Georgia, Disney, and the Wave on My Mind

Perhaps you’ve heard of the ads about Georgia’s Strong4Life “anti-childhood obesity campaign.”  If not, suffice it to say that it is pictures of fat kids with sayings like “It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not” and “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid”.

First of all, I’m 5’4, 284 pounds, and 35 years old and I dare you to tell my Mom that I’m not her little girl.  So surely other people can get past the idea of little in little girl not necessarily being dependent on body size.  And I was a fat kid and had lots of fun, and I know other fat kids who have lots of fun.

Maybe the ads should say “It’s hard to be a little girl when the state of Georgia is shaming and bullying you.” and “Being the victim of state-sponsored bullying and body shaming takes the fun out of being a kid.”

I saw the play “Beauty and the Beast” at Disney’s Hollywood studios yesterday (stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this).  In the play, Gaston convinces the townspeople to kill the beast – who had been living there for years without anyone trying to kill him – but giving a speech about how he was going to come after their kids.  I’ve seen this used in other political fights as well.  Can’t whip people up into a big enough frenzy about two consenting adult men who love each other?  Just say that they are coming after your children.  I worked on the No on 9 campaign in Oregon in 2000.  The ballot measure Prohibited “public schools from providing instruction on behaviors relating to homosexuality and bisexuality in a manner that encourages, promotes or sanctions such behaviors”.  They trotted out teachers who said that gay teachers were infiltrating schools and teaching kids to be gay and people lost their minds.  The phrase “Won’t somebody please think of the children” is iconic.  When kids get involved we have to be careful to hold onto rationality.

I think that if we really thought it through, we would realize that shaming and stigmatizing fat kids is not the way to go.  You cannot have a war on childhood obesity without having a war on obese kids.  We can be for healthy kids without being against fat ones. Being for healthy kids means that we avoid the double whammy of giving fat kids the erroneous idea that healthy habits don’t “work” unless they make you thin, while giving thin kids the dangerous idea that they don’t need to worry about being healthy because they are thin. With hospitalizations for eating disorders in kids under 12 up 119% we can do better for our kids’ health than bullying them, shaming them, and making them terrified of their bodies and of the state-sponsored bullying and shaming that will be heaped upon them if it decides their body is the wrong size.

I saw something else at Disney’s Hollywood Studio that gave me hope.  We were at the fireworks show.  Like many of the over 1500 people crowded into the standing room only space, we were hungry, exhausted, freezing cold, and cranky.  Five kids two rows below us decided that they wanted to start the wave.  They tried repeatedly but only ever managed a five person wave.  They stopped for a while and then one of them said “let’s try again”.  They did a couple more 5 person waves and were about to give up when someone a row behind us yelled “Do  it again!”. This time it was a 10 person wave.  The person who yelled had caught the attention of people two rows below the original wave group.  Now they joined in.  Within a couple of minutes the ENTIRE STADIUM did the wave.  But them something amazing happened – it came back around.  The kids who started it went NUTS, they were so happy they could barely form words except to say “Let’s do it again!” and again it went all the way around the studio and them came all the way back.  In the space of less than 5 minutes, 5 people influenced 1500.  To me it was the perfect example of grassroots activism.  A small group of people can make a difference.

So if you agree that the Georgia campaign against fat kids is wrong, there are some things that you can do:

Sign the petition

Contact the people involved:

Kevin McClelland (PR Director of the campaign)

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Stephanie Walsh (medical director, handling interviews)

Children’s Foundation
1687 Tullie Circle NE
Atlanta, GA 30329
Fax: 404-785-7355

Tell other people what’s happening and let them know what they can do to get involved. The key word in activism is “active”  We can make a difference.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

24 thoughts on “Georgia, Disney, and the Wave on My Mind

  1. Is this the campaign where they’ve gotten in trouble for using pictures of these kids without their permission, or am I confusing this with something else?

    1. Actually, I’m hoping they did use the pics without permission, because I have been worrying ever since I saw the first billboard about the psychological impact of the kind of modeling session that would produce such a photo. To wit:

      Photographer: Mom, you gotta put that kid in old, grubby clothes that don’t fit.
      Kid: Ma, I don’t wanna wear that sh*t. What’s wrong with what I’ve got on?
      Photog (to makeup pro): Ok, I want her hair looking dirty and uncombed. And smudge her face there. And can we put some circles under her eyes?
      Kid: MA!!
      Photog: Ok, kid, now look miserable. Can you pout for me, kid?
      Kid: This is abuse!

