Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta shames fat kids to save them

It was surveys of two towns in Georgia that convinced Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta that the nation’s relentless campaign against childhood obesity wasn’t hitting hard enough: Georgia has the second highest rate of childhood obesity in the U.S., and parents in the towns surveyed seemed unaware of their kids’ obesity. So to promote their Strong4Life campaign, Children’s decided that a painfully blunt approach was necessary, and damn the consequences–even if those consequences involved putting sad, overweight children on billboards and TV ads to shame their parents into action.

WOMAN’S VOICE. Being thick runs in our family. As her mom, I never noticed Tamika eating any differently than the rest of us. She likes junk food, but what kid doesn’t? When the doctor said she had type 2 diabetes, I never thought what we eat made her sick. I just always thought she was thick like her mama.

Children’s senior vice president Linda Matzigkeit says the ads as “arresting and in your face,” which appears to be an accurate assessment. But “arresting” isn’t the same as “effective.” There’s no mention of what parents can do to encourage their families to be healthy. No acknowledgement of the numerous and complex influences on health. No acknowledgement that fat != unhealthy. No mention that Maya, who plays the girl in the “Tamika” ad, doesn’t herself have diabetes. It’s just a heavy kid in black-and-white and a warning label in red–fat kids are dangerous. “Stop sugarcoating it, Georgia.”

Of course, we have to hear Children’s cheering that that people are talking about the ads, which means they’re working!

As far as Children’s Healthcare is concerned, the fact that the ads sparked debate means they achieved their goal, regardless of the reaction.

“Our intention was to get people talking about childhood obesity and we did that. We can’t do this alone; it’s going to take a whole community of physicians, parents and caregivers to solve the problem,” Matzigkeit said.

I am so sick of this “at least we got people talking about it” and “the debate means we achieved our goal” defense of indefensible ads. We heard it with Pete Hoekstra’s racist political ad, too: It doesn’t matter what we say or how we say it, as long as people talk about it–even if that talk is, “Holy crap, this is inappropriate.”

Or if that talk is, “Honey, I had no idea that being fat was ruining your childhood. It’s time for you to stop eating so much.” Or if it’s, “I’m eating nothing and exercising all the time–why am I not skinny enough?” Or if it’s, “I’m so disgusting. I deserve everything that comes to me.” Being arresting at the expense of kids and starting a conversation at the expense of kids is worth the potential trauma.

To Children’s, it’s worth it to have ads that give kids ammo to hate themselves and give their classmates–and, hell, even their parents–ammo to bully them. It’s okay that the ads fall back on the standard trope that fat just comes from eating too much and “fat prevention … begins at the buffet line.” It doesn’t matter that the ads ostensibly target parents but put woebegone fat kids front and center, as long as it gets people talking.

As always, to satisfy the knee-jerk critics, I have to throw in the standard disclaimer: No, there’s nothing wrong with healthy eating and exercise, as long as it’s appropriate for the individual kid. Maya, who received nutritional counseling as part of her payment for the ad, has since said that eating better and exercising has made it easier to walk the dog and cheer with the cheerleading squad.

But that’s not “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid” or “It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not.” Attention-getting, yes, and emotionally striking, particularly with the black-and-white photography and the children’s sad eyes. But inaccurate. It wasn’t the being fat that made it hard for Maya to have fun; it was not being fit enough to participate in fun activities. And when Maya spoke with Sanjay Gupta, she appeared slimmer than she did in the ad–but still heavy. The campaign seems to be undermining its own message by demonstrating that a kid can be fat and still have a fun, active life.

The ads have been compared numerous times to campaigns against smoking that use shocking images to drive the point home. “We felt like we needed a very arresting, abrupt campaign that said: ‘Hey, Georgia! Wake up. This is a problem,'” Matzigekeit told the AJC. So they used kids. Obesity is the new smoking, and fat kids are the new smoker’s cough and blackened lung. Except the lung doesn’t get shamed at school or at home for being blackened.

Whether or not you feel that obesity should be targeted as a self-contained epidemic, however you feel about approaches to encourage healthy eating and activity, whether or not you believe that this “strong message” is one that needs to be sent, can we at least agree that the trauma of shaming children isn’t worth the message? Or are we expected to see kids as acceptable collateral damage in the War on Fatties?

GIRL. I don’t like going to school because all the other kids pick on me. It hurts my feelings.

Well, this campaign is sure to make that better.


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67 comments for “Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta shames fat kids to save them

  1. FashionablyEvil
    February 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    I live in Atlanta and I wince every time I see these posters or billboards (and want to find the kids pictured and give them a big hug). Nothing makes kids feel better like a healthy dose of shame, right?

    Also, as a public health professional, the idea that someone will be influenced to change their approach to diet and exercise solely because of some posters is laughable on its face.

