My Body Is Not My Resume: Exploring Nurses and Body Shaming

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    Body image is a sensitive topic. But, when the subject is coupled with your ability to complete your job, it can be devastating. In this article, we will the facts and opinions of body shaming in the nursing profession.

    My Body Is Not My Resume: Exploring Nurses and Body Shaming

    Writing is a conversation generator. Without facts and even opinions that differ from our own, we would not be challenged to think outside of the box and grow.

    My recent article My Body Is Not My Resume: Exploring Nursing Dress Codes brought to light many thoughts about nurses and how we look. It seems that tattoos, hair color and a face that looks like a tackle-box (readers comments, not mine) are only the tip of this huge iceberg.

    Common themes that emerged in the discussion boards were that of wrinkled scrubs, cartoon character scrubs, hair length, fingernail length and of course, the very delicate topic of body shaming.

    If you do a general search online for "nurses fat", "nurses weight" or "nurses body image" you will be met with a barrage of data and opinions. In this article, we will explore the research, a bit of the opinions and why this is an important subject for us, as nurses, to discuss.

    The Facts:

    Dr. Richard Kyle and other researchers from London South Bank University and Edinburgh Napier University studied the prevalence of obesity among healthcare professionals in England.

    The study, published in BMJ Open, examined data from more than 20,000 working-age adults who took part in a health survey in England between 2008-2012. The study was divided into 4 groups of participants:

    1. Nurses
    2. Other healthcare professionals
    3. Unregistered care workers
    4. People in non-health related jobs

    There were a total of 422 nurses polled. Of that, 25.1% were obese, as defined as a BMI score of more than 30. Only 14.4% of other healthcare professionals were found to be obese with a BMI of more than 30. So, let's break it down: 1 in 4 nurses are obese. Think about your units or offices, is this right? You will likely agree when you put this into the context of nurses you know or work with.

    Why Us?

    Obesity is a pandemic. Nurses and other healthcare professionals are certainly not immune. In fact, the CDC recognizes that certain behaviors increase the risk of obesity. These behaviors include dietary patterns, physical activity, inactivity, medication use and other exposures. In a nutshell, diet and exercise matter.

    Not sure about you, but I have not seen many busy hospital environments that offer breaks specifically for stress management and exercise. The reality is that some nurses may not even get to leave the unit to get a healthy meal or empty an overflowing bladder.

    You may be stuck with eating from the vending machine. And, the idea of leaving for even a 10-minute brisk walk to increase your exercise during the day and clear your mind is probably making many of you laugh out loud.

    Why Is It an Important Issue?

    Health Concerns

    As nurses, we know that obesity can lead to many other problems, such as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and diabetes. In the study by Dr. Kyle, nearly half of the nurses polled were over the age of 45, which further complicates the comorbidities associated with obesity. Those of us who are over 40 know from experience that losing weight becomes even more difficult with age.

    Safety Concerns

    Can a nurse who is overweight keep up? On a normal day in a normal unit, the short answer is yes. But, what about in an emergent situation? Can they run to a code, climb on a gurney to continue chest compressions or squeeze into small spaces out in the field as a flight nurse or other emergency personnel?

    The short answer, probably not, however, we are a team of nurses. Rarely are we alone in these emergent situations.

    Does it affect ability? This is a resounding "NO". Nothing about our body size makes or breaks us as a nurse. Just as people with tattoos or body piercings will say that their decisions to have body art has no bearing on their ability to be a good nurse, nurses who are obese can use the same argument.

    What About Skinny Shaming?

    Is it the same? Can a nurse who is very skinny, either naturally or due to some external issue be shamed by other nurses, hospital staff and patients solely due to his or her size? Of course they can!

    Can they handle the physical expectations of being a nurse? Many nurse job descriptions require the ability to lift 25-50 pounds on a regular basis. Can our skinny counterparts keep up?

    My Body, My Prerogative

    As Bobby Brown once famously sang, "I can do just what I feel, It's my prerogative". This is how many nurses feel these days when talks of body size, tattoos, hair color and piercings come up. Everyone has the right to do what's best for them and it is no one else's business.