      This kid has just been through a hour-long session that tells him he’s miserable, neglected, diabetic, neurotic, and unattractive because he’s fat. And then the kid gets to school the Monday after the billboards go up, saying how sick he is or is going to be, when he’s perfectly healthy, and all his little friends. . . Well, you get the picture.

      I keep wanting to call them all up (assuming they’re local kids?) and offer them free posttraumatic stress therapy.

      This campaign is also, by the way, Mom-bashing of the worst kind. Maybe I could start a support group for Moms of Fat Kids Whose Fault This Isn’t Anyway. The Moms of these models could be the charter members: I’m sure they were as horrified and humiliated as their kids were when they figured out which way this job was going.

      1. As the mother of a Fat Kid now Fat Adult who I love dearly I think a support group for parents is in fact a wonderful idea. My daughter and I were just having a discussion about these billboards and all the “childhood obesity” crap that’s out there and I brought up this very point. As parents of a fat kid my husband and I were always made to feel guilty and that somehow we held the key to her becoming thin. I felt like doctors and teachers (let’s not even go there) thought we were force feeding her junk food and forbidding her to get physical activity.
        There, see the damage that did? All these years later and my anger still swells just thinking about it!

  2. I think these kind of programs would be good if weight was taken out of the equation. I would be all for Let’s Move because it encourages kids of all sizes to be active and have fun doing so. We could actually use more things like this, but without the main objective of losing weight.

  3. There’s also a petition against it here

    I just signed it.

    I totally agree with Ashley that we need to decouple weight from health. Health at every size initiatives could actually make kids healthier, instead of making the fat kids miserable and the thin kids either self-righteous or terrified of becoming fat.

  4. Wow, how did I miss that you *already posted the link to the petition.* Clearly, any attempts at pre-coffee internet activism on my part are doomed to failure.

    1. That’s ok, KellyK, you can come sit with me on the “pre-coffee/post Vicodin bench.” I’ve made some truly silly mistakes here due to those two things and yet, somehow, I became the infamous Blog Wife. 🙂

  5. I would like to post your WONDERFUL tidbit about the children who started the wave if that is alright with proper credit. I think that is the PERFECT analogy of what needs to happen and that ANYONE who is fighting on the side of a cause that is hurting other (anti gay marriage the war on obesity etc) needs to know that even though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it they ARE making a difference. 🙂

  6. Hi Regan, did you happen to see this article featured on Big Beautiful Wellness this morning>Plus Size Bodies, What Is Wrong With Them Anyway?

    Made for some interesting reading but here again we have the issue of ignoring the issue that you can be healthy at any size. Sorry that this isn’t following your topic today, but I am not sure how to contact you otherwise.

    You are, as always, awesome!

  7. I sure would love it if we had enough money to buy billboards near the GA campaign’s anti-fat kids billboards to put up what you said:

    “It’s hard to be a little girl when the state of Georgia is shaming
    and bullying you.”

    “Being the victim of state-sponsored bullying and body shaming
    takes the fun out of being a kid.”

    Wouldn’t having the two juxtaposed side by side be absolutely AWESOME? Maybe that’s something that should be done on the internet, even if we can’t do it on billboards in GA.

    Photoshop, anyone? Would you put this on your blog, Ragen?

  8. I e-mailed them and got a response that I was really not impressed by: Oh, we have to raise awareness to make people willing to make lifestyle changes.

    When my whole point was that the lifestyle changes that lead to thinness are not necessarily the ones that lead to health. Telling kids “Don’t be fat” and justifying and encouraging bullying tacitly encourages them to smoke, crash diet, or take diet pills, because the focus is all on thin.

  9. Here’s the full response. I’m debating how to respond to it:

    Dear Ms. [KellyK]:

    We want to thank you for reaching out to start a conversation around one of the toughest challenges we face in Georgia for our children. We want you to know our intent with this first phase of our anti-obesity campaign is to capture the attention of parents and caregivers who are ignoring the severity of this health crisis.