  2. Li
    February 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Just a heads up that the first link is broken.

    [Thanks for the heads up–fixed it. -C]

  3. Emolee
    February 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Caperton, thanks for writing about this. It is so sad and angering to see kids shamed for having a particular body. They already get enough of this from other kids and people in their lives- the last thing they need is for this shaming to be “sanctioned” and encouraged by the media, governement, and health organizations.

    There are a couple of positive campaigns that I know of in response to this shaming one. Ragen at Dances with Fat has already raised over 20K to put up billboards in Atlanta with a Health at Every Size and Support for All Kids message. http://www.SupportAllKids.com

    Marilyn Wann and tons of others are also creating posters that “mimic” the style of the print ads associated with this campaign that focus on kindness toward all bodies, respect for size diversity, and similar ideas. These are being distributed through tumblr, facebook, etc. They feature photos of people of all sizes with positive, supportive captions, written by the person in the photo. Some of them are really amazing. http://istandagainstweightbullying.tumblr.com/

  4. February 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    So if you’re being bullied at school about your weight, the appropriate thing to do is change your body enough so that other people don’t notice you.

    That’s pure genius. It’s time to get on the wire, folks, and spread the message. The answer to bullying is to change everything about yourself in order to prevent assholes from teasing you!

  5. Li
    February 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Boy am I so very tired of people acting like mental health and self-esteem are not a vital part of health.

  6. BBJ
    February 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Just posted a little about this, linked this article.

    It’s so frustrating, because the conversation about things like this always seems to come back to “Well, obesity is really, really bad, so any stupid thing we do in the ostensible name of fixing it is OK.”

    That and “If you’re nice to fat people, it just encourages them to be fat,”, which seems to be the underlying message with a lot of these things.

  7. February 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    I wish I knew where to begin. But I think part of the issue here is that we sometimes expect people to be able to automatically read War and Peace, when they’ve never even had the opportunity to learn what A, B, and C mean.

  8. FashionablyEvil
    February 17, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    Emolee, thanks for posting those links. They’re great!

  9. February 17, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    Ugh. Did anyone else click through to the link and see the video that came on after the ones about the ads, where they discuss a study linking kids’ weight gain to working moms? Would they ever even bother to study how fathers’ work affects their kids’ weight? I noticed that even though these ads talk about “parents,” they seem to be focusing on moms, too. It’s always about the bad moms…

  10. Odin
    February 17, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    @ Bridget

    — I’m sure that the working parent studies tend to focus on the moms at least partially because of sexism. But “working moms” is also something that correlates with social class and income levels, and in the US, obesity correlates with poverty. So it’s not an inherently sexist or wrong question to ask if there’s a relationship between child weight and whether or not their mother works, and it’s also possible that any studies done on working dads and child weight might turn out inconclusive.

    Using these studies to suggest that working moms are Bad Moms, of course, is 100% sexist and other *ists, and very likely is conflating correlation with causation.

  11. February 17, 2012 at 11:53 pm

    Just to follow up on Emolee’s comment, the IStand project is not just a Tumblr project. They are making actual posters to post in Georgia (not as many, since they have about $20,000 and the Georgia agency has $5,000,000 to spend on this garbage. You can donate at http://istandagainstweightbullying.tumblr.com/ to see more of these posters. The project (which I have nothing to do with) has been featured on the BBC and in Ms. Magazine’s blog, among other places. There’s just a breath of hope that this may be a turning point for such shaming actions.

  12. Angie unduplicated
    February 18, 2012 at 7:57 am

    The sad truth about poverty and obesity is that the dollar box of snack cakes is about the only splurge or reward a poor family can afford. We’ve already had Newt Grinch shaming poor blacks for structural unemployment; now children are on the shame-and-blame list for demonstrating the results of cheap diet. Georgia already has bullying and street gang problems which discourage children from outdoor play and these ads are an incitement to violence against fat kids.

  13. Past my expiration date
    February 18, 2012 at 8:30 am

    But “working moms” is also something that correlates with social class and income levels,

    @Odin, are you saying that mothers with low socioeconomic status are more likely to work for pay than mothers with high socioeconomic status? I don’t think that the data support this assertion.

  14. wriggles
    February 18, 2012 at 8:45 am
    • February 18, 2012 at 9:59 am

      I’m sure that the working parent studies tend to focus on the moms at least partially because of sexism. But “working moms” is also something that correlates with social class and income levels, and in the US, obesity correlates with poverty.

      Do you have anything to back up this assertion? Because I’m not sure it’s true.

  15. Odin
    February 18, 2012 at 10:33 am

    @ Jill

    No formal citations I can give; I heard it from a poli-sci prof in casual discussion. She was telling us that “working mothers” was not a new thing, but rather that women with children in working-class and poor families have been in the workforce since the early 1900’s at least, and that what’s changed over the century since then is the proportion of middle- and upper-class women with children in the workforce, and that currently, women with elementary-school-aged kids are more likely to be in the workforce the lower the family income.

