Tragedy struck when Yolanda Reese-Brooks passed away. Tragedy struck again when the story hit the press. Officials claimed that she died of complications of obesity and health professionals at the scene estimated her weight at 500 pounds, and removed a sliding glass door to get her out of the house to the hospital. I know that because every story mentioned those details before they mentioned her name.
Things that many of the stories forgot to mention or buried: Her actual weight was 360 pounds. She was bedridden because of a crushed pelvis and ruptured bladder from a traffic accident in 2011. Her name was Yolanda Reese-Brooks, she was a wife, mother, sister and daughter
There are complications from obesity involved here but it’s not about Yolanda Reese-Brooks’ weight. The complications are about how quickly medical professionals will blame body size for everything, how police and fire officials overestimated her weight by 140 pounds – almost 40%. My girlfriend and others I know weigh more than 360 pounds and fit through a regular door so why did they need to remove a sliding door to get her out and how was it newsworthy if they did? How completely insensitive the news has been in reporting the end of a life.
A journalist with courage would report this at the tragedy it is and start asking questions - Why didn’t this woman didn’t get the healthcare she needed? Could she not afford it? Did a very justified fear of being mistreated by a healthcare provider keep her from getting healthcare? Did the constant shame, stigma and bullying that is heaped on fat people in our society make her think that her body wasn’t worthy of care? Did rampant ableism make her ashamed to get the mobility aids that she needed? Was mental illness involved? Are the other reports about this de-humanizing it because that’s what people need to feel ok about flocking to stories about fat people dying to see if they had to cut out a wall or use a special ambulance? If a 400 pound man can run a marathon, why are we so quick to assume that a 360 pound woman died from being fat?
Some people seem to forget that fat people are indeed human. We deserve human respect. When we die we deserve more than a headline that says “Obese, bed-ridden Warren woman’s death was accidental.” (I’m looking at you Detroit Free Press)
The fact that the news of someone’s death could be treated so poorly is the product of the confluence of a number of problems we have in our society – the conflation of weight and health; the acceptable and even encouraged stigmatizing, shaming, and bullying of fat people; the stubborn refusal of the medical establishment to treat fat people’s health issues using evidence-based medicine rather than treating their body size; rampant healthism and ableism; the media’s willingness to use fat people as objects to sensationalize; the government’s comfort waging a war against citizens (including children) for how they look, and encouraging others to do the same; and the ways that this constant treatment leads some fat people to believe that they deserve this treatment until and unless their body is a different size.
Society tries to demand that we solve social stigma through weight loss and says until we do that we deserve to be treated incredibly poorly by every facet of society. We can reject that and demand that society solves social stigma by ending social stigma. Yolanda Reese Brooks deserved better and so does every other fat person – we have every right to demand it and to fight for it.
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I do size acceptance activism full time. A lot what I do, like answering over 4,000 e-mails from readers each month, giving talks to groups who can’t afford to pay, and running projects like the Georgia Billboard Campaign etc. is unpaid, so I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and want to support the work I do can become members for ten bucks a month To make that even cooler, I’ve now added a component called “DancesWithFat Deals” which are special deals to my members from size positive merchants. Once you are a member I send out an e-mail once a month with the various deals and how to redeem them – your contact info always stays completely private.
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