Corey Van’t Haaff will tell you straight out she’s “fat.”
She’s also a writer, an unabashed dog-lover, an administrative adjudicator, and an accomplished cook.
Corey owns her weight like she owns everything else – she is confident and outspoken, and she thinks the word “fat” is a perfectly good descriptor of her size. She also knows that she’ll take the burn right out of the word if she uses it first, so she draws it out of her holster before anyone else. She shoots, she wins.
“I’m going to take it away. I mean, you call me ‘fat.’ I’ll say, ‘Uh huh, and I’m also brunette, yeah? What’s next? Is that all you’ve got?’” she says, her blue eyes glinting.
It’s part of who she is. “I was a fat kid. I was a fat adult. My parents were heavy. My sisters were heavy. The only one who wasn’t was my brother,” she explains. “And it was never really a big issue because it was who we were. We were always the fat kids in school and there were three of us, so it didn’t matter.”
It didn’t matter because she was athletic enough to be on the A-team of all the sports in grade school. And it didn’t matter in her chosen profession because as a writer her words precede her. Her writer’s voice has a lot of swagger, and her accomplishments conjure an image of some sort of human tornado in reverse. She can commandeer 850 people to pull together a federal election in 36 days! She’s a force, and she’s got words.
She’s used her knack with words to build a successful career – writing about dogs, design, décor, health care and business. She’s outgoing and interested, and her curiosity sends her down all sorts of side streets. She’s done radio, has a novel in the works, and is the editor of West Coast Veterinarian Magazine. She’s a self-described “big-mouth” who gets involved, volunteering for provincial and federal appointments in British Columbia, where she lives. She’s sat on a number of quasi-judicial tribunals, because she’s also thoughtful and decisive – and passionate about justice. And she’s fat.
Her weight certainly has not held her back. Not, that is, until the accident. Ten years ago, when she was 51, she was in her Ford Explorer stopped at a red light and a van hit her from behind. “I didn’t have to go to the hospital, [but] I was just really hurt,” she says. It started that night with a headache. The pain progressed to her back and made it difficult for her to get around. “I couldn’t move,” she remembers. “I had a tiny house at the time. I couldn’t walk from my front door to my kitchen without sitting down. I could not cook without sitting down.”
The accident forced her into close contact with doctors, specialists, and lawyers to determine the cause of her immobility. She was disheartened to find that in this milieu, she continually came face to face with weight bias. She had to patiently explain, over and over, that before the accident, she could move just fine. After the accident, she couldn’t.
But physicians, insurance adjusters, and medical technicians routinely tried to pin all her mobility problems on her weight. “You could see the judgment as soon as you walked in,” she remembers. For Corey it was eye-opening to experience how professionals presumably educated in the scientific method looked at her and made all sorts of wrong assumptions, sometimes without so much as consulting her file.
She figured her experiences were likely being repeated with many other people who carried extra weight. She was sure she could help change that. First, though, she needed to attend to her own health and mobility.
Corey knew that her weight wasn’t the problem, but it was hard to ignore that it was a problem, and maybe a problem she could do something about.
She accompanied a friend to a medical weight management program and discovered that she would be a good candidate for bariatric surgery. That was 100 pounds and 6 years ago. She cautions that “surgery is not a magic wand… it’s simply a tool to help you.” Seventy pounds came off pretty quickly but after that her weight plateaued, and every pound lost thereafter was hard won. “I’m still fat!” she declares. But she is much more mobile now, thanks to the weight loss and some laser treatments to ease the pain. “My husband tells me to slow down at Costco because he can’t keep up with me,” she jokes.
Since the accident Corey has become an advocate on behalf of people with obesity and excess weight in Canada, in ways large and small. “Fat people are not all the same…You can’t look at obesity as a major part of any of our personalities or beings,” Corey asserts. She speaks to doctors about how to recognize their own unconscious weight bias, urging them to check their assumptions and just listen. Each person in a larger body has their own story, she points out.
Corey says there is one thing that all large-bodied people do share, however: the social stigma. “In addition to carrying our actual weight, we carry every opinion and insult that we’ve ever heard,” she says. She challenges retailers, service providers, and even fellow consumers when they react without empathy to the circumstances of someone carrying extra weight. Corey knows that many people who struggle with their weight have a hard time sticking up for themselves. She doesn’t, so she speaks up for them – and she hopes her example reverberates. “I can do it, so I must,” she explains matter-of-factly. It’s become a calling of sorts – because she’s “fat,” and she’s very good with words.
Corey also finds support in our Facebook Group, Personal Health Revolution Weight Management. Click here to join.
To find a physician near you who specializes in weight management, click here.