Tag Archives: cancer

“You look great! Have you lost weight?” And other phrases on “What NOT to Say!”


Want to start out with a trigger warning.  I’m going to be talking about illness-induced weight loss and our society’s often idiotic response to it.

Part of my recent health journey includes a little bit of illness-induced weight loss.  Some of it is explained by the fact that the pain and the pain killers made me not want to eat, and part of it as a result of some anemia that I’m facing.  Which has led a few nice, and well-intentioned people to remark and then ask, “You look great!  Have you lost weight?  How did you lose in?”  Now I know that they are trying to be kind, but it’s honestly kind of hard to keep the sarcastimonster in check.  Because the sarcastimonster wants to shout, “I do not look great, I look terrible.  I am a little thinner because I’m in excruciating pain and because my body is not processing food properly right now.  But thanks for the compliment.  If you’d like to try out my ‘Excruciating Pain Weight Loss Program’ (patent pending) I can arrange it for you.  Just come a LEETLE bit closer while I grab this hammer.”

Yup, the sarcastibeast gets a little, um, TESTY when I don’t feel so well.  But the sarcastibeast is right about one thing.  It’s always risky complementing somebody on their weight loss.  First of all, “You look great.” coupled with “Have you lost weight?” implies that before the person lost the weight, they didn’t look as great.  In fact, you’re saying before they probably didn’t look great at all.  Which is decidedly not cool.  Secondly, unless the person you’re talking to has been talking ad nauseum about their latest weight loss program you never know why they are losing weight.  If they have lost weight through deliberate weight loss, they are most likely going to gain that weight back again in the future.  And you just told them that the weight loss made them look great.  If they haven’t lost weight through deliberate means, they may have started smoking again or they may be grieving or they may have cancer.  And you’ve just told them that when they get better, they won’t look as great.  And their weight loss may not have been healthy at all.  I got a lot of compliments the last time I went through a major crazy weight loss program.  I was living on less than 1,000 calories a day.  My bowels no longer moved and my hair was falling out.  My menstrual cycle had stopped completely.  I was cold all the time.  I was very sick, and truth be told, I didn’t look that well at all.  Yet people complemented me all the time about how healthy I looked.

Complimenting somebody on weight loss may cause somebody who is already coping with something that is kinda a big deal to have to cope with something else.  They make come to see their illness-induced weight loss as a silver lining.  Think I’m kidding?  Joan Lunden has been battling a particularly aggressive form of cancer.  She even appeared, bald and smiling, on the cover of Time magazine.  (I’ll bet nobody said to her, “You look great!  Have you lost hair?”)  Last week, during a wonderful interview on the Today show about the challenges and lessons she’s experienced while coping with cancer, Joan started talking about the hidden “benefits” of cancer.  She mentioned how contemplating your own mortality tends to focus your life and help you see what’s important.  And then she leaned over to Hoda (who also has battled cancer) and smiled knowingly as she mentioned that since she started battling with cancer, she’s lost weight.  (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)  This reminds me of a friend of mine who admitted she has a whole closet full of clothes that don’t fit her.  She bought a whole bunch of clothes when she lost weight during chemotherapy.  And now that she’s well again, those clothes don’t fit.  But she doesn’t give those clothes away, because when she was wearing those clothes, during chemotherapy, people said, “You look great!  Have you lost weight?”  Which leads me to another point.

Saying “You look great!  Have you lost weight?” gives somebody who may be sick something else to worry about.  And something else to worry about is the last thing somebody needs when they are sick.  Because the sick person begins to wonder, what will happen when they get better and regain the weight?  What happens when they stop smoking for good or recover from the eating disorder?  What happens when they stop chemo and recover from cancer?  What happens when their red blood cells multiply and their body starts getting oxygen again?  What happens when they are no longer in pain and they start eating again?  What if all this wonderful stuff happens to their body and they start gaining weight?  Will they no longer look great?  It may even make the person wonder if getting better is such a good thing.

Which is patently ridiculous and extremely unhelpful.

On today’s episode of my new show, “What NOT to Say!” I’d like to make a suggestion.  As a society, we’ve learned that unless she’s wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “baby on board” we’re never to ask a woman if she’s pregnant.  I’d like to suggest that commenting on a person’s weight loss should be in the same category.  It’s invasive.  It’s potentially risky.  It’s potentially rude.  And we just shouldn’t do it any more.


Jeanette DePatie, AKA The Fat Chick

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A Killer Green Dress and other Fashion to Die For

Recently I heard about Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century a new exhibit at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada.  The centerpiece of the exhibit is a bright green ballgown from 1860.  Like many other fashions of the time, the bright green color was accomplished with a dye created with arsenic.  The vivid green color was very popular at the time because it looked beautiful under the new electric lighting.  Other arsenic-laced fashions on display include electric green shoes, gloves and other items.