    Since this was consistent with what I learned in history classes, I saw no reason to be skeptical and chase down another source. Well, I guess now I ought to!

  16. Odin
    February 18, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Er, to follow up… I assumed you were asking for a source for the working moms and family income correlation, since I see the “obesity correlates with poverty” claim repeated frequently on feminist and social justice blogs, frequently in the context of discussion of access to more healthful food. But if you like, I can track some sources down for that claim (besides Wikipedia, which I assume doesn’t count).

  17. Alexandra
    February 18, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    As someone who used to be a bullied fat kid, I WISH campaigns like this existed when I was going to school, being fed white bread sandwiches loaded with butter and peanut butter snacks by my completely oblivious mom (whom I have come to educate when I got old enough to go on a diet, at around 20 years old), and getting beaten up every day. NO ONE told my mom to stop feeding me crap, NO ONE cared that I afraid of going to school, and NO ONE defended me. And the only person who gets to pay for it, with a childhood that could fit into a Stephen King novel and a borderline eating disorder as an adult, is me.

    I’m sorry, Debbie Notkin – campaigns like the one you posted do NOTHING to help bullied kids. They just help adults feel good about themselves.

    On that note, I have to say that I don’t really understand the kids who agreed to perform in the ads. I never would.

  18. igglanova
    February 18, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    As someone who used to be a bullied fat kid, I WISH campaigns like this existed when I was going to school, being fed white bread sandwiches loaded with butter and peanut butter snacks by my completely oblivious mom

    Yes, I’m sure a campaign that is fat-shaming from conception to execution is the only possible way to get the word out about the effects of a poor diet. The attitude that potential ugliness is a much more frightening prospect than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease is totally something we should actively perpetuate rather than work to change.

  19. EG
    February 18, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    As someone who used to be a bullied fat kid, I WISH campaigns like this existed when I was going to school, being fed white bread sandwiches loaded with butter and peanut butter snacks by my completely oblivious mom (whom I have come to educate when I got old enough to go on a diet, at around 20 years old), and getting beaten up every day. NO ONE told my mom to stop feeding me crap, NO ONE cared that I afraid of going to school, and NO ONE defended me.

    I would consider those last two things to be the most significant problems, actually, and would want campaigns directed at adults that addressed those. I see not a whole lot wrong with a parent packing buttery and peanut buttery sandwiches. I see a whole boatload of shit wrong with a parent not caring that his/her kid was afraid of going to school or lifting a finger to defend her. Because a fat kid who’s being beaten up and picked on is, I suspect, going to be a whole lot happier than a thin kid who is being beaten up and picked on.

  20. February 18, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    Ugh, I really wish we could get away from the rhetoric of blaming fat for fat kids having a hard time. I was a really happy fat kid until I started getting teased about it in 5th grade. I had friends, I was active, and I ate my veggies. Bullying made my quality of life suck, not being fat. Know what else made my quality of life suck? Being put on a diet at freaking 12 years old.

  21. Azalea
    February 19, 2012 at 2:13 am

    Angie unduplicated

    The sad truth about poverty and obesity is that the dollar box of snack cakes is about the only splurge or reward a poor family can afford. We’ve already had Newt Grinch shaming poor blacks for structural unemployment; now children are on the shame-and-blame list for demonstrating the results of cheap diet.

    And that is why I tend to STFU when it comes to these discussions. Obesity in the black community coupled with the disproportionate rate of “typical” obesity linked illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes make me angry. That isn’t about fat acceptance, it’s about living past that not so stellar life expectancy. I think the two are separate issues, 1) no one should be shaming someone because of the way they look 2) implying that there is nothing unhealthy about a 200 pound 5’1 10 year old who is eating unhealthy cheap, processed, high in sodium, fat and empty calorie foods on a daily basis is not the way to solve number 1.

    EG

    Because a fat kid who’s being beaten up and picked on is, I suspect, going to be a whole lot happier than a thin kid who is being beaten up and picked on.

    Why would you think the fat kid would be” a whole lot happier” than the thin kid who is being picked on?

  22. Alexandra
    February 19, 2012 at 6:43 am

    EG – my mum didn’t know. And even if she did, she wouldn’t be able to do anything. The people who are supposed to take care of these things are teachers and school officials. They all knew, and none of them gave a shit. Frankly? I wish I have been put on a diet. I wish my mum stopped porking me up BEFORE I had the maturity and the sense to take my own control over my own weight.

    Shoshie, guess what? The fact that you didn’t actually get bullied until as late as 5th grade is pure luck on your side. No one goes through childhood fat without being bullied. You know why? Because kids will always pick on the odd one out. They’ve been doing it since the dawn of time.
    If any of you think bullying is some new invention of the thin-obsessed modern age, I suggest you go back and re-read the classic children’s books.

