Grey’s Anatomy, WLS, and the Thin/Fat Double Standard

facepalmI was watching an old episode of Grey’s Anatomy (I think it might even be from the first season.) That illustrates perfectly an issue that is still happening in the double standard of care between thin and fat people.

In the episode, a girl with an extremely critical and overbearing mother is discovered to have gone to Mexico to have secret Weight Loss Surgery. (Note that this practice is still happening, for example, it was recently discovered that the owners of LuLaRoe were profiting from sending fat consultants to Mexico to have their stomachs amputated.)

The players here are: Dr. Bailey, the resident who is supervising Dr. Grey, who is an intern. Claire is the patient. Let’s take it bit by bit.

After discovering that the girl had surgical scars,  Dr. Grey gets the required scans and shows them to Dr. Bailey where they note that she has had a stomach amputation.

Bailey: Is this girl fat?

Grey: Not at all, she’s a normal college kid.

WT Actual F?  “Normal college kid” is not the opposite of “fat girl!” Fat college kids are normal college kids (inasmuch as “normal college kid” is really a thing.)  But it sets up the foundation for the rest of this episode which is something that the brilliant Deb Burgard first pointed out to me – that we prescribe to fat people the same things that we diagnose and treat in thin people.


Next we move to a conversation with the parents:

Grey: Gastric bypass is a procedure normally done on obese patients to help them lose weight.

Dad: Claire? She doesn’t need to lose weight.

Mom: Are you kidding? This means the world to her. But it is so typical of this girl to take the easy way out. She’s done it with everything since she was a little kid.

Bailey: Mrs. Rice, nothing about this is going to be easy. She’s gonna face a lifelong struggle with malnutrition unless she has surgery to reverse the procedure.

Note that if the girl was fat, they would not only be fine with a lifelong struggle with malnutrition, they would have recommended the procedure rather than freaking out and insisting it be reversed.

Next Dr. Grey is explaining to Claire that her parents have agreed that the best option is to reverse the surgery and she balks. Dr. Grey explains that there are “serious complications” and says “This is about your health.” Claire responds “But I’d rather be thin.”

This is supremely frustrating to me because when fat people tell doctors that they aren’t interested in being thin if it means risking serious complications, we are scoffed at. But here it’s shown as absolutely tragic that a thin girl would ask for the exact treatment that a fat girl would be pushed to accept.

During the surgery to reverse the procedure the doctors speak to each other:

Bailey: This poor girl, what was she thinking

Grey: She wants her mother’s approval, she wants to please her.

Bailey (sadly): and this damaage is the result?

Again, not to put too fine a point on it, but if a fat girl agreed to undergo this dangerous, often deadly, procedure to please her mother, doctors would congratulate the mom for helping her daughter make the right decision.

Dr. Grey tells Claire’s mom “I think Clarie is killing herself to please you.”

Then Dr. Grey lets Claire know that she’s called social services to help her parents, telling her:

“You don’t know this yet, but life isn’t supposed to be like this. It’s not supposed to be this hard.”

“Killing herself” by having a surgery that is recommended to fat people literally every day. And I can’t help but note that the behavior that we are all supposed to see as overbearing, overly critical, and harmful from Claire’s mom (because it is!) is behavior that is the recommended treatment for fat people, even by (severely misguided) bio-ethicists.

And I’m pretty sure what she meant to say was “life isn’t supposed to be like this FOR THIN PEOPLE. It’s not supposed to be this hard FOR THIN PEOPLE,” because doctors and plenty of other people seem to want life to be precisely this hard for fat people.

I’m here to tell you that if you are a fat person facing medical fatphobia and doctors who would rather risk your life to make most of you disappear, than help you live your best life in a fat body, life ISN’T supposed to be like this. It’s NOT supposed to be this hard. Your body is never the problem, fatphobia always is.

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14 thoughts on “Grey’s Anatomy, WLS, and the Thin/Fat Double Standard

  1. Hi, Ragen. There’s an episode in season six of Grey’s Anatomy called “How Insensitive” that really illustrates this thin vs. fat hypocrisy you’re talking about in today’s blog. A 700-pound man is brought to the hospital for treatment, and the doctors push weight loss surgery on him from the very get-go. I haven’t seen the episode in years, but, as I recall, he gives them some very good reasons as to why he doesn’t want to have the surgery. By the end of the episode, though, he has finally been “convinced” and is now a “good fattie” who “cares about his health.” It’s an infuriating episode and was one of the reasons why I stopped watching that show. Anyway, I thought you might want to check it out (if you haven’t already seen it).

  2. ‘Dr. Grey explains that there are “serious complications” and says “This is about your health.” Claire responds “But I’d rather be thin.”’

    This is like a gut-punch because I had, word-for-word, this same conversation with my grandmother back when I was still riding the weight loss train to nowhere, with her as Dr. Grey and me as Claire. Except it wasn’t this polite. I was actually *yelling* at her that I didn’t care about my health, I cared about losing weight, I cared about becoming and staying thin, I cared about being “a normal college kid” and not an epidemic. Strange how those words are considered horrifying in the mouth of a thin person. Nobody but aforementioned grandmother thought much about them when they came from me.

  3. It’s absolutely horrifying that what is considered standard care for a fat person is considered life threatening for a thin person.

  4. Total proof of othering people who don’t “look, sound, think, act like you” to death. What is acceptable to do to a fat ( non human) is deplorable to do to someone “not fat”.

  5. I believe it is acknowledged that WLS is very dangerous to one’s health, BUT, the reasoning for pushing it onto fat people is that the benefits outweigh the risks. Being fat is way more dangerous and deadly than malnutrition and any surgery complications.
    Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and wonder how I am so fat and still alive, lol!

