“Did you climb the Rocky Steps?”
“Yes! The view at the top was awesome.”
It was the most asked question after my return from Philadelphia last week, where I attended the spring conference of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians (ASBP).
Made famous in the 1976 movie Rocky, the Rocky Steps are the 72 stone steps that lead up to the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Tourists flock to them, reliving the journey from underdog to victor. Stopping at times to indulge in the view, their perspective growing wider and grander with each step.
Although our conferences are held in some great cities, I am rarely able to partake of the local sights. My days are jam-packed with learning from early morning until early evening, leaving barely enough time for dinner, meetings, and sleep.
But I got lucky in Philadelphia.
With some free time before my flight back to Seattle, I was able to view the museum’s renowned art collection and scale the iconic steps. Each step reminded me of the power we have to overcome our limitations—both real and imagined.
I thought about the limited perspective that so many have about weight, about the misconceptions and the stigma. I remembered how my heart hurt when one of the conference speakers reminded us that the characteristic that is most discriminated against in our country is weight.
I recalled the stories I’ve heard from people seeking medical care who are met with simple answers, or blame and shame, or both, when what they really need is accurate information delivered with respect and sensitivity. I saw the faces of those who want to be seen as a person with a medical issue, not as someone who is defective. I thought about how infrequently this is the case.
And my heart hurt even more.
Then it occurred to me:
I am in Philadelphia—the birthplace of American freedom.
Home of the Liberty Bell. The place where the Constitution was signed. A major hub of the Underground Railroad.
It has always been a gathering place for forward thinking people who simply won’t accept the unacceptable.
My mind flashed back to the conference that had just ended. With eagerness and excitement, we filled the conference rooms—all 600+ of us—learning, speaking, encouraging, sharing, welcoming newcomers.
We broke the conference attendance record, just as we have at the last several conferences. Now over 1800 strong, our organization is growing steadily. Step by step, we are climbing higher.
Yet still, there are not enough of us. We are only a fraction of what is needed.
We need more obesity medicine specialists. We need more primary care providers who can skillfully and sensitively address weight issues. We need all medical professionals to be educated about the complexities of weight so that every patient will receive guidance and feel accepted.
And we all need to demand this of our medical providers. Every single one of them, without exception.
This is the road to freedom. Freedom from bias. Freedom from discrimination. Freedom from stigma. Freedom to pursue health.
Just like those who came before us, we can no longer accept the unacceptable.
It is time for each of us to take our next step. As we do, our perspective will grow wider and grander.
I imagine that the view at the top is awesome.