These arsenic laced items were known at the time to be dangerous to the fashionistas who wore them.  Arsenic was absorbed through the skin when the wearer perspired and frequently caused rashes and worse conditions.  And the garments were not only very dangerous to those who wore them, but also to those who created the fabrics and made them into clothing.  Similar to these dangers in dressmaking were the frequent poisonings by those who created the fashionable hats of the time.  The demand for a larger number of felted fur hats, required cheaper fur which used mercury in the finishing process.  Mercury is known to cause a wide variety of damage to the brain and nervous system.  The poisoning of hat makers became so well known that the phrase “mad as a hatter” came into widespread use.  Add to this the generally poor working conditions for those working in the garment district including terrible fires like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and you see a whole class of workers dying to help others look good.

The desire for using cheaper materials to replace more expensive ones, led to an explosion in products available to the middle classes, but sometimes it simply led to explosions.  On display at the exhibit you will find some hair combs created from celluloid rather than the more expensive tortoiseshell combs.  The material was so flammable, that houses burned when the combs came too near a fire.  The material was also used as a film base for motion pictures, and theater fires at the turn of the century were dangerous and sometimes deadly.’  Also on display in the exhibit are tightly-laced corsets and extremely narrow shoes and gloves which were considered fashionable during the day.

One might be tempted to believe that we have moved beyond all that and are no longer willing to die or kill for fashion.  But I wonder if this is really true.  We certainly have stricter regulations regarding the dyes we use in clothing.  And many items are now fire retardant.  But there are some studies indicating that the fire retardants themselves might be bad for our health.

Studies in laboratory animals and humans have linked the most scrutinized flame retardants, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, to thyroid disruption, memory and learning problems, delayed mental and physical development, lower IQ, advanced puberty and reduced fertility. Other flame retardants have been linked to cancer. At the same time, recent studies suggest that the chemicals may not effectively reduce the flammability of treated products.

And while corsets are more often decorative than function in modern fashion, how often do we use spandex “shapewear” to smooth our bodies under certain kinds of clothing?  Even though we know that it literally squishes our internal organs and makes us more prone to yeast and bacterial infections?  And some women go as far as painful and dangerous surgery just to look better in their Jimmy Choos.

Fashions are still based on a very narrow vision of beauty attainable by no-one without a huge budget, great genes and Photoshop.  Women are still dying in droves trying to make their bodies conform to a size and shape that may not be attainable by anyone without significant photo retouching.

And plenty of people are still dying to create inexpensive fashions.  We may have created work regulations that make the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire  unlikely here in the U.S.  But plenty of people are dying in other countries in order to offer us the cheap clothing we still desire.

All of which leads me to ask this question.  When will it end?  When will we decide that it is unfashionable for people to die so we can buy more clothes?  When will we start demanding clothing fit us instead of asking our poor bodies to be starved, mangled, stretched and permanently damaged to fit clothing?  When will we stop impregnating our fabrics with chemicals that cause brain damage and cancer?  I hope it’s soon.  But however fast it is, in my opinion, is just not fast enough.

Love, Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

New Zealand Tells South African Chef, “You’re Too Fat to Live Here!”

I know I am not the first and I certainly hope I’m not to write about this story.  Because you know what?  This scares me right out of my sparkly, yet sensible shoes.  Last week, New Zealand immigration officials told South African chef Albert Buitenhuis that due to his weight of 286 pounds he has an “unacceptable standard of health” and faces expulsion from the country.  Despite the fact that Buitenhuis has actually lost weight since he was originally admitted to the country in 2007, he has lost his work visa because he failed to lose weight.

He needed to stop working immediately.  And because Albert was the primary applicant on the original work visa, his wife needed to stop working as well.

An immigration spokesperson has stated that Mr Buitenhuis’s application had been rejected because his obesity put him at “significant risk” of complications including diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.  The spokesman reportedly said:

“Unless it is in the extreme, obesity will not in itself cause an applicant to fail health screening requirements, but INZ’s medical assessors have to consider to what extent there might be indications of future high-cost and high-need demand for health services,”

It should be noted that Albert may also need a knee replacement which could cost the health system over $20,000.  However, it has also been reported that the fact that Mr. Buitenhuis’ BMI was over 35, originally triggered the rejection of his work visa renewal.

This story has hit international news outlets including the Daily Mail and the BBC.  So I am hopeful this won’t just slip into obscurity in the next day or two, and I am eager to hear how Albert’s appeal process proceeds.  Because I have to admit, I find this story terrifying and frustrating in the extreme.

