Good and bad stuff from Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates pushes back against the trivialization of women’s literal labor in pregnancy. (Yay!)

And he also mentions a way in which medical bias against fat patients (potentially interacting with racism and sexism, and in particular the tendency to see pregnant women and new mothers as hormonal and irrational) put his wife’s life at risk. And rather than criticize the anti-fat bias, he seems to excuse it and even perpetuates it. (Boo!)

About six months in, Kenyatta started picking up weight at a rate that flummoxed and alarmed her doctors. Her whole body swelled like a water balloon, a description which we would only later find to be frighteningly apt. The docs diagnosed gestational diabetes, and we changed our diets accordingly. No dice. The weight gain continued, and all we got were puzzled looks and the assurance that after the pregnancy things would abate. Looking back on it now, I’m convinced they thought we were gorging on McDonald’s and lying to our docs. People do it all the time.

Do they, now? How often is ‘all the time’? Is that something that really happens frequently, or do we think it’s happening way more often than it really is because of tropes around fatness? This is just another stupid “everybody knows”. (I’m especially skeptical given the extreme description of not just “eating more than they normally do”, but “gorging on McDonald’s”. That kind of phrasing is a bit like “turning down that third piece of pie”.)

Those tropes came this close to killing his wife. And she’s not the only one who’s been harmed by them. I’m not saying that the position that doctors are in is easy–you don’t want to act on the wrong information, if the person really is lying–but I think it’s better to assume at first that a patient is being basically truthful. Of course, patients wouldn’t have any motivation to lie if we didn’t do so much shaming around weight, eating, and exercise. It’s yet another unfortunate unintended consequence of fat stigma.

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5 Responses to Good and bad stuff from Ta-Nehisi Coates

  1. anna says:


    I am amazed at how, in such a short post, you have hit all of the nails on all of their heads. The almost right but not quite right on his post, the fact he is perpetuating this myth, and the fact he/his wife is now part of this narrative and instead of going “Hm, maybe the stereotype I had about this group is wrong?” he goes “Well, obviously it is still correct, but there’s an exception for us!”


    I can never make really good comments, so I apologise and will stop before I just fall into ranting.

  2. G says:

    Wow! I’m not sure if he glossed over his comprehension of it, or if the point completely flew over his head there. Thank goodness Kenyatta’s mother had the presence of mind to take care of her, rather than judge her body as a moral failing (which was how Coates responded, and it nearly killed her).

    Other than that, fantastic article.

  3. Anna–Thanks!
    G–I’m not sure if Coates (at the time) saw his wife’s body as a moral failing… but maybe he did, and that was why he wasn’t more concerned. It seemed like the main problem was that he was just in denial that there was a problem.

    • G says:

      When doctors dismiss health concerns of fat people as “lose weight”, is that denial or neglect?

      • Is that a trick question? 🙂 Yes?

        I guess my impression was, in contrast to doctors often saying, “It’s just a side effect of being fat, it will go away if you lose weight,” Coates’s attitude the night the mother intervened was, “It’s nothing, it will go away on its own.” There’s not a whole lot to go on in his description, though, so I certainly can’t rule out a side-effect-of-being-fat mentality on his part.

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