The reality of being human is that one day you will get sick. One day you will die. You can’t bargain your way out of those things. Of course, a freak accident or act of nature can take you off of this earth before illness does. For the sake of this blog, I want to focus on the concept of health shaming.
News spread all over the internet, last week, as the subreddit fatpeoplehate was taken down. Members rioted and took to Instagram and Tumblr to voice their outrage as well as profess their noble success stories at helping to bully random people into taking better care of themselves. After all, it isn’t “bullying” if you are screaming at someone to live a better life, right?
I, myself, was recently attacked on Instagram by a seemingly well-meaning woman who has had multiple lung transplants. Her name is Jessa Scott.
She was responding to a photo of my bare strong feet and arches that I posted with the caption:
“There is this weird stereotype out there that ‘all morbidly obese women have flat feet.’ My orthopedic surgeon says that I have strong high arches and strong feet and [perfect] ankles. My feet are amazing.”
(aside: I had an Achilles rupture in January. My surgeon specializes in ankles. I decided to post this because I felt it was important to balance out the general hate and physical stereotypes of people and the health of their bodies).
Jessa, in her ultimate concern and need to shame my health, posted:
“Keep on being obese, and doctors will have to cut them off.”
Let me give you some background, now, on Jessa and where I believe she is coming from emotionally and psychologically (I am not a psychiatrist. I am only speaking from presumption and past personal experiences in dealing with my own health problems earlier in life):
Jessa’s website is here: http://jessascott.org/
She has received two lung transplants in her lifetime (and is on her way to her third). This woman fancies herself a voice for organ donation and brags about being a billboard face for New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She has been interviewed about her health, struggle for life and maintains a blog about living a healthy lifestyle.
So, why is Jessa going around the internet and threatening random strangers by telling them that their feet will get “cut off”? Without knowing their history or what they are accomplishing with their medical team, Jessa jumps at the opportunity to attack people. When confronted by myself and my husband about her need to attack, her response was this:
“Agreed, not the most positive interaction, I could have been more graceful. Yes, I have had two lung transplants. Being afforded the opportunity to live required enormous sacrifice and dedication. It was truly hell, which is why I get upset when I see healthy people destroying their bodies and their organs. So many good people are waiting on transplant lists, and so many won’t get a second chance or third chance like I did, which is why throwing away your health and organs is infuriating. It’s almost like an alcoholic with cirrhosis of the liver telling the world: “I’m still healthy, my liver is beautiful.” It’s not. That’s not mean, it’s honest.”
Let’s break this down. “Good people” are waiting on a transplant list… while fat people, like me, are throwing away their life and health. And, this makes Jessa very angry.
Because, to Jessa, I am a shopping cart of organs that could be pieced off to her and other people. I am not a human being with emotions and a story of my own. I am not “beautiful” in her mind… because through her experiences and working so hard to be healthy, I am clearly the epitome of proudly self-destructive and ugly. She was born with pulmonary hypertension… a disease she didn’t have a choice in…, and despite her best efforts at living a very healthy lifestyle, she is dying. She is dying, and she needs other people and their organs to keep living. She has put herself in a unique human position: She can judge you and your lifestyle because she feels that she has earned that through her human suffering.
What I told Jessa next, will be very controversial to a lot of people.
I want to express, first, that my only nephew was born into this world without working kidneys. He had to be on dialysis and had to have a kidney transplant. He could not eat and was on a feeding tube. I am not above understanding how important organ and tissue donation is. I have a personal stake in the cause. But, Jessa didn’t know that when she wrote to me. She decided that looking at a photo of my feet on Instagram along with a caption gave her all of the information she could possibly need to know everything important about me.
My carefully considered response to her was this:
“It’s also true that you will probably die young because your body will eventually reject a transplant. But is that something you want to hear from random people.. or, is that between you and your doctor? My weight and health. My existence. My post. None of that is giving you permission to overstep boundaries. This post is not an invitation for you to lash out with assumed medical realities because you have issues with your own health or mortality. Here’s a reality. I am healthier than you. You are mad about that and lashing out at me. My body. My life. That alcoholic you are mad at… their liver isn’t your business. Their body. Their life. You are attempting to shame other people because you perceive them as throwing their lives away while others die… That isn’t giving perspective. That means you need therapy to help you cope with your medical problems better. Shaming people doesn’t help them.”
