My Psychic Commenter – Fat People and Disabilities

What a Load of CrapI received this comment a few days ago (presented here exactly as it was sent to me, all of the ellipses are part of the original comment)

“honestly, I am happy to see that you love your body no matter the size…..but… being fat puts alot of extra pressure on your joints…so you might not be “unhealthy” but you won’t be able to walk when you’re older….”

Her concern for me is staggering, bless her heart (and I say that in the true Southern tradition.)  You know, so many ableist psychics leave comments here but none of them ever give me lottery numbers. Jerks.

So even if this was a forgone conclusion, the worst thing that I could do is attempt weight loss since the vast majority of weight loss attempts (including all of mine) end in weight gain.  In fact, it was only when I stopped trying to lose weight that my weight finally stabilized.  But to me the way that this is most messed up has nothing to do with that.

It’s possible that I won’t be able to walk when I’m older.  It’s possible that I won’t be able to walk tomorrow.  If that happens, I’ll join a number of people who currently can’t walk.

People using the possibility of disability as a way to try to threaten/manipulate the behavior of fat people is ableist, it’s totally fucked up, and it needs to stop.  People with disabilities/disabled people (there are people who identify as one, the other or both) are not cautionary tales. (To be clear, while I do want to look at the intersections of these oppressions, I am not trying to compare the oppressions that are faced by each.)

At the intersection of ableism and fatphobia lies a mountain of bullshit.  Whether it’s suggesting that fat people shouldn’t want to be fat because then they might become disabled, or suggesting that the world should be made more difficult to navigate for fat people with disabilities, the idea is that there is only one “good” body and any deviation from that is something that is bad and to be avoided.  The truth is that it’s not people’s bodies that disable or other them, it’s a society that is built to accommodate only one type of body and that treats other bodies like some kind of aberration or inconvenience, refusing to accommodate them.  So essentially people who “threaten” fat people with disability are saying “We’re going to continue to oppress disabled people/people with disabilities, so you don’t want to become one.”  So. Fucked. Up.

This is the faulty logic that leads to a culture where it’s ok to make seats that businesses know don’t accommodate everyone, and then blame the people they chose not to accommodate  – and encourage others to blame them – sometimes going so far as to charge them more to access the same service.  This is the big steaming pile of bullshit that leads to people suggesting that fat people with disabilities/disabled fat people don’t “deserve” mobility devices because it’s “their own fault” – as if the idea that people should have to prove that their disabilities aren’t their fault in order to be accommodated isn’t abjectly horrifying. This is what leads to the terrible treatment of disabled fat people/fat people with disabilities  (taking pictures of them without their consent, making fun of them, yelling at them as they pass etc.) that causes fat people whose lives could be improved by mobility aids to choose not to use them to avoid shaming and stigma.

People of different sizes and abilities exist and it doesn’t matter why.  To me it is far more important to create a world that accommodates as many people as possible, than to try to pit us against each other, or justify lack of accommodation as something that is for “our own good.”

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30 thoughts on “My Psychic Commenter – Fat People and Disabilities

  1. I saw that comment on your blog. And I call it BS – I see a lot of older people, not of the slim kind, who DO walk. They might not be able to compete with Usain Bolt – but then who can? – and they might not look “elegant” (a judging term!) while moving, but they do it. So the comment is BS.
    But I know this is not your concern with this kind of comment. Your post is about not trying to put up one “weaker link” of society against another and to ask from society to embrace all kinds. And right you are.

  2. Awesome post……thank you for sharing this. This is a very appropriate response to her absurd (but very commonly said) comment about joints and knee problems. Joint and knee pain typically occurs when you get older (surprise, surprise!)

  3. My Great Aunt was 99 when she passed away, she was tall and thin, spent the last 5 years of her life with everything failing, except her mind until the last couple of years, she was bed ridden for about 10 years and had mobility problems for about 5-10 years before that. My Grandmother was in her 80’s when she passed – she was short, stout and temporally adrift due to senility but she could still get about under her own power until very near the end. They were sister who looked nothing alike and their old age was very different. Isn’t it strange that every individual can be very different.

    Both got very good care but in the end nobody is living for ever.