    Do you agree? Do you feel that there is any issue with fat-shaming/skinny-shaming in your nursing culture? Do you have an opinion about body size/body image you would be willing to share with others? Do you think the research is right and reflects the body-size makeup on your unit? We would love to hear!
    Last edit by traumaRUs on Jan 29
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    Melissa Mills is a nurse who is on a journey of exploration and entrepreneurship. She is a healthcare writer who specializes in case management and leadership. When she is not in front of a computer, Melissa is busy with her husband, 3 kids, 2 dogs and a fat cat named Little Dude.

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    28 Comments

  3. by   maxthecat
    I'll have to think about my answer, but just as a correction: there are no overweight flight nurses, because there are specific height and weight requirements for these nursing jobs.
  4. by   holisticallyminded
    C'mon! Where I work management brings in pizza, someone is always offering candy, cookies, other baked goods and starches and I watch all of the nurses stuff their faces while I say NO, "I don't eat junk food," and "why not nuts sometime?" Nurses are obese because they eat too much and stress is not an excuse for life choices. This isn't "body-shaming;" it's a wake up call. How can a nurse educate a patient about health topics when she can't walk the walk? Every industry is stressful. You can't blame others for your lack of self control. Harsh? Good.
  5. by   Kitiger
    I used to 'eat to live', not 'live to eat'. If food was in front of me and I needed to eat, I ate. If I didn't need to eat just then, I ignored it. I didn't want it. I could take it or leave it, so I left it.

    Then I went through a dark time. I found that snacking & reading helped me feel better.

    Somehow - after that time - I have found that snacking feels good. I like the crunch, or the sweet/salty taste, or ... something! It's now really hard to forego that evening snack.

    I don't know why my thinking changed or how to change it back. I used to wonder why people ate so much; now I understand how hard it is to control the appetite.

    My BMI is 25, and it needs to come down. As I get older, it truly is harder to keep the weight under control.
  6. by   YANA67
    My BMI is 30, which makes me obese. I'm a new grad. I struggled with disordered eating all though high school. I try to take a kinder approach to myself now. I am heavier than I want to be, but I can still perform my job, I'm still physically active and I don't think I get a second look from patients when I talk to them about healthy eating or weight loss. Whenever we do training on lifting or body mechanics I still get volunteered because I guess I look small. It mortifies me, because I know how much I do weigh. I really don't think BMI is a perfect way to measure anyone though.

    I guess at the end of the day, if you can do you job, who cares what you look like? I know big nurses who can hustle like you wouldn't believe and I've got coworkers who can't weigh more than 90 pounds soaking wet who can lift and boost with the best of them.
  7. by   Libby1987
    This takes me to the many posts describing frustration at the chronic patients who won't change their life style. I don't know if they're one and the same, the same doing the judging of patients and nurses alike but if not, it seems a wave of understanding is in order.
  8. by   Phoenix16, RN
    This continues to be a topic of much controversy. Let me start off by saying I'm overweight; my BMI is 25.7 which is an improvement from the 28.2 it was just a few months ago. I work on a med-surg from 7p-7a with a charge nurse who is obviously obese and possibly morbidly obese; however; if I were ever a patient in a code, she is the nurse I would want working on me. This lady is a bowl of knowledge and intellect. With that said, there are times when she have come out of a patients room feeling broken, when the patient refuses to take lifestyle modification ( mainly diet) to better improve their health. Although I know I am overweight, the average person cannot tell, so she would have other nurses go in to provide the education to the patient. I know there are those reading this and thinking that if the patient does not want to take the advice then it's their problem. To those of you I ask you to think of these scenarios: 1. Would you listen to a pastor who is outwardly an adulterer when he starts preaching to you about the 10 commandments? 2. Would you seek counciling from a marriage therapist who have been divorced multiple times? I could go on with many examples. It is not that all these individuals are not experts in their field, but perception is everything and as "Health" care workers; shouldn't we lead by example? Thank you all for reading.
  9. by   Steph41
    I work in an ICU. At least 1 in 4 pt.s are 350lbs or more. When they are immobile, intubated, sedated, etc. , we healthcare workers turn, bath, move each part of them. It seems to me (I'd like to see the data) that the employees who are overweight get injured on the job more.