  23. Alexandra
    February 19, 2012 at 7:26 am

    igglanova – yes, ugliness IS scarier than all of the above. That’s just human nature. People can sympathize with sick people, but not with ugly ones. Even the poster kids for disease awareness are always cute. And let’s face it – being ugly in the modern world will damage you much more than an invisible sickness. It will be harder for you to find a job (research shows employers prefer to hire better looking people, even subconsciously), to find a life partner, to even walk down the street without being stared at. Ugliness is a quality of life issue, whether you like it or not. And you can’t change it, because people by nature are attracted to proportional features and figures and reject the ones who aren’t. So if people don’t care about diabetes – they WILL care about THIS.

  24. EG
    February 19, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Why would you think the fat kid would be” a whole lot happier” than the thin kid who is being picked on?

    Because I made a typo and left out the “not.”

    EG – my mum didn’t know. And even if she did, she wouldn’t be able to do anything. The people who are supposed to take care of these things are teachers and school officials. They all knew, and none of them gave a shit.

    What a parent can do is raise holy hell with those teachers and school officials until they do take action. A parent can advocate for his/her kid.

    Believe me when I say that kids get bullied for all kinds of reasons. Fat might be the excuse. but it’s not the reason.

  25. February 19, 2012 at 10:09 am

    No one goes through childhood fat without being bullied.

    Citation needed.

  26. February 19, 2012 at 10:40 am

    And let’s face it – being ugly in the modern world will damage you much more than an invisible sickness.

    While this might be true for you, Alexandra, it’s very much not for me.

    I’m fat, and I have an invisible illness — and my chronic illness has had a much bigger impact on my life. It has, in your words, made it more difficult for me to find and keep a job (particularly with respect to asking for accommodations for an impairment my employers can’t see), to find a life partner (particularly with respect to having fewer spoons to invest in new relationships and ableist attitudes from potential partners).

    I get that your statement about fat and invisible illness is true for you. But that doesn’t mean it’s true for everybody. I do just fine and defining my life for myself, thanks. ;)

  27. February 19, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Shoshie, guess what? The fact that you didn’t actually get bullied until as late as 5th grade is pure luck on your side. No one goes through childhood fat without being bullied. You know why? Because kids will always pick on the odd one out. They’ve been doing it since the dawn of time.
    If any of you think bullying is some new invention of the thin-obsessed modern age, I suggest you go back and re-read the classic children’s books.

    Wow…this response is really fucking rude.

    I actually was bullied before 5th grade. I was bullied for being smart. I was bullied for being Jewish. I was bullied for being smart and Jewish. I got fat when I was about 8…I was actually a really skinny kid in kindergarten and first grade. That was about this time I was transferred to a new school for various reasons. I’m sure kids made fun of me there, but I was mostly oblivious to it for 2 years.

    And where the fuck did you get that I think bullying is new? I grew up in the late 80’s/early 90’s, before the the current obesity scare. I was bullied for a bunch of things.

    You say that you wish you were put on a diet when you were a kid. Do you know what it’s like to be the kid who can’t have birthday cake at a birthday party? Do you know what it’s like to have the whole class know that you’re so fat that you’re a 12 year old on a diet? It sucks and brings on it’s own fun brand of teasing.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of feeding kids nutritious food and giving them awesome ways to get exercise. But money isn’t being poured into a campaign to get parents to sign their kids up for sports and feed them veggies. It’s being spent to demonize fat kids. That’s clearly the best use of money.

    Also,

    That’s just human nature.

    Two things:

    1) It’s clear that we can actively change what people consider ugly, to a certain extent. A lot of what people consider ugly and attractive is culturally mandated rather than inate.

    2) The response to “people are going to hate on different folks” isn’t to say that different folks just stop being all different in front of other people.

  28. February 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    We need to keep the pressure on Strong4Life. This article makes some excellent points and the opinion is spot on.

    I linked it on Facebook, hope you don’t mind.

  29. William
    February 19, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    So if you’re being bullied at school about your weight, the appropriate thing to do is change your body enough so that other people don’t notice you.

    Makes sense. If you’re bullied for being gay the appropriate thing is to be straight. If you bullied for being a freak the appropriate thing is to be normal. If you’re bullied for being too smart you should stop wrecking the curve. Thats the whole point. Beat down difference until theres nothing left but submission.

    You can’t really fault Atlanta for being honest, can you?

  30. William
    February 19, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    EG – my mum didn’t know.

    Bullshit. Thats like people who complain that they didn’t know smoking was dangerous. The link between eating too much and obesity isn’t new. Maybe your mom knew and did the best she could with the resources she had available, maybe she didn’t give a shit, maybe she thought the joy you would derive from food outweighed the pounds, but, unless she has a serious developmental disability or some kind of organic condition, she knew.

    The people who are supposed to take care of these things are teachers and school officials.

