For a long time, I had a doctor who hassled me about having dark patches on my armpits and between my legs. She’d say that the dark skin was a sign that I was too heavy, and I feel really embarrassed of them. I don’t wear tank tops or shorts, and I’m self-conscious during sex especially. My partner wants me to open my legs because she thinks it’s hot, and all I can think of is how my thighs have these dark patches that mean I’m unhealthy. Recently, I was looking at some plus size yoga accounts on Instagram and saw that these clearly really fit people also had dark patches in the same places! I spent probably a creepy amount of time examining the photos, but afterwards, I felt relieved and normal. I’m not sure what my question is but I guess I wanted to tell you about it and ask your thoughts on that.
Important to note: I’m not a medical care professional who can make conclusive statements about stuff related to the body, but I’m going to tell you what I think and what I’ve noticed about my body and the bodies of others around me.
Thank you for asking this question! Thinking of inner thighs and armpits are kind of the best way to start the day. These are the private parts of ourselves that illicit vulnerability in many, and that are often more tender than other body parts. Metaphor!!
So let me start by addressing the obvious – your doctor sounds like a dick.
It sounds like you are no longer working with her, and I’m glad to hear that, but should a medical care professional in the future make you feel embarrassed about your body during an exam (or even before/after), I’d like to encourage and empower you to have a frank conversation about boundaries and what works for you. You can simply say something like “I really want to come to you when I need medical attention, and one of the ways I know you can help make that happen is by using weight neutral language.”
Fat people often experience shame and fatphobia at the doctor because fatphobia is a big part of medical bias. Yes, girl, doctors (just like everyone else) have bias. This bias is not your fault, and I hope that someday we can get to the point where all doctors and nurses are brought into the revolution, and everyone can get amazing, humane medical care regardless of their gender, sexuality, or body size. But we’re not there yet.
It’s VERY important for people to feel safe visiting their doctor because a safe relationship guarantees (wait for it…) better ongoing medical care which improves people’s quality of life. When you feel safe you’re likelier to go to the doctor when symptoms begin rather than waiting until symptoms have gotten to the point of being unbearable (ok, small tangent> fatphobic medical care fuels more fatphobic medical care because fat people may not go to the doctor until symptoms are really bad because they’re afraid of getting fat-shamed, and then the doctor sees fat people in these acute states and think fat people are super unhealthy.. it’s kind of like confirmation bias <end tangent). You’re also less likely to have a stress response (anxiety, fear, adrenaline) around seeking medical care. Also, not anticipating or experiencing shaming is just overall a good thing for mental health, and we know that mental wellness is connected to things like cardiovascular wellness.
Now, onto your perfectly normal skin!
Yes, many people have darker skin on their armpits and between their legs. Some parts of you might be lighter than others, and some parts might be darker. Not just fat people have darker skin on their armpits and thighs! Yes, people of all sizes might have lighter or darker skin on some parts of their bodies. If we have thick thighs, they are likelier to rub against each other, and that friction can change the color of the skin on our thighs. Also, when we are bigger bodied it’s likelier that we have skin that is touching other skin more often, and this can change the color of our skin too. There’s nothing shameful about this!
I’m a fat Mexican-Iranian lady with dark hair and eyes and olive skin. I have darker skin on my armpits and inner thighs. And I’ve noticed that a lot of my brown and black friends – regardless of size – do too.
I had a doctor who worked at the student health center at the school I was attending who was OBSESSED with the color of my armpits and thighs. I totally get that it’s a doctor’s job to bring their expertise on the human body to the examination room, and I definitely DO want my doctor to tell me if they see, like, the start of flesh-eating bacterial growth or something on my skin that I need to treat with a topical ointment because it’s hurty or something on my skin that is indicative of something intense happening inside my body that I need to take care of immediately. Being fat and brown doesn’t fit ANY of those criteria.
So to wrap it all up: yes, boo, your skin sounds totally normal! And secondly, it’s been my experience that many, many people have darker skin on more sensitive parts of their body (yes, like the yogis you saw). The people I’ve noticed who are less likely to have darker skin on their armpits and thighs are:
>people with very light skin… though there are plenty of light skinned folks who do. I have a blonde haired blue eyed friend who told me she has reddish-brown color under her armpits – yes, I have friendships where we discuss this sorta thing!
>slender people (whose thighs don’t touch, for example)
And so pathologizing darker skin as negative or “unhealthy” just strikes me as kind of weird, racist, fatphobic and unnecessary.
Hope this helps!
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.