That changed today. As I sat in the tiny airport at Gainesville and read an article about Disney’s latest attraction “Habit Heroes” I couldn’t stop the tears.
This is a new game at Epcot wherein kids meet their “Heroes” Will Power and Callie Stenics and fight with them against “Enemies” The Glutton, Lead Bottom and Snacker:
And as I type I’m crying again. Disney is my absolute favorite vacation place. It’s where my Best Friend and I go for a week at a time to bond, go on rides, and watch the Lion King Show nine times in a row. So I’m heartbroken that we may have gone for the last time. I won’t go back now (except possibly in protest) unless and until they get rid of this.
But that’s not why I’m crying, I’m crying because I know how excited kids get about Disney. Disney is supposed to be the happiest place on Earth and now fat kids – who are subjected to a barrage of shaming, humiliating, stigmatizing, and bullying messages from society on a daily basis – will go on vacation and find out that people who look like them are villains who other kids fight for points and bragging rights. Why doesn’t Disney just hold fat kids down and let park guests kick them?
At the end of the ride kids can have their picture taken and e-mailed to them at home. So what happens when the kids (or their moms, friends, etc.) look like the “enemies? What happens to the vacation that they have been looking forward to since their parents first said “We’re going to Disney World!”? Shaming kids does not lead to better health, why is that so hard for people to understand? You can’t tell how healthy someone is, how much they exercise, or what they eat by looking at their bodies, you just can’t.
This ride is a partnership with the people at Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Regional Market President Tony Jenkins said: “As an insurance company, we have the information kids need to be healthier. Our challenge was to tell that story in a fun, engaging way, which is what Disney does better than anyone.” I think I might break my desk with my forehead. What about their mental health? Do we really want to create more fear of being fat when we know that there is a 119% increase in the number of hospitalizