any kind of respect from the world in general – I thought I’d look at it further here.

I’m not talking, here, about the deferential ‘respect’ some of us were raised to have for our elders; or the respect you have for someone of admirable achievements, like music or brain surgery.    Those are specialized kinds.  What I mean is the kind of respect that dictionaries on both sides of the pond equate with the giving of attention; consideration; due regard for the feelings, wishes or rights of others; avoidance of harm or interference.  We’re talking basic human decency.

Perhaps you get a clearer idea of why that kind of decency is so essential if you look at its opposite – contempt.  What does it look like when someone treats you with contempt?   Plenty of fat people can tell you.   Constant scrutiny of your body, your clothing choices and the foods you buy and eat; assumptions about your lifestyle, and angry denial and accusations of lying if you don’t fit those assumptions; catcalls in the street; surreptitious photos of your body uploaded online for mockery; being blamed for everything from the state of the economy to global warming – those are are few of the ways contempt for fat people manifests in everyday life.

The medical profession should, you’d think, be slightly more compassionate than this.  Even so, there are times when a doctor or other health practitioner’s views on the body size of a patient override more basic considerations.  This site recounts a few of those horror stories.

The sad thing is that medical bodies already have their own ethical guidelines, and most of them are common-sense ways of dealing with people that could be applied to most situations in life outside the surgery:

Be polite and considerate.

Treat people as individuals.

Don’t assume you know everything about them.

Respect their privacy.

Listen to them.

Don’t let your own prejudices get in the way of how you treat them.

If you screw up, be honest about it and say sorry.

None of these are particularly big or complex or difficult.   I’d have trouble thinking of any situation in which you couldn’t apply them, and any person you couldn’t apply them to.   The best teachers would apply them to children.  I know a former prison chaplain who’d certainly apply them (while taking the necessary steps to protect himself and others, yes, but even so) to some of society’s most dangerous people.   And I also know that good pathologists, and undertakers, would argue that (OK, with a few tweaks) you don’t even have to still be alive to merit this kind of treatment.   As I said above: basic human decency, and something from which no human being is exempt.

What, then, is someone saying when they argue that you have to earn this kind of treatment?   It may sound extreme, but in mind of what I just said, I believe they’re saying something close to this: that until you’ve done the earning – that is, fulfilled whatever criteria they demand – in their eyes, you don’t yet qualify as human.   That’s a profoundly dangerous thing to think about anyone.

That’s why I think our friend in the debate, the guy who thinks we need to ‘earn’ his respect, needs to do some hard thinking.  See, in a free society, he has the right not to like fat people, or to agree with what we say.  But it’s still his choice as to how to treat us – and it is a choice.   Neither he nor anyone else gets to turn round and say we’re somehow to blame for how they choose to treat us.  We ‘earn’ respect, if you like, just by existing.  As does everyone.

And I’m glad that (as far as I know) he doesn’t work in the medical profession himself.  Because while there are doctors out there who take his point of view, we really don’t need any more people like that – in medicine, or in the world in general.

“But what will they think of me?”

I set up this blog a couple of weeks back, and I’ve been pondering since then what to actually write as a first post.  There’s stuff I have in my head that can wait for later; but what I want to talk about here and now is the nature of what I’m actually doing.  Blogging itself.

See, I was raised in one of those fairly conservative (OK, very conservative – 1950s values in the 1980s) would-be middle-class British families where there was one overriding rule: You Do Not Wash Your Dirty Linen In Public.  Most of the time, in fact, you didn’t wash your dirty linen in private either.  Or even your clean linen.  Actually exposing anything about your feelings or personality was very much frowned upon.

“You should never write anything down,’ I was solemnly told at the age of ten.  ‘If anyone reads what you’ve written, they’ll think you’re weird.”

Despite this, I’ve always written things down; always kept notebooks or journals of some kind.  Because even if your thoughts are never going to be revealed to anyone, you need that place to work them out.

Blogging, because of its public nature, is a little different, because it’s intended to be out there for all to see.  Even exposing myself, I’m still hiding behind a name which isn’t my real one; I may be discussing some fairly personal stuff here, and I don’t want to expose the identities of certain other people who may be involved in some of this.   Yet, still, there’s that worry: What will they think of me?

The only way to overcome that, I suppose, is to put my cards on the table and come straight out with the dirty linen;  the stuff I’m not ‘supposed’ to discuss.   The stuff that back home, would certainly have gotten me classed as ‘weird’; the stuff that, these days, I know people are most likely to go judgy on me about.

I’m fat.  A UK size 18, to be precise.  I couldn’t tell you how much I weigh as I don’t own any scales.  An ‘in-betweenie’, a small fats as far as the fat community goes, but fat nevertheless.  Since I hold the ‘other F word’ to be a mere physical descriptor which does not imply any of the usual negative baggage that our culture attaches to that word, expect to find me using it in this context.  I don’t diet, and I’m not interested in anyone’s reasons why I ‘should’ diet.

I have intermittent mental health issues: specifically, depression and anxiety.  The depression I’ve been successfully treated for, and it only rears its ugly head every few years; the anxiety is something I have to deal with on an ongoing basis.  It’s also possible, given some of my mental peculiarities going back to childhood, that I may have Asperger syndrome, although I’ve never been formally diagnosed.   I’ve come to the conclusion that I will probably never be able to navigate social situations as well as many of my peers.  Sometimes this worries me, sometimes it doesn’t.

I’m an eclectic pagan.  That’s the best description of my beliefs I can come up with, having been through phases of Buddhism, Wicca and a number of other belief systems and settled on something that’s not exactly any of them.  I don’t mind what anyone else believes as long as they a) don’t try to impose it on me or other people, and b) don’t start thinking they know what I, or other people, believe without having taken the time and trouble to enquire.   This has happened in the past, and is still the reason I don’t keep in touch with certain people.

Anything else?  I’m a pack rat with very little sense of domesticity.  I’m a survivor of emotional and verbal abuse, from various quarters.  I’m divorced, but, I’m pleased to say, happily remarried for twelve years now.  My husband and I have chosen to be child-free.   I’m a feminist, and firmly pro-choice.   I’m straight, but I absolutely support GLBT rights.   I have two tattoos, both of Kurt Cobain (long story).  I like playing around with clothes and makeup, sometimes, but I don’t believe it’s my obligation to attempt to be eye candy for every passing male.   I’ve been badly drunk precisely four times in my life, and hated it.   I’d much rather read a book than go out partying.  (Most of the time.)

And, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe, what ‘they’ think of me (and who is this mysterious ‘they’ anyway?  Anyone that actually matters?) isn’t nearly as important as who I actually am, to myself.    Not that this personal stuff is the kind of thing I’m going to be blogging about all the time.  Just that coming out with it now makes everything else that little bit less scary.

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