Here are just a few points:

1.  Immigration officials arbitrarily choose to apply or not apply BMI statistics in regards to work visa renewal.  If the irrational or irregular application of body size regulations are enough to leave people traveling on a jet plane in the lurch, think of the effect it can have on people moving their entire lives from one country to another.  And as we’ve seen in regards to flying on airplanes, if fat people are unable to ascertain exactly how these regulations will apply to them they are more likely to avoid the situation altogether.

2.  It appears that the rules changed after Albert moved to New Zealand.  Albert and his wife set down roots, made friends, built a career and a life, and then the rug got pulled out from under them.  This should be a chilling tale for everyone interested in ever immigrating anywhere.

3.  It appears the New Zealand Immigration ministry are using BMI and health interchangeably.  There is ample evidence that as a health metric BMI is extremely problematic and unreliable.  There is significant evidence that people who have a BMI in the “ideal range” actually live shorter lives than those in the “overweight” range.  Furthermore, I have heard no indication that New Zealand’s Immigration ministry are using other, far more reliable health metrics in determining visa renewal status.  Are they taking into account issues like: stress level, sedentary lifestyle, tobacco use, levels of discrimination, lack of sleep, working third shift or driving a motorcycle, being older, or being male?  There’s also evidence that bald men are more likely to have heart disease and taller women are more likely to get cancer.  Why are they taking this one extremely unreliable metric (BMI) out of context and using it to determine immigration status?

4.  Is BMI used because it is a “cheap shot” both figuratively and literally?  Despite the many, many questions about the effectiveness of BMI as a health metric, there is no question that it is extremely easy to measure and verify.  And I wonder whether discrimination based on body size is cheap politically as well?  Immigration necessarily needs to limit the number of people who can enter and stay in a country.  And they need to make sure the limitations that are used are politically tenable.  Are fat people singled out and discriminated against simply because politically, they are easy targets?

I admit that I can’t claim to know everything that is going on in this case.  I will be watching with interest to see how it plays out.  But, in any case, I think this is further proof that we need to be ever vigilant of new ways that discrimination is heaped upon people of size.


The Fat Chick

UPDATE: Don’t miss this amazing post by Angela Meadows in Huff Po!  And don’t forget to like the story and comment if you have the sanity points to spare!

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Daylight Savings Time: Here Comes the Sun

Today is the second day of daylight savings time here in Southern California and since I’m typically an early riser, I’m enjoying the little extra jolt of sunshine in my day.  I love the sunshine  and since I live in So Cal, I get access to way more of it than most.

Many of us have come to fear sunshine because of it’s association with an increased risk for skin cancer.  But if you manage your exposure, you can enjoy the health benefits of sunshine without a lot of risk.  Some researchers recommend daily sun exposure for about half the time it would normally take you to get a sunburn.  Others recommend that you spend 15 minutes in the sun each day without sunblock or sunglasses (the sun’s rays come through they eyes to stimulate the pituitary gland and helps control hormone production in other glands).  A good way to get this 15 minutes is to combine it with little bits of exercise throughout the day like parking your car a little further from your destination, going for 10 minute walk breaks throughout the day or walking a few blocks to a lunch destination.

There are lots and lots of health benefits to sunshine.  Here are just a few:

Promotes Better Sleep: Daily access to sunshine helps to regulate your circadian cycles.  This makes it easier for you to fall and stay asleep.

Reduces Cancer Risk: The Vitamin D you get from sunshine has been shown to reduce risks of colon, breast, prostate and rectal cancers.  And higher Vitamin D levels in the bloodstream seem to increase your likelihood of surviving a cancer diagnosis.

Lowers Cholesterol Levels: Cholesterol that lies under the skin is turned into Vitamin D3 which both increases the level of this important vitamin in your body and can significantly lower cholesterol levels.

Strengthens Immune System: Sun exposure increases production of red and white blood cells which tends to strengthen the immune system.  Studies also show that Vitamin D may help activate T-cells which are the body’s first line of defense against pathogens.

Reduces Risks of Osteoporosis: Sunshine is one of the most potent sources of Vitamin D.  Higher levels of Vitamin D have been shown to help increase absorption of calcium from the intestines and increase bone density in post-menopausal women.

Reduces Risk of Type 2 Diabetes:  Increased levels of Vitamin D in the system also appear to be associated with lower incidence of type 2 Diabetes.  Although it is not clear which sources of Vitamin D are most beneficial in reducing Diabetes risk, there is a link that bears further investigation.

Improves Mood: We’ve all heard of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but beyond that, sun has the power to make us feel better, make us less depressed and may even help us to think more clearly.

There are many other potential benefits to sunshine from increasing optimism, to improving milk production in lactating women to a link to lower risk of stroke, neuro-degenerative diseases, allergies, multiple sclerosis, hypertension and psoriasis.

So my dear friends, get on out there and feel the sun on your face–at least for a little while.  But don’t stay out there too long.  As I often say, you don’t need to feel the burn to get the benefit.


The Fat Chick