    How is it a teacher or school official’s job to watch your weight? If a teacher or a school official had made a comment about my weight in school it wouldn’t have been much later than about 4th grade that I’d tell them to go fuck themselves and mind their own damned business.

    Its their job to protect you from other kids by making bullying unacceptable, not by being the fat police.

  31. Alexandra
    February 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Makes sense. If you’re bullied for being gay the appropriate thing is to be straight. If you bullied for being a freak the appropriate thing is to be normal. If you’re bullied for being too smart you should stop wrecking the curve. Thats the whole point. Beat down difference until theres nothing left but submission.

    So obesity is basically an inherent part of your character and of who you are, without which you would not be you? Or even – a worse version of yourself? (not necessarily you personally, just a general “you”)

    • February 19, 2012 at 6:24 pm

      So obesity is basically an inherent part of your character and of who you are, without which you would not be you?

      Not of my character but of who I am now, yes — at least for me. My size and my weight are part of this body, which is a part of me. It is the result of my life experiences, my values, and my choices. In a different body — that is, with different life experiences, fundamental values, and choices — I may well be a different person. Not better or worse, necessarily — just different than who I am now.

      Moreover, with respect to changing fat in response to bullying — I love my body, this body, and I do not wish to change.

  32. Alexandra
    February 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    I actually was bullied before 5th grade. I was bullied for being smart. I was bullied for being Jewish. I was bullied for being smart and Jewish. I got fat when I was about 8…I was actually a really skinny kid in kindergarten and first grade. That was about this time I was transferred to a new school for various reasons. I’m sure kids made fun of me there, but I was mostly oblivious to it for 2 years.

    Which just proves my point – kids will always pick on the odd one out. But while being smart is a good thing, and being Jewish is just being Jewish, neither good nor bad, being overweight is never a good thing, Why would anyone subject children to abuse they can avoid?

    And where the fuck did you get that I think bullying is new? I grew up in the late 80′s/early 90′s, before the the current obesity scare. I was bullied for a bunch of things.

    I didn’t say you thought that, it was aimed at the general spirit of the comments in this thread. Hence the “any of you”. I grew up in the early 90s as well. Don’t take it personally.

    You say that you wish you were put on a diet when you were a kid. Do you know what it’s like to be the kid who can’t have birthday cake at a birthday party? Do you know what it’s like to have the whole class know that you’re so fat that you’re a 12 year old on a diet? It sucks and brings on it’s own fun brand of teasing.

    One brand or another – teasing is teasing. And at least early weight loss eases it into adulthood. Maybe I would actually have had a boyfriend during my highschool years if I didn’t have to wait for the last straw?

  33. February 19, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    So obesity is basically an inherent part of your character and of who you are, without which you would not be you? Or even – a worse version of yourself? (not necessarily you personally, just a general “you”)

    Since when does losing weight make one a better person?

  34. February 19, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Alexandra – weight can’t be changed as easily as you assume. Not in a healthy, sustainable way, anyhow. Some people will always be fatter than other people want them to be, because that is healthy and normal for them. Just like being gay is healthy and normal.

    It’s the lack of accurate knowledge about human weight and its relationship to health that encourages such short-sighted and unhelpful “obesity shaming” approaches as Atlanta’s. What we need is better knowledge about how to help people figure out what food and eating practices are the most helpful *to them personally* and the resources to maximize access to those options. Bullying doesn’t get us to either of those.

    I am too tired to have this conversation again, but I will link to The Fat Nutritionist as an excellent starting place for reading about and finding clear and scientifically-supported resources on eating, weight, and health, and leave it at that.

  35. EG
    February 19, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    Maybe I would actually have had a boyfriend during my highschool years if I didn’t have to wait for the last straw?

    You seem to have this fantasy that life in elementary school and high school would have been lovely if only you had been put on a diet.

    First of all, I have never met anybody who was actually put on a diet while a child who doesn’t look back on it with loathing and misery. Nobody I have met has ever been grateful for it, and nobody I have met has ever attributed anything good to that diet–indeed, most of them trace a pathological relationship with food and their own bodies to it.

    Second, as a skinny woman, I can assure you that there are a ton of reasons that a person never has a boyfriend in high school. Plenty of girls fatter than me, from “normal” to “overweight” had boyfriends way before I did. That has very little to do with fatness.

    Finally–you are not unique for having had a shitty adolescence or a shitty childhood. Lots of people have shitty childhoods and most people have shitty adolescences. This fantasy that the shittiness of it all was due to your fatness is a control fantasy–this is a thing about yourself that you think was under your control; therefore, if you keep it under your control, you don’t have to worry about going through that shittiness again. That kind of fantasy appeals to a lot of people under a number of different circumstances. The problem is, it’s almost never true.

  36. February 19, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    First, basically everything EG said.

    Second, in response to this:

    “Maybe I would actually have had a boyfriend during my highschool years if I didn’t have to wait for the last straw?”

