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The White Doctor Told Me I Was A Fat Black Woman

The White Doctor Told Me I Was A Fat Black Woman
And that I could never be thin and delicate as a white woman
I was tall and lanky as a child, but somewhere between puberty and the end of university, I started putting on weight. I struggled to find a job after my degree and so, to gain my independence, I ended up working in a fast-food restaurant for a few months.
Management there didn’t give employees enough time at lunch to leave the premises so I treated myself to the restaurant’s menu of burgers, tacos, fajitas, and mozzarella sticks for months on end. Needless to say, my weight crept up and before I knew it, I was up a couple of dress sizes.
I went to see a white female nutritionist who was extremely judgmental from the minute she saw me.
«You know, you’re a Black African. With your genetics, you could get pretty obese pretty fast. You must be careful».
I felt a sense of shame as I sat there in front of her. She was tall and skinny, exactly like the white women in all the fashion magazines I voraciously read at the time. I felt embarrassed and averted her gaze.
She stared at me in disgust, before instructing me to start a diet right away and to come back and see her in a few weeks. She told me what I could eat and could not eat. It was a calorie restriction diet. I was so discouraged by the humiliation she had put me through that only did I not start the diet, I also never returned to see her. There is only so much humiliation one can take.
I continued to put on weight despite sometimes depriving myself of food. I recalled being able to eat anything I wanted earlier on in my life. What had happened between the end of university and the food I had ingested at the fast-food restaurant to get me to a place where I couldn’t seem to stop gaining weight.
I went to see another nutritionist. This time, he was a middle-aged white man.
«Oh, you don’t look that fat Mademoiselle, but your Body Mass Index (BMI) is way too high. That’s extremely unhealthy. You haven’t even had children yet, what will happen when you do?»
I sat there facing him, feeling the heat rise in my cheeks. But this time I decided to speak up instead of being fat-shamed into silence.
«Yes, I know I am on the heavier side. This is why I have come to see you. How can I lose weight? I feel that my body is off track since I started consuming fast food. I need to reset it».
«Well first, you need to know you’ll never be skinny. After all, you are an African woman, and so you’re naturally predisposed to be fatter than a delicate, thin white woman. So if you were ever thinking you could get that skinny, get that idea out of your mind immediately».
I was speechless. After he finished preaching nonsense and making me feel inferior to what he considered beautiful: thin, white women, he gave me instructions about what I could eat and could not eat. Again it was calorie restriction and again I knew that wasn’t the diet or me. I got up and left – we scheduled a time to meet in 2 weeks. Needless to say, I never returned.
A few months later, a Senegalese lady who braided my hair told me about a Haitian physician that lived about 45 minutes from my home. She said that thanks to him, she had lost 5 kilos in a few months. She recommended I go see him.
As I sat in the Haitian doctor’s waiting room, I braced myself for another moment of humiliation. I had put on even more weight and was expecting more rude comments. I finally got in to see him and told him about my weight gain.
«Well, it not unusual that one gains some weight when one moves into a different phase of one’s life. I mean, you moved from being a student to being unemployed to a full-time job. It’s a big change and it’s stressful. Your diet has also changed. You’ve moved from eating your mother’s nutritional dishes to processed foods. It’s normal that your body is reacting this way».
I deeply exhaled and fought back tears as he took the time to explain that my situation wasn’t unusual and that together we would find a solution to help me lose the weight. He was understanding and did not try to shame, blame or humiliate me.
«Also, all these things like BMI are based on white male bodies, not black female ones. In fact, all these medical references were never developed taking into account Black bodies. Never feel that if you don’t fit BMI standards that there is something wrong with you. Nothing is wrong with you. Everyone is different», he continued.
He prescribed a diet that made sure I had a sufficient amount of carbs, proteins, and fat each day as well as some physical activity. Within months, I was back to my regular weight.
Over the years I have committed to a sports routine of running, Pilates, and swimming on a daily basis. I know that just by looking at fast food I gain weight so I avoid it. I know that alcohol makes me put on weight fast. I know what foods give me energy and what foods deplete it. I’ve gotten to know my body well.
When I think back to my experience with white doctors, I realize how racist they were. They didn’t take the time to understand why I had gained weight, they immediately fat-shamed and insinuated that I would end up obese. I was a young woman at the time and their words could have wreaked irrevocable havoc had I not met a Black doctor who cared.
When my mixed-race son was 6 years old, our white pediatrician at the time said that he was chubby. She accused him of eating sweets behind our backs. My son never liked sweets – he was more the kid who loved salad and carrots – he still does by the way.
I remember getting into a bitter argument with the doctor because she kept harassing him to admit he ate sweets when we weren’t looking. She had no qualms about fat-shaming a 6-year-old. It turns out that my son, like many children, had a slower metabolism when he was a toddler. Now at age 20, it’s the exact opposite. But that doctor did cause quite a bit of harm because he still remembers how much she badgered him.
All this to say that racism has a sneaky way of hiding in places one doesn’t expect. You would think that medicine where they study anatomy, they wouldn’t be so racist. Unfortunately, in my experience, white doctors are the worst. They fall back on tired stereotypes about Black and brown people. They compare us to white people – white people being the reference of what is beautiful, what is the norm.
White doctors have even asked me why I have flat feet instead of narrow white feet, and all types of nonsense. I’m always reluctant to go see one because I know at one point or another they’ll criticize or make a passive-aggressive statement about my Black body.
Over the years, I have found a Black dermatologist, pediatrician, and general practitioner to fill my and my family’s needs. To support me, my white husband has willingly made the switch too. I’m still on the lookout for more Black specialists because I’ve come to a point where I can no longer take the microaggressions that white doctors feel so comfortable saying to Black patients. I’m sure that if you were in my shoes, you’d feel the same way too.
Thank you for reading my perspective.

 

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Diary Of A Black Woman In A White World

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