    1. My grandma was 92 when she died last year, and she was basically bed bound for the last couple years of her life. She had a walker, and basically the only distance she walked was from her bed to the toilet (which was in the room), and from her bed to the dining room (which was down the hall). She was one of those who never took care of her, and had atrophied muscles in various parts of her body, and we all thought she’d be the first to go. She hung on the longest. In the last year before she died she had more trouble getting into the car, so we decided it wasn’t worth it, taking her to appointments. Other family members took her to a restaurant down the block from her nursing home, but she had to be in a wheel chair since she couldn’t walk that far.

      The nurses said that these outings weren’t good for her since older people take longer to recover from the cold, and this was a major affair for her. She was also on oxygen.

      My grandad’s health only declined in the last year of his life, requiring constant hospitalization, and a walker. In the final week of his life he couldn’t communicate at all or lift a drink, and he had to have 2 orderlies lift him from a chair to the bed again. Really sad.

      My grandad had been a big guy his whole lift doing yardwork and such, while my grandma was small, and shrunk over time, losing a whole foot to osteoporosis. None of their conditions were based on weight, but genetics and longitude.

  4. This reminds me of disability activists I know who use the term “temporarily able-bodied” instead of “able-bodied” in order to put emphasis on the fact that a lack of disabilities is always, for all people, something that can change in a moment. Or change slowly over time.
    A person could be injured and disabled in an accident, develop a disabling health condition, and become disabled due to age related issues.

  5. Yup. I’ve recently had some problems with my lower back. I was nervous when I first went to my chiro, because I was braced for being fat shamed. She has never once mentioned my weight. She asked me a lot of questions about the kinds of movement that I do and has suggested certain activities, but not one word about my weight (yay!)

    When I was halfway through the series of chiro appointments I mentioned something to a colleague at work, and he told me that he has the exact same problem that I do. We’re about the same age, but he’s thin. I have since talked to several people of all shapes and sizes who have had a similar issue. Funny how that works!

    It basically boils down to my core muscles being weak and my hamstrings being tight. The muscles in my hips and lower back are quite tired of taking up the slack and are now super quick to complain. My chiro-assigned regimen outside of her treatments is: walk regularly on as flat a route as I can find, gradually increasing the distance, stretches for my hamstrings, drink enough water, and changes to the way I sit so that my hip muscles aren’t engaged (plus sit on the chair with less-soft cushions.) Other than the instructions about sitting, all of that is pretty much along the lines of “healthy habits will make you feel better.”

    1. Gosh, it’s almost as if the problem were in the muscles that hold up your non-reducible bones and associated tendons and ligaments, not in the social acceptability of the surrounding fat!

      May this chiro eventually go on to a teaching position somewhere big.

    2. Hmm, I bet I have the same issue as you. I have a job where I sit at a computer all day. I tend to sit cross legged on the couch when I’m on it. My calves are super tight and the back of my leg feels tight, and my back seems to get cranky at the slightest thing. Did she tell you to do any strength exercises or just the stuff above?

  6. Lousy knees run in one side of my family. Fat or thin, nearly everyone on my mother’s side of the family wound up with really weak knees that lead to pain and potential mobility problems. One of my brothers got those knees. He’s had pain and occasional minor mobility issues since he was about sixteen. He’s spent a lot of time telling me that since I’m much fatter than he is, clearly my knees are more messed up than his… except that they aren’t. I got the knees from my dad’s side, which tend to be built to last really, really well.

    Now I have had some intermittent pain in my right knee over the past twelve years or so. There have even been a couple days when I really had to just sit with my leg up and not try to walk anywhere. As it happens, I know precisely why that knee sometimes acts up and it has nothing to do with my weight. It has everything to do with the time I tripped over the cat on my way downstairs, wrenched my right knee really, really badly, and had no insurance or money to visit a doctor to get it properly cared for.

    Ultimately, though, whether I had an accident or whether I simply inherited the Heitfeldt knees is immaterial. Neither of those circumstances is caused by my circumference. Neither could be cured by losing weight, even if it were likely that I could lose enough to look thin and keep it off.

    Joints are strong, but fragile things. People injure themselves and lose mobility while rock climbing, and playing football, and in car or bicycle accidents every day. People pull the least socially desirable trait in the family genetic lottery. Just about the only thing I can guarantee when I see someone having difficulty walking is that this is probably not something they are doing on purpose because they think it’s fun. The question at hand is not whether they brought it on themselves, but how to best help them navigate a world not set up for people who need mobility aids.

