“That pretty flat stomach”

In the summer of 2004, I weighed 92 pounds. I was very sick and doing everything in my power to put on weight. My doctor went so far as to prescribe an appetite stimulant, derived from cannabis, which was supposed to give me the legal munchies.

It may have helped me put on a pound or two, but that wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t just that I was too thin; I needed a lung transplant and had to weigh a minimum of 100 pounds before I would even be considered for the surgery. I was left with one option: a feeding tube for high-calorie protein shakes every night while I slept, in addition to a high-calorie diet every day…

On the operating table, I was prepped for the procedure by a female nurse and a male doctor. When the nurse lifted the hospital gown above my abdomen, she exclaimed, “Look at that pretty flat stomach!”

I processed this statement for a moment. A medical professional had complimented me on my thinness, which was so extreme as to prevent me from having life-saving surgery, while prepping me for a procedure intended to help me gain weight.

To his credit, the doctor quickly snapped, “That’s the problem!” but her message couldn’t have been clearer.

We live in a culture that so values thinness, that values such extreme thinness, that I received a compliment about my body when I was on an operating table, when I was so ill and weighed so little that doctors feared I might not survive major surgery.

From here. (Thanks, C!)

8 thoughts on ““That pretty flat stomach”

  1. Makes the point very well.

    I think there’s an underlying problem with society/culture that struggles to distinguish between the real and the make-believe. We have movies about talking animals without expecting the farmyard to burst into conversation, but we don’t do so well seeing glossy magazine covers as different from the people in the street. And I wonder if it’s because it’s not taught that way. I don’t mind all that much if I see published material with airbrushed images because it never looks or feels like real life to me, and frankly I wouldn’t want it to — that’s why it’s in books and movies, where I go for the suspense of reality and dragons and wizards and, frankly, talking animals.

    It is a profound problem indeed that the western world has developed (and is intensifying) an inability to both cherish the real for all its wonder *and* delight at the fabricated make-believe for fun and entertainment, without getting the two sickeningly muddled up.

    A few battles not likely to be won, are nonetheless still worth fighting.

  2. I get this all the time. My health problems aren’t so severe as to need a transplant, but I have a lot of issues with my liver and kidneys. When I’m sick I look like the undead but other women tell me that it’s so unfair that I can look like that without dieting. And when I have periods of doing better and I gain weight they start offering me diets to try to try to regain the emaciated look and just look really confused when I’m not interested in damaging my body further by subjecting it to a diet of maple syrup and cabbage gruel.

  3. Ack. :-(

    I lose my appetite, and therefore a lot of weight, when suffering from stress/anxiety. I have just managed to put a sufficient amount back on again to be comfortable. I have a (male) lodger who is well aware that I have this particular problem with stress, and I had occasion a few weeks ago to mention to him the last protracted bout of stress I had suffered.

    “Oh,” he said, “but you had the perfect figure.”

    “No,” I replied. “I did not have the perfect figure. I have the perfect figure for me, right now. It is dangerous for me to be too thin, because then I don’t have any weight I can safely lose if I’m under any more stress.”

    Congratulate me for not hitting him.

  4. That is a common problem, but pressure is not limited to weight loss. I was very very thin myself when I was younger, maybe not as much, but enough to have some health problems, and I couldn’t count how many people criticize me, telling me I was not a real woman without a curvy body and pushing me to eat, when I was already eating around 3000 calories a day. I was very unconfortable in that situation, now that my metabolism has changed and I can gain weight more easily people start telling me I should follow a diet and to lose some kgs. Fortunately, now I’m older and I know my weight is right for me as long as I’m healthy. So I think the process goes both ways and its, more or less conscious, goal is to make people unconfortable about their figure, so to move an industry built on dissatisfaction.

  5. I’m really sorry that people treated you that way, and on the operating table, no less…But somehow I’m not surprised.

    I’d like to chime in with “Oh, I get that all the time, I’m so thin” stories, too (sorry for the sarcasm), but I’m on the opposite end of things. I had gallbladder surgery last summer and found myself actually APOLOGIZING to the jackass of an anaesthesiologist for being in so much pain, I didn’t have a year to wait until I lost enough weight to make his job easier…This after being pummeled and pounded by a very angry ultrasound technician (as if my stomach didn’t hurt enough)…And I also can’t help but wonder how they would have treated me if my stomach were so “pretty and flat.”

    The fact is, the people we trust with our medical issues are human, and some extreme unprofessional behaviour sometimes goes with that.

    I’ll bet, at least, they’re willing to treat your medical problems, or at least listen to them. The standard response to any of my medical complaints (and trust me, I don’t seek treatment unless I’m screaming in pain) is “Your weight is the problem. Eat whole grains.” Ten years of school, and that’s the best they can do.

    Don’t even get me started on the physiotherapist I went to see when I blew out my knee a few years back, who made fat jokes the entire time (he’s a 5’4″ East Indian man–wanna know how many jokes I know? But I refused to sink to his level). Then he commended me for having a sense of humour.

    I sometimes wonder if they realize that patients aren’t a nuisance or a bother. Patients are the reason they have a job in the first place.

  6. was going to make comment but reread LJ’s comment and realised everything i wanted to say was well covered.

    well put LJ…

  7. This really resonated with me. I’m a tall, solid woman—about 5’10” and 200 pounds— and have been for most of my adult life. About two years ago, I lost 95 pounds in a very short time due to postpartum Graves Disease. I was continually inundated with “compliments”. People would ask my secret and I would reply point blank, “I’m sick, actually”. Nine times out of ten, the reply would be, “Oh, I hope it’s contagious!”. When my BMI dropped past 17—with prominent ribs, collarbone, and sternum on display—I was told by a family member that I was “just ten pounds shy of perfection”. Never mind the hair loss, fatigue, nausea, and arrythmia, I was HOT. The message was clear: my radically-altered appearance was worth far more than my health. It was devastating to realize that people—women especially—overwhelmingly believed that I was happier or healthier, despite evidence to the contrary. I have never felt so keenly the impact of societal fat-phobia.

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