Sounds harsh as hell, right?
Well, I want to tell you that I have had medical problems since birth. As have many of my half-siblings (who are thin). I absolutely understand dealing with the pain and frustration of being sick and trying to maintain dignity in this world. What Jessa is doing is called “Punching Down”. Punching down is where you feel beat up by life, so you choose someone you deem deserving and lower than you to punch down at to elevate yourself further. It doesn’t help her or anyone else. She lashes out at people she feels deserve her rage (because she cannot possibly rage out at the people closest to her). I’ve been there! I’ve raged out at random people!
All it did was make those people feel horrible and give me a moment of relief that turned into some very real guilt, later on. I can only hope that Jessa also learned a valuable lesson in all of this.
Medical realities are true.
Jessa is not healthy. She didn’t ask for that. I’m earnestly sorry that she is suffering mentally and physically. What she, unfortunately, missed out on was the opportunity to have a conversation with me and discuss our common ground.
Her situation doesn’t give her a free pass to abuse anyone in the name of medicine. And, her treating me like a human meat market is also not okay. What she said boiled down to: “STOP ROTTING YOUR MEAT – SOME OF US NEED IT!”
There was a point in recent history where someone with pulmonary hypertension, like Jessa, would not have had a second or third chance at life. This modern world has given Jessa an opportunity to live a life she can choose to fill with love and beauty. Not just once… but, twice, now. Her life. Her choices on whether to feel like a victim of her situation. What Jessa is doing, in her mind, is activism. Much like how many of the members in fatpeoplehate felt that they were “helping” fat people by publicly shaming them and torturing them and making hideous comments about them online.
This behavior hurts everyone because it means that someday when YOU get sick… the first thing you’re going to do is look for someone/something to blame. “What did I do? What happened to make this happen to me?”
I say this because I did that myself. I spiraled into self-doubt and fear multiple times. “This is because I’m FAT, isn’t it? I deserve this, don’t I?” only to have doctors tell me “No. This has nothing to do with your body size. This has nothing to do with being fat.”
That isn’t something that I want other people to go through. If living a healthy lifestyle, for you, includes healthy eating and regular exercise… and you have the ability to do those things… that’s awesome! But, don’t assume that other people are somehow deserving of their situation because they were unable to do those things.
Our stories aren’t all the same. We aren’t all the same. If your goal is to help people… help them! Start a conversation that doesn’t involve threatening them or the amputation of their body parts. Don’t appeal to them by telling them how much other people deserve their body and organs more than they do.
Nowhere–at any time or place or reality–is that appropriate or considerate or helpful or kind.
I am openly sharing Jessa Scott’s information with you in this blog. I am not doing this because I want you to attack her (please don’t! Her life is hard enough, as it is). She posted these things publicly and stood firmly behind them (until I had to block her because she wouldn’t back down). I want you to see a strong example of a wonderful, talented, vibrant, struggling young woman who is misguided and using her position of power and personal platform as a means of public humiliation and psychological torture. She is a product of a problem in our culture.
Stop this insanity. As long as we agree that this is acceptable and noble behavior… the more we paint everyone’s future into a shameful spiral of self-doubt when illness eventually comes for each of us.
Because illness is coming for you, darlings. All of you. Everyone dies.
Do something great with the time you have, here!
***Don’t feel sorry, for me. Things, like this, absolutely hurt me. But, I am choosing to turn these things around and spread awareness in the hopes of appealing to reasonable people who might be misguided about their reasons for fat and health shaming people online.
- I am also currently struggling with recovering financially from my surgery in January.
- I have another couple of months of physical therapy ahead, for my leg.
- I am fundraising to help cover some small past-due bills and hopefully raise enough to move somewhere more affordable and less temporary.
- There are lots of perks available through the fundraiser.