    Let’s face it. Nearly everyone will have a mobility issue at some point in their lives. Whether it’s permanent or temporary, genetic or accidental, you will at some point in your life use a cane, crutches, a wheelchair, or a scooter. Whether it’s crutches while your sprained ankle heals or a scooter because of heart failure or prosthetic legs because you were born without flesh and bone ones, it’s just about getting from one place to another. That is something nobody should ever be ashamed to try to do.

    1. Darn cats. Mine tries to do that nearly every time I go down the stairs. Luckily he’s very predictable so I take 2 steps down, wait for the kitty express to go zooming by, then continue.

      1. Oh I’m very good at avoiding the Kitty Express! This kitty, however, loved to sleep on the step right up against the riser above him. He wasn’t there when I was coming up the steps and I entirely failed to look over the top of the huge pile of laundry I was carrying when I started down five minutes later. That resulted in my stepping on him, him shooting off like he had a rocket jet pack… and me tumbling down half a flight of stairs only to land squarely on my right knee.

        All in all, it could have been a lot worse. I didn’t break my leg or my neck, and the cat – while traumatized – was uninjured.

        He was also a great deal more careful of where he slept for about three days.

  7. To your psychic commenter I say, “Bite me!”

    Really, it’s a given that fat persons, as they get older, won’t be able to walk due to joint stress? Being unable to walk stems from complete lack of activity or injury or disease – regardless of weight. Unless the weight was gained over night, the joints do adapt to gradual increases of greater loads placed upon them. Also everybody’s joints age and develop aches and pains – regardless of weight.

    I’m sorry, but there are loads of older weightlifters who continue to heft the very heavy weights just fine. They do adapt their training to protect their joints (yeah, I got experience with this) yet don’t shy away from the heavier weights. Take care of the joints and they will take care of you.

    From what I understand, Ms. Chastain, you are training for an Ironman-yes? And you are an active person besides this training-yes? And I assume you will continue to remain active-yes? So down the line, barring accident or disease (sincerely hope you incur neither one!), your joints should be able to handle walking just fine.

  8. Great post Ragen…and I think you’re psychic! I am very fat and very disabled and have been in a long battle with the Social Security Admin to raise my disability payments. I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes but I highly suspect they blame me being fat for my problems when that couldn’t be further from the case.

  9. I work in a retail store with a man whom, for purposes of anonymity, I will call Judgy McJudgerson. Judgy has many excellent qualities, but has internalized fat phobia to a great extent. He stares at big people and remarks to whomever is in the area that, “It’s just like alcoholism. They can’t stop eating. The addiction is too strong.” Fat person in a wheelchair? “She’s fat. That’s her disability. That’s all that’s wrong with her.” This despite the fact that Judgy has NO IDEA why that person is in a wheelchair. It’s none of his business. His business is to wait on that person and see they get what they want, not to editorialize on their appearance.

    Possibly the worst was when a woman fell and he commented that he had no sympathy at all for her, she brought it on herself.

    I recently found that his sizeism is also sexist–we have a big delivery guy who looks like he might be Hawaiian. Judgy says, “He’s got to be Samoan! It’s genetic–there’s nothing he could do to lose that weight!” This probably also is ableist, as the delivery guy in question is also extremely strong.

    Yes, I have tried to air my point of view to Judgy, but with poor results. I usually just shake my head and walk away these days. I also point out that I firmly believe I have gained over 80 pounds in my efforts to lose weight over the years, but if you believe all fat people have an addiction and that thinness is a moral choice and won’t hear my point of view–well, in Ragen’s wise words, bite me.

    1. Sounds like Judgey is creating a bit of an uncomfortable workplace. Were I in your position (but I can be a harsh and mouthy person), I might say something to the boss…or even directly to Judgey, like, “gee, if that’s how you talk about them, I wonder what you say about me when I’m out of earshot.” While we may not be able to change his views, he can be schooled in the reality that some things can’t be said aloud at work without consequence.

    2. I dunno, harassment anyone? This sounds like Judgey is creating a hostile environment for you and others. Abusive as well.

  10. I was at my 5:30a weightlifting class this morning, and the instructor, who is thin, was talking about her son’s serious ankle sprain. She mentioned that her son’s athletic trainer had referred them to an orthopedist, and then she laughed, because “everyone in our family has seen him”. She proceeds to outline her family’s series of “blown-out ACLs”, tendon tears, etc. (These kinds of injuries are laughably common in the town where I live, a university town in the middle of the mountains where everyone seems to ski, hike, bike, ultra-marathon, etc.) All I could think as she was talking was that her (likely) thin and certainly athletic family had already incurred more orthopedist costs this year than I have in my whole life. (Spoiler alert: I have to date NO orthopedist costs, although I fully recognize that luck and genetics play a huge role in that.)