    Being put on a diet from a young age convinced me that my body was wrong and needed to be changed and that I would never find someone who loved my body until I was thin. It wasn’t until I decided to stop dieting that I found the confidence to attract other people. I had a non-existent dating life until I embraced my fat body and accepted that other people could find it attractive.

    Early weight loss dieting made me fatter (hello, weight cycling) and gave me serious food issues. It made me hate physical activity because it was linked in my head, for the longest time, with body hatred. It did not ease me into leading a healthy adult life, and I’ve had to fight my childhood conditioning tooth and nail. Things that did make me a healthy adult? Being enrolled in joyful physical activity. Being exposed to diverse and nutritious foods. Being instilled with a love of learning and trying new things (I’m going to try lifting barbells this week for the first time EVAR and I am excited and nervous).

    The whole thing with bullying is that it’s never OK for adults to ignore bullying, even if they think that it’s over a “bad” characteristic. It’s not OK to allow bullying of kids who are smart or Jewish or fat or gay or weird. Even if you think it would be better for the kid to play sports instead of reading in the corner, or stop being so un-Christian, or become thinner, or be straight, or stop wearing funny clothes. It’s never OK to be the adult in the room and condone or ignore bullying. Ever. And it’s certainly not OK to spend millions of dollars on government sanctioned bullying. For fuck’s sake, I can’t even understand why you think it would be.

  37. Diz
    February 19, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    Funny enough, I never got bullied for being fat and it never stopped me from getting a boyfriend at any point in my life. I at least had the confidence not to shrivel under what society was teaching and hate myself because they were telling me to.

    We need to make healthier foods more accessible and we need to teach kids to love themselves. I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve never once seen proof that shaming people into losing weight helps. I never know why those who suffer from Former Fatty Syndrome feel the need to project and say that it works.

  38. William
    February 19, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    So obesity is basically an inherent part of your character and of who you are, without which you would not be you?

    Yeah, you missed the point.

    Beyond that, I’m a fat dude. I could be less fat, but I’m not and I’m not terribly bothered by that. Truth be told, even if I busted my ass and got my body fat down to the low single digits I’d still be considered obese by BMI standards because I’ve got 54 inch shoulders. Yeah, kinda part of who I am. Without my size I’d be someone else. The whole point of self esteem is being down with who you are.

  39. igglanova
    February 19, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    igglanova – yes, ugliness IS scarier than all of the above. That’s just human nature. People can sympathize with sick people, but not with ugly ones. Even the poster kids for disease awareness are always cute. And let’s face it – being ugly in the modern world will damage you much more than an invisible sickness.

    Bullshit. Human nature is far from immutable. If it was, do you think social change would even be possible? Wouldn’t we all think and act exactly the same way we all did even 10 years ago? A thousand? If you actually believe that it is impossible for people to change their ‘nature’, whatever that means, may I ask you wtf you are even doing on a social justice blog?

    I will also submit that you seem so wrapped up in your own special suffering that you have completely lost perspective. People with illnesses, invisible or no, do not place ‘sympathy’ at the top of their wish list. We aspire to greater things than to be objects of pity. The concepts occupying the most important tiers in these people’s lives are shit like ‘being able to exist without constant pain’, ‘being able to graduate from an institution with piss-poor accomodations’, and ‘being able to get work and pay rent.’ I mean fuck, do you not think that people with chronic illnesses are routinely passed over for even the shittiest jobs in this economy?

  40. igglanova
    February 19, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    So obesity is basically an inherent part of your character and of who you are, without which you would not be you?

    Oh this, too. The reason we should oppose bullying and discrimination based on criteria of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, what have you is not that these criteria are an inherent part of character, although they may be for some or most. The reason we fight against bullying is because it is inhumane, and it seeks to sanction characteristics that are of no moral significance and that have no capacity to injure. Fatness or thinness may or may not be inherent (that is, unchangeable) characteristics for a given person. But it is always wrong to be an asshole about somebody’s harmless difference.

  41. shfree
    February 20, 2012 at 12:31 am

    I will also submit that you seem so wrapped up in your own special suffering that you have completely lost perspective. People with illnesses, invisible or no, do not place ‘sympathy’ at the top of their wish list. We aspire to greater things than to be objects of pity. The concepts occupying the most important tiers in these people’s lives are shit like ‘being able to exist without constant pain’, ‘being able to graduate from an institution with piss-poor accomodations’, and ‘being able to get work and pay rent.’ I mean fuck, do you not think that people with chronic illnesses are routinely passed over for even the shittiest jobs in this economy?

    Oh, this. I FINALLY found a job, a crappy one, but a job, and this past week or two my meds have decided to argue with my brain, so I get to go through another adjustment so I can stop seeing double and can walk a straight line again. And I present as a completely healthy and competent individual, but given the past year and a half I’ve had with dinking around with different dosages and different kinds of medications to control my seizures with side effects that I find more manageable, but coming up with seemingly fuck-all, I wouldn’t mind being ugly for a while.