    1. Hmm, let’s see. How many fat people are in the U.S. right now? I believe it’s about 100 million people at this stage. And here’s a newsflash, but MOST of them will not die from their being fat. MOST will not die this year, or in the next 10 years, in the next 40 years. Because if the “obesity epidemic” actually were an epidemic, it would mean our population should’ve been going down as the obesity rate rose, or at least our population should’ve been increasing at a significantly slower rate. And neither of those things is happening.

      “Being fat is way more dangerous and deadly than malnutrition and any surgery complications.”

      No, it’s not. Not even a little bit. And that you would claim that demonstrates how little you know about any of those three medical issues. So, I would stop making declarative statements on topics in which you are clearly ill-equipped to make such statements.

  6. Or we are all already dead, that would explain the limited life we are “allowed” to have. No dating, no beach vacations, no going to parties, no nice clothes, no sex talk geared to us/mentioning us, shock and annoyance at health, fitness and pregnancy, no being seen in fab fun locations, no going out and expecting to be treated as normal, like everyone else, valuable, alive.
    No, we must be alive, we piss off people in a way the dead never can.
    Here’s to Pissing People Off!

    Here’s one, No being allowed to be in group and be a human being not someone’s worst case scenario. The wife beater looked at me like I was breaking the law when I ate the proffered sandwich ( group supplies “food” ). Then the guy leading group Thursday had yet another example of No Other Examples of Long Term Goals other than weight loss. He actually said: ” Maybe I’ll lose weight and become attractive and everybody will love me.” HE was doing an “Air Comment”, Just a sort of jokey, put it out there like an example of something. Still not sure if he was joking, thought he was joking, meant to be joking? Or just really has that limited amount of reference material. Guy is third my size, lives on diet tea, never touches to food supplied for group and like every body else has issues. I wish to God he’d get some new ones. this one is getting old. I even saw my therapist squirm as he talked knowing he was basically proving my point of others bias and judgment on me for being The Fattest Person (oh, sorry,non-person) in the group.
    God it is unreal and just so real. You guys who pay taxes, you’re sure getting your money’s worth here!

    So frikin funny. The gal who says she “doesn’t eat anything all week” eats cup cakes like PEZ, has seconds and vociferously washes it down with Crystal Light. Then they all ask to make sure it is sugar free, and scarf cupcakes and snack foods loaded potato salad, ham salad, etc. I won’t touch the stuff, fear of too warm a side dish food poisoning.
    I think Americans are past not being able to eat anything without fear, guilt, commentary and judgment. We have been told forty different times not to be judgmental: race, sex, sexuality, gender, religion, culture, class, education, family origins etc. This one is not EVER mentioned all the while EVERYONE engages in it constantly.
    I take notes, I do my work and I am reminded constantly, that in this most secure and welcoming of places, where we are supposed to be in a judgment free zone, open to sharing deeply private and painful issues, that I am not welcome. I take notes, I do my work and over look this issue. We are all products of the greater culture around us and for those of us struggling with such serious issues of identity, emotional and mental disorders family abuse, etc. Why add one more thing? Ii at least get the benefit of being right. And that is important to me. 🙂

  7. I’ve never watched Gray’s Anatomy. I stopped watching Bones because of their horrible fat shaming at every turn. It was a shame, because the show had a lot of cool and interesting female characters.

    1. I bet that is the trade off. You can have your female characters, but they are gonna hate themselves and be on diets and terrified of taking up too much space. W. Charise Goodman described the issue as what used to be generally negative stereotypes about women had become specifically about fat women.

      1. Me, too! The last straw was the episode where the bones showed repeated breaks during childhood/adolescence, and Temperance accused the parents of the deceased of abusing their daughter, until she saw a picture of a mildly “overweight” (You know, Hollywood HUGE, at a BMI of about 19 or 20), and said, “OH! No, you didn’t abuse her. She was just SO FAT that her bones broke all the time, from the sheer weight of her own body, because fat people’s bones never grow to accommodate all that weight. My mistake. Sorry.”

        Meanwhile, they have a thin man eating constantly, and it’s just “a funny quirk,” for him.

        I’m fat, most of my relatives are fat, and I have known oodles and oodles of fat, sometimes “OMGDEATHFATZ!” people, and not one of them has suffered a broken bone because of the fat. The only broken bones have been because of accidents and such that would have broken a thin person’s bones, just the same.

        I’ve noticed several instances of fat-shaming on Bones, but that one was just too unbelievable. I wondered if their medical consultants were out sick that day, or else how could this possibly have gotten past them. Or maybe, their medical consultants are just as fat-phobic (and liars), as the majority of Hollywood.

        There’s a certain level I can deal with, just because I like the show so much, in general, and because it’s just so ubiquitous in our society. But Bones crossed a line way too far, and too often.

        1. I remember one episode when the other woman lead in comment to who wears track suits was something like gangsters and tubs of lard. I couldn’t believe I was hearing that. My God a TV show written by/ about doctors etc. science based (sort of) It just happens over and over, you like a show and you like the premise and the characters and then smack! Oh guess what, your not welcome here. This little 30 minute fantasy show doesn’t include you…
          I noticed on NCIS the female lead is a tiny blond( show ass) who “eats a lot”. Well she used to, but that disappeared in about two episodes.

          Oh, they had “CrystalLight at group again… Pahahaha! And the therapist who led that day, mocked me during some bit of review of the subject of the PLEASE skill. I still don’t know how to explain it. I know this guy doesn’t like me, (dieting, looks like a Campbell’s Soup Kid). He actually made the remark about eating a doughnut and weighing 7,000 pounds, in general, not at anyone. It is just so sad.

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