    It doesn’t make me better than her and her family, of course, but it’s interesting. Adventure sports are not without physical tolls, and yet those injuries are always held up like a badge of honor or something.

  11. *gah* — i used to swallow that line, you know, about the joints, even when i was already familiar with size acceptance. i did blame my weight for my increasing knee and ankle problems, though i suspected there might have been some genetic component, since other people in my family had bad knees regardless of their weight. but any weight gain did seem to exacerbate the problems. it made sense, from the standpoint of kinematics.

    then i discovered weight training. which strengthened the muscles surrounding my knees and ankles. surprise: no more joint problems, without any weight loss whatsoever. looking back at my family, the people with knee problems regardless of weight lived mostly sedentary lives, not much exercise. so i guess we have genetically somewhat weak musculature, and it was our physical inactivity that brought the problems to the fore. nothing to do with our weight at all.

    this caused a rapid decrease in deference to doctors for me as well, since none of them had ever suggested working on strengthening the muscles; the only prescription had always been weight loss (which had demonstrably not worked — would any of them prescribe medication again and again that didn’t work? no. but weight loss is still touted as a panacea when it doesn’t work.). if even people who are supposedly experts make dumb judgments like this, maybe i shouldn’t be surprised judgy concern trolls do too, but it still irks me — what makes random strangers think they know my genetic makeup and any medical conditions better than i do?

    fortunately i am (temporarily) able-bodied, so i could strengthen those muscles relatively easily. if i hadn’t been, i might have to live with joint problems. for all i know i still will, later on. one thing is for sure, i don’t deserve to be treated like a second-class human being because some random person — who mistakes their uninformed opinions for cutting edge medical knowledge — thinks it’s got to be my weight that causes my problems. YOU CANNOT JUDGE SOMEBODY’S HEALTH BY THEIR BODY SIZE! thin people get sick too, or haven’t you noticed?

    many more problems are caused for fat people by people judging them than by the actual weight.

  12. Re perceived disabilities (and social acceptability of same) being partially defined by society: Someone commented elsewhere that some cases of high-functioning autism/Asperger syndrome might not have been noticed at all back when all basic childhood education was a matter of extremely small classes at a dame school, apprenticeship to a trade, and/or private tutors. So much of it is defined by being unable to navigate the constantly swirling world of large-group interaction. Imagine the craftmaster simply saying, “Yes, Hans has trouble going from one project to another or doing group work, but if I leave him to work on one project by himself all day he does a thorough job, so that’s what I do.” Of course, this depends on the adults involved.

  13. I asked a neurologist once if he was psychic when he threatened me in my hospital bed with a life lived in a wheelchair when I refused to take the medication he’d prescribed. I then asked him for the statistics on his claim. That was over eight years ago and he still eyes me warily now if we happen across each other while I’m waiting to see my specialist, who didn’t agree with his recommendations either. It’s disturbing to hear such shit come from the mouths of supposedly educated people particularly when they’re in positions of power and control. I’m still incredibly proud of myself I had the energy that day (no idea where from) to challenge his psychic claims of doom. He wasn’t the first and no doubt he won’t be the last. What you do is very valuable to people like me for the days when we just don’t have it in us to fight for ourselves. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you understand this as you do and that you speak about it so concisely. Thank you Ragen.

  14. Lots of people of all sizes have problems moving around when they are old. It’s really a ridiculous prediction. Maybe a large person’s joints will have a harder time..otoh, we’ve probably got a lot more muscle in those legs that have been carrying around more weight for years.

    My dad was always just somewhat big..maybe in the “overweight” range. Then when he got older, had some dementia going on, he started loosing weight, a lot. He got to the point of super skinny and pretty much refused to eat anything that didn’t taste “right” (aka mom used to make it). Well then he fell on the grass in the front yard, and just from that broke his hip boom. Gradually got a bit better was able to sorta shuffle without aid…and fell again, broke the other hip. By this point his memory was bad enough rehab was pretty difficult. They said if he’d had more padding he might have had better chance of not breaking it but there was none to speak of at that point. So because of his thinness he ended up in a wheelchair.