    Raising awareness is just the first step of our campaign, and the campaign is only one part of the Strong4Life movement. The campaign will also focus on delivering solutions that will help Georgia families get tools and resources to become healthier, as well as on community partnerships that include schools, early childcare centers, physician and provider training, as well as efforts to encourage policy change.

    Experts agree that behavior change will not occur until families are ready for change. Too often organizations skip the important first step of creating awareness and ensuring readiness to change before jumping straight into education and programming. Simply put, if you are not ready to make a lifestyle change, the likelihood of success is minimal.

    We know that this ad campaign alone cannot change the childhood obesity crisis in Georgia. Further, no one organization or group can turn around this epidemic on its own. It will take all of us, as a community, as a society, coming together to admit this is a health crisis and most importantly, working together to make a difference at all levels – government, schools and early childcare, physicians and other health care professionals, instituting policy change – it will be a monumental task, but if we work together we can achieve it.

    Thank you again for your concern and for joining the discussion on this important issue.



    Kevin McClelland

    Director, External Communications

    Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

    1699 Tullie Circle NE

    Atlanta, GA 30329


    404-785-7517 fax

    Dear Ms. Walsh and Mr. McLelland,

    I’m writing to you today about Georgia’s childhood obesity campaign. The ads with kids talking about being picked on in school and asking why they’re fat imply that if they just eat healthy and exercise, they’ll lose weight and their problems at school will disappear. This message is dangerous for a number of reasons. It puts the blame on the bullied kids for being fat, instead of on the bullies for their behavior. It implies that all it takes to be thin is a moderate lifestyle change, which isn’t true for all people. Diets among adults have a 95% failure rate.

    By placing the emphasis on weight rather than healthy behaviors, Georgia’s campaign tacitly encourages kids to do whatever it takes to be thin, and parents to put growing children on diets. It also implies that thin kids who are sedentary, or who eat nothing but pizza and M&Ms don’t have to worry about those behaviors, because they’re thin.

    Even worse, picture the bullying directly caused by the billboards. Picture a chubby little girl sitting alone on the school bus being taunted as it passes a billboard with a picture of a girl who looks like her, captioned “It’s not easy being a little girl when you’re not.” And picture that happening on a daily basis.

    I’m 100% in favor of encouraging kids to play outside, eat fruits and veggies, and get enough sleep. But when we tell kids that their bodies are bad and that bullying is their fault, we’re not encouraging healthy behaviors. We’re encouraging shame, depression, self-hatred, and eating disorders.

    Thanks very much for your time and attention.


    1. I don’t like their response! They missed the point totally! Having lived in GA for 5 years and remembering when their Public Health people were jumping on the childhood obesity bandwagon without a clue this is not surprising. Has bullying even occurred to them here. These billboards are a form of bullying in and an encouragement for others to do so.
      This just ticks me off!!!

      1. To me, the response not only says it hasn’t occurred to them, but that they either don’t care, or are in favor of it. Because the more we can torment fat kids, the more we “raise awareness.”

        While there are kids who don’t know they’re “overweight” or “obese,” that’s generally because BMI is crap. I think they would have to look REALLY HARD to find a visibly fat (or even kinda chunky) kid who hasn’t been told by doctors and parents and classmates that they are fat and icky and need to lose weight right the heck now.

    2. Yeah, I got the same response, word for word except for the first paragraph. What that tells me is that they had someone write up a robo-response and are having someone in the office change a few words in the first paragraph to fit each e-mail that comes in then copying and pasting the rest without really addressing ANY of the concerns that people raise.

      Gotta love the level of caring and concern that shows, right? “Thank you for writing. We’re totally ignoring what you’re saying because you’re dumb and we’re smart. Let me force-feed you the “party line” once more, and have a nice day!”

  10. I am having the same problem as Koresun. I tried to sign the petition, but the city section won’t accept “Spring” as a city. Any words of advice? I’d love to show my support in this way!

  11. Nothing irritates me more than the “Won’t somebody think of the children!” cry. It’s one adopted by those who can’t win a rational argument with adults, so they play the “save the children” card. It’s infuriating.

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