  42. Crys T
    February 20, 2012 at 7:22 am

    Wow Alexandra. There are so many good comments already refuting what you’ve said that there’s not much for me to add, except that your issues are your own. Don’t project them onto me–or any other fat person here.

  43. Sera
    February 20, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    First of all, I have never met anybody who was actually put on a diet while a child who doesn’t look back on it with loathing and misery. Nobody I have met has ever been grateful for it, and nobody I have met has ever attributed anything good to that diet–indeed, most of them trace a pathological relationship with food and their own bodies to it.

    And this goes for average sized kids too – my mother was convinced that she would like me better if I was a few sizes smaller, even though I was athletic and healthy…if she hadn’t, I have no idea what kind of relationship I would have today with myself, my body, or her.
    That is not to say that I have any understanding of what it is to go through childhood/adolescence as a fat girl, I don’t. I was horribly bullied at school, but for a myriad other reasons.

    When a part of society act systematically like assholes, it is up to the rest of society to call them on it, to change it, and to be there to help the victims.

  44. L
    February 20, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    And this goes for average sized kids too – my mother was convinced that she would like me better if I was a few sizes smaller, even though I was athletic and healthy…if she hadn’t, I have no idea what kind of relationship I would have today with myself, my body, or her.

    This. I’ve gone through my whole childhood and adolescence thinking I was much much bigger than I am, because my mom made such a big deal about my weight. At 9 years old, I was put in exercise classes to “take a few pounds off” and my parents were so critical of what I ate at mealtimes that whenever they left the house I went straight to the kitchen to eat everything I could. I have the most fucked up relationship with my body and with food at this point because of this, and struggle with the resentment I feel for my parents. The ironic thing that people don’t seem to get is if I had never been on a diet, I would actually be much SMALLER. Fat shaming has never ever ever ever made anyone skinny ever. Beating down someone’s self esteem to nothing is never justified. Because let’s be honest and say that the above rhetoric that we see in ads like that (and from people like Alexandra) does not have the goal of making people healthy, it has the goal of making people skinny.

  45. John
    February 20, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    This is not a campaign about shaming or bullying. It is a campaign about the problem of childhood obesity. It has got your attention and has caught you talking. I don’t think that a billboard that features rainbows and unicorns blowing smoke rings that smell like strawberry shortcake would have been as effective. Children bully because they are children. Hair color, height, race, glasses, braces, breast size, pant length, and a fascination with Star Wars are all bullying topics and not likely to change anytime soon. What about children with a fatal disease that get bullied? I can’t think of any campaigns advocating that a fatal disease is something that’s OK and shouldn’t be addressed? Childhood obesity is real, it’s a problem, and needs to be addressed.

  46. EG
    February 21, 2012 at 12:46 am

    Children bully because they are children.

    Children bully because they are human. I haven’t seen anything to indicate that adults are significantly kinder.

    When did this “all publicity is good publicity” thing take hold? It’s got us talking? Yeah, it’s got us talking about how assholish it is. How is that a positive effect?

  47. William
    February 21, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Childhood obesity is real, it’s a problem, and needs to be addressed.

    But not in ways likely to not only increase the problem of childhood obesity but also increase other fatal diseases that come with widespread body shaming. The bottom line is that this campaign, in addition to getting people talking, is going to contribute to eating disorders which will in turn contribute to deaths.

    Thats the problem. These kinds of campaigns don’t work, psychologically, in the way people imagine they would. A kid doesn’t see them and decide to eat better, a parent doesn’t see them and decide to feed their children something different. All these campaigns do is increase stigma and discrimination. The end result of that is hurting the people you’re ostensibly saving. Its bullshit and its lazy and it needs to stop.

  48. EG
    February 21, 2012 at 9:47 am

    A kid doesn’t see them and decide to eat better

    Seriously. “Oh, I’m miserable and losing my childhood? Who knew? Here I thought I was happy. Good thing I saw that advertisement. I guess I’ll start eating more healthfully.”

  49. Crys T
    February 21, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Again, I second William.

    Also, I’d like those who think the campaign is a good idea to explain how it’s going to help make higher-quality food available to people on lower incomes? Y’know as we’ve known since the 1980s (at least) that the obesity rate in developed countries rises as income falls. Hmm? Any suggeestions?

    Or how exactly is it going to make a weight-loss diet *be effective*? Y’know as we’ve known since the early 1990s (at least) that even the most successful weight-loss diets have success rates of only 10% or less.

    I’d like one of the ads’ supporters to explain EXACTLY how this campaign is going to do ANYTHING other than make fat kids and their parents feel worse.

  50. February 21, 2012 at 11:03 am

    This campaign disgusts me.