  15. I have been disabled since birth by cerebral palsy & have been fat to some degree for over 37 of my 65 years, was always solid & plump, & was only thin maybe two years of my life. I have always had balance issues, as well as issues with bladder control & coordinating the swallow/breath reflexes, so I choke very easily. I walk with a very noticeable limp, trip easily, broke my kneecap when I was 30, & have arthritis in my knees, ankles, hips, wrists & hands. My balance is getting worse as I age, my ankles & knees often wobble under me & threaten to collapse, & I have pushed myself most of my life to exercise much too much to ‘prove’ that I was ‘as good as’ able-bodied people or thin people. I have climbed tens of thousands of stairs in my life, &, as a fair estimate, have walked over 70,000 miles in my life. At various time in my life, I have also exercised pretty intensively on an exercise bike, or another exercise machine, lifted weights daily for an hour for over 5 years, sporadically since then, done as many as 1500 stomach crunches daily for over 8 years, & now do seated crunches because getting down on the floor is very difficult for me. Now, at 65, I walked between 300 & 600 minutes per week, doing less only when I am housebound by ice & snow.

    I have been so far very fortunate & blessed with sturdy genetics from my mother’s side of the family & have enjoyed excellent health. However, I am still very obviously & very unalterably disabled, have been at every size I have ever been, & I am aging & mobility issues are increasing. I began four or five years ago using a cane when I took my walks. However, I still fell with the cane, so, for more than two years now, I have used a rollator walker. It is not perfect, nothing is, & our streets & sidewalks here in Maine are poorly maintained & badly beaten up by the weather, so I still stumble, but the rollator keeps me from falling down. Sometimes I am not careful enough & hit a crack hard & the walker nearly tips over, but so far, the walker & I have not taken a tumble, & it helps me to keep walking, to be able to walk for longer distances & more time than I could without it. It also helps me when I go to a store to get my purchases home safely.

    I was very self-conscious at first & worried that I might get remarks on the street, because I have encountered a lot of bullying & verbal abuse over the years. However, keeping my independence & mobility for as long as possible mean more to me than whatever ignorant people might say & so far, it is been fine, as no one has said anything really nasty to me while I am out. I am quite comfortable now venturing out with my walker & glad I swallowed my pride & got it. I do not need it because I am fat & I no longer give a rat’s ass if someone thinks I do. We all deserve to do what we need to do to live as full & rich a life as we can & to have access to as much of the world as possible. Those who judge would be well-advised to pay attention to their own lives & allow the rest of us to live ours.

  16. Not to mention that dieting is a risk factor for osteoporosis, especially for women. Obviously, that’s exactly what your bones and joints need. LOGIC.

  17. BRAV-FUCKING-O!!! Perfect post. I’m going to read this every day until I die a slow and painful and expensive and fat and disabled death. Your posts are always validating to me, but this one is extra special. Thank you.

  18. Wonderful post!

    Long term reader, love love love your blog.

    As a disabled person I find it incredibly offensive for someone to use us a a tool, as a bludgeon. We are not tools to oppress and threaten others with. We are human beings.

    Some disabled people are fat, some aren’t. Some fat people are disabled or become disabled. There is no scientific proof of a casual connection whatsoever.

    As a disabled and fat person I am doubly appalled. No one knows what my disabled history and my fat history is, but many feel free to make the most hate-filled assumptions of my life. They are always wrong, so I will say they are incredibly bad at being psychics/intuitives. Right or wrong, they are putting their noses in my business and need to butt out.

    As an intuitive I am shocked and appalled that people will forecast disability. They could forecast good health. They could forecast love, happiness, and well being. What cruel s.o.b.s to act concerned while shoveling BS. Well bless their hearts.

    Good and healing thoughts to us all.


  19. This is exactly the tactic my doctor used to scare me into WLS 12 years ago. Now, 11 years post-op, my knees are still a source of constant pain, my feet still swell when I spend more than 15 minutes on them, and I’m still labeled “morbidly obese”…albeit no longer the truly appalling label “super morbidly obese”. I can now add surgically induced malnutrition to my stack of health issues, along with dental problems and bone issues because I don’t absorb the calcium I need from my food. I have to have iron infusions about once a year because I malabsorb iron as well. I have gas that could run a skunk out of the house to boot, and I burp CONSTANTLY. Yeah, a wheelchair ain’t looking so bad right about now!

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