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"They want everything to be down to your weight"

16 January 2020

Through her interviews with diverse range of local women, Siân Keen's new audio documentary explores the experiences of body shaming and stigma during medical appointments.

I made We Don’t Know What to Tell You, It’s Clearly Just Weight Related because I was feeling frustrated with the way you can be treated in medical appointments when you fall into a certain weight category. After speaking to other people who had similar experiences to mine, I realised I wasn’t alone.

If a thinner person had these problems, would they look into it more? You start to worry that they might be missing things because they want everything to be down to your weight
Grace

My piece explores the stories of women of varying ages, who have experienced body shaming in medical environments, as well as my own.

In the past, I have left appointments feeling worthless and really frustrated and, even worse, felt a nagging fear that something could have been missed because the fix always came down to my weight, no questions asked. When medical professionals stopped asking me questions about my lifestyle and my experience, labelling me under a weight category, my trust in them began to dwindle fast.

And I’m far from being the only one who feels this way.

As Grace, one of my interviewees, says: "If a thinner person had these problems, would they look into it more? You start to worry that they might be missing things because they want everything to be down to your weight".

The BMI chart is an imperfect system. It doesn’t take into account a range of factors, such as muscle and bone density when calculating whether you are normal, overweight or obese, which makes it difficult to know if you are seen as a person, with a range of body composition factors, or a statistic on a chart.

I know that medical professionals and the NHS are incredible for what they do.

I’m lucky at the moment I’ve got a really brilliant GP where when I’ve told her what other doctors have said to me about weight she's told me that that’s unhelpful and has gone down other routes
Sarah

I took as much time as I had available on this project to look into what is expected of medical professionals, specifically surrounding compassion and weight stigma and found that limited time and information kept popping up. There is no denying the amount of strain and pressure this fantastic organisation is under, resulting in the average medical appointment dropping to just under 10 minutes. To reflect this, my audio piece is exactly 10 minutes.

But my piece also challenges the idea that this is just about needing more time and resources, it's about the language that is used and the assumptions that are made when patients stories and experiences aren’t heard. As patients, we don’t want to be seen as just another number and that feeling can be overwhelming for those that don’t sit within the BMI ‘normal’ range.

There are fantastic medical professionals out there, as another of my interviewees, Sarah, explained.

She says: "I’m lucky at the moment I’ve got a really brilliant GP where when I’ve told her what other doctors have said to me about weight she's told me that that’s unhelpful and has gone down other routes".

Hopefully, things are changing.

Siân produces and performs original theatre shows

Movements such as body positivity and body neutrality have soared in the past few years and thankfully we are beginning to see bodies of all shapes and sizes in the media and beyond. More importantly, we are starting to celebrate people for more than what they look like.

Yet, I still feel like we have a long way to go, especially when it comes to walking into a doctor’s office.

Vulnerability is at the heart of the work I make. I believe it is our biggest strength when talking about difficult subjects and making positive change and I hope my piece sparks a conversation about health, wellbeing and worth, with both parties being heard.

We Don’t Know What to Tell You, It’s Clearly Just Weight Related by Siân Keen is available to listen to now on BBC Sounds.

*Names have been changed

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