    I am 19lbs overweight, 38 years old, and it ABOSLUTLY IS a wake up call. Physical fitness is more important than any pill we could ever take. After reading this article and attempting losing a few on my own, I'm hiring a personal trainer. We all have to take responsibility for ourselves and quit making excuses. Pray for me.
  10. by   Mickey78
    Blah.....
  11. by   melissa.mills1117
    Quote from maxthecat
    I'll have to think about my answer, but just as a correction: there are no overweight flight nurses, because there are specific height and weight requirements for these nursing jobs.
    Maxthecat - Not really a correction, but certainly food for thought. My point was more to consider what areas of nursing have restrictions based on body size. Flight nursing certainly is one of those areas. Yes, there are specific height and weight requirements, with good reason. Unfortunately, nurses who are overweight may be limited in where they can work.

    Thanks for your thoughts. ~Melissa
  12. by   melissa.mills1117
    Quote from Kitiger
    I used to 'eat to live', not 'live to eat'. If food was in front of me and I needed to eat, I ate. If I didn't need to eat just then, I ignored it. I didn't want it. I could take it or leave it, so I left it.

    Then I went through a dark time. I found that snacking & reading helped me feel better.

    Somehow - after that time - I have found that snacking feels good. I like the crunch, or the sweet/salty taste, or ... something! It's now really hard to forego that evening snack.

    I don't know why my thinking changed or how to change it back. I used to wonder why people ate so much; now I understand how hard it is to control the appetite.

    My BMI is 25, and it needs to come down. As I get older, it truly is harder to keep the weight under control.
    Kitiger - Thanks for your thoughts and your honesty. We all have things we can work on. Don't give up! Just try making healthier choices.
    Melissa
  13. by   melissa.mills1117
    Quote from YANA67
    My BMI is 30, which makes me obese. I'm a new grad. I struggled with disordered eating all though high school. I try to take a kinder approach to myself now. I am heavier than I want to be, but I can still perform my job, I'm still physically active and I don't think I get a second look from patients when I talk to them about healthy eating or weight loss. Whenever we do training on lifting or body mechanics I still get volunteered because I guess I look small. It mortifies me, because I know how much I do weigh. I really don't think BMI is a perfect way to measure anyone though.

    I guess at the end of the day, if you can do you job, who cares what you look like? I know big nurses who can hustle like you wouldn't believe and I've got coworkers who can't weigh more than 90 pounds soaking wet who can lift and boost with the best of them.
    YANA67 - Love your grit and attitude! I agree that BMI is not always a good way to evaluate health. For me, I am one point above my "target" BMI, but if I lost much weight at all, I would look very thin and likelier older than I really am. (Which, who wants that? lol)

    Health is much more than weight. And, work ethic, skills and grit go along way on any nursing unit!

    Thanks for sharing your story. ~Melissa
  14. by   melissa.mills1117
    Quote from Phoenix16, RN
    This continues to be a topic of much controversy. Let me start off by saying I'm overweight; my BMI is 25.7 which is an improvement from the 28.2 it was just a few months ago. I work on a med-surg from 7p-7a with a charge nurse who is obviously obese and possibly morbidly obese; however; if I were ever a patient in a code, she is the nurse I would want working on me. This lady is a bowl of knowledge and intellect. With that said, there are times when she have come out of a patients room feeling broken, when the patient refuses to take lifestyle modification ( mainly diet) to better improve their health. Although I know I am overweight, the average person cannot tell, so she would have other nurses go in to provide the education to the patient. I know there are those reading this and thinking that if the patient does not want to take the advice then it's their problem. To those of you I ask you to think of these scenarios: 1. Would you listen to a pastor who is outwardly an adulterer when he starts preaching to you about the 10 commandments? 2. Would you seek counciling from a marriage therapist who have been divorced multiple times? I could go on with many examples. It is not that all these individuals are not experts in their field, but perception is everything and as "Health" care workers; shouldn't we lead by example? Thank you all for reading.
    Phoenix16 - You raise some very good points! Perception is huge. Being overweight is not the end of the world in terms of your nursing career, but it can make it more difficult. Whether you are limited in where you can work, how you work or what you feel comfortable teaching patients - there are limitations.

    Thanks for your thoughts. ~Melissa

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