    Instead of a campaign pointing out how AWFUL it must be to be a fatty-fatty-fat-fat how about we have more programs dedicated to pointing out how AWESOME and FUN being active is.. regardless of whether it makes you lose weight?

    How about some initiatives to make healthy food more accessible?

    How about we encourage more community cohesion and such so that kids can go outside and play like they used to, instead of constantly reminding people that if they dare let their kids out of their sight for more than 2 minutes they will die or get kidnapped or molested?

    How about we put more pressure on school boards to cap salaries for admins making over 100K a year, so that programs such as Physical education aren’t at risk of being cut?

    How about a cost-of-living increase for minimum wage so that people aren’t forced to work ridiculous hours at 2-3 part time jobs just so they can put cheap, processed food on the table because it’s the only shit they A) can afford and B) have the friggin’ time to make.

    I can think of about a million ideas that would be better for combating childhood obesity than billboards saying “Your kid is fat, and that’s bad.”

  51. Sandy
    February 21, 2012 at 11:28 am

    The ironic thing that people don’t seem to get is if I had never been on a diet, I would actually be much SMALLER.

    Me, too. I can’t believe I allowed people to make me think, as a kid, that I needed to lose weight. Was I slender? No. But I was not fat. Years of dieting, failing, being informed that I needed to lose weight, and the resulting self-loathing from all of that were what made me fat.

    I would have a much healthier relationship with food and physical activity if not for body shaming and policing and this culture that treats fat hate as legitimate because your health. Body policing, btw, that takes the form of both negative and positive feedback, negative being obvious and ‘positive’ being the kind where family members exclaim over how amazing you look when you’re slim, nevermind what you had to do to get there and nevermind what you have to do to stay that way. From people who love you and want you to be happy as you can be, and since fat is stigmatized it’ll be easier to be happy if you’re thin! Because, as other people have pointed out, if there’s something about you that makes other people bully you and give you crap, obviously the best thing you can do is try to change that part of yourself. Yup, that’ll lead to happiness for sure. And other backwards-thinking beliefs and attitudes that are completely normal and accepted in this culture. And even when you know better it’s hard to break out of that kind of thinking. I know I haven’t. It is utter bullshit and I am sorry to say I’m still buying into it in my own life.

    So I wasn’t going to comment on this thread, but John @ 53, you have irritated me with your talk of rainbows and unicorns and so I have decided to add my perspective.

    This is not a campaign about shaming or bullying. It is a campaign about the problem of childhood obesity.

    … that makes its point via shaming and perpetuating the stigma for good measure. This campaign is talking about how terribly bad it is when you’re fat. FFS, it is textbook shaming. It is practically the definition of shaming.

    Childhood obesity is real, it’s a problem, and needs to be addressed.

    You know what makes me take good care of my body, John? Loving it, and being proud of it. Shame does not fucking help, in fact, shame is what made me binge eat for comfort and avoid physical movement like the plague for years. I want to emphasize here that it was not my fat. It was my shame about my fat. Perpetuated in part by the thin-is-beautiful cultural ideal of beauty, but even more so by concerned well-meaning people like you who just want sad, miserable fat folks to be happy and are really just worried about our health.

    So hi there, you are part of the fucking problem.

    I hate this campaign and I hate the ‘war on obesity.’ It’s the wrong goddamn war.

  52. Emolee
    February 21, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    The ironic thing that people don’t seem to get is if I had never been on a diet, I would actually be much SMALLER

    Yes, THIS. Even if the goal is to have less “obesity,” shaming kids to go on diets will only work toward the opposite result.

    And if it really is about eating healthy and getting exercise- not about “diets”- then why not campaign to ALL kids and ALL parents about eating/serving healthy food when possible and moving their bodies in line with their abilities? Because this is about fat-hate. They all-but admit it.

  53. William
    February 21, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Because this is about fat-hate.

    We should launch a counter-campaign of happy fatties like me, eating delicious food while outside and looking active (I’m thinking jogging with a piece of deep dish pizza), with a gun somewhere on them. The captions can read “fat, healthy, armed, and happy, what are you going to bully now?”

  54. Emolee
    February 21, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    We should launch a counter-campaign of happy fatties like me, eating delicious food while outside and looking active (I’m thinking jogging with a piece of deep dish pizza), with a gun somewhere on them. The captions can read “fat, healthy, armed, and happy, what are you going to bully now?”

    That is what the We Stand Campaign is doing- it’s posters of people of all sizes, including some very fat people, smiling, dancing, eating, exercising, hugging, etc. Although I have yet to see a gun in any of them! http://istandagainstweightbullying.tumblr.com/

  55. William
    February 21, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    Although I have yet to see a gun in any of them!

    Maybe thats just my militant streak coming out.

  56. Ben
    February 27, 2012 at 9:21 am

    I never liked those ads and I’m not fat. I could care less whether or not someone is fat, unless they give me a reason to make them a special project of my attention. Which I have done in the past.

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