Fatphobia in reproductive health environments - along with the inherent unfairness that fatness really can have a negative impact on fertility - is something many plus-size women have been forced to face.
For decades now, the autonomy of women’s bodies and access to important reproductive healthcare, whether it be fertility treatment (natural or IVF) or even hysterectomies, have been contested issues. When this is combined with fatness, access and rights to those treatments become even more murky.
Evidently, celebrities aren’t exempt from this, as actor Rebel Wilson has spoken out about in a recent interview. Speaking on Sunrise, an Australian morning show, the 41-year-old actor opened up about her decision to freeze her eggs, and how her weight complicated the process.
Hoping to start a family one day soon, Wilson booked an appointment with her doctor to talk through fertility options for her. Her doctor’s response, according to Wilson?
'Well, you’d have a much better chance if you were healthier.'
Talking about the experience, she said she was offended by this as at the time she thought she was a 'pretty healthy' weight.
Her doctor's response is one plus-size women are all too used to hearing. Whether you’ve booked in to talk about fertility, or just nipped in to discuss a headache, GPs will find a way to bring the conversation back to your weight if you happen to be carrying any. It’s common for local fertility clinics to have a BMI limit on care (meaning you must lose weight before they look into what could be wrong) and as doctors are often incentivised to get target numbers of patients onto weight loss plans, they have plenty of motivation.
Being in a bigger body can impact your fertility and your health during pregnancy, from difficulties conceiving to problems with progesterone levels in the first trimester. But this isn’t necessarily down to reproductive issues - plus-size bodies are more than capable of healthy pregnancies. Instead, it can have a lot to do with how, basically, the world - and its healthcare systems - has not been created with them in mind.
Weight bias and fatphobia unfortunately run deep in the medical world. In one survey, 24% of physicians admitted they were uncomfortable having friends in larger bodies, and 18% said they felt disgusted when treating a patient with a high BMI.
Weight bias and fatphobia unfortunately run deep in the medical world
Since you’re unlikely to improve the health of someone you’re judging, and even find repulsive (which is hideous in itself) you are unlikely to improve, those doctors are unlikely to provide the right healthcare. This creates a cycle of problems, as fat people (understandably) more likely to avoid medical care when they know they’ll be treated badly, which means they are often sicker and harder to treat by the time they do see a doctor. Weight bias in healthcare - both regarding fertility and elsewhere - can seriously harm patients.
Whether it’s implied or direct, slimmer people experience more privilege, more politeness. Less abuse. Especially when speaking to healthcare professionals or being in health environments, but in all other aspects of life too. This is something Rebel clearly recognises and is experiencing now she’s 77lbs down.
'I lost about 35 kilos. I went to the doctor and got my yearly check-up last week, and he's like, "Oh my God, all your labs and your blood work is the best it's ever been and you know, it's kind of remarkable."'
She added: '[Fertility] is kind of what started it, that if I lost some excess weight that it would give me a better chance for freezing eggs and having the eggs be a better quality. It wasn’t even really myself, it was more thinking of a future mini-me, really.'
Happily for Rebel, she is content with where she’s at now. 'For the first time in my life I’ve lost weight and maintained it,' she said. 'So I’m more proud of that fact. It worked because it was the whole lifestyle approach and dealing with emotional eating.'
And as she said: 'It’s not about being a certain size or body weight or anything. It’s just about loving yourself and loving the journey that you’re on. And to me, the women I think are most beautiful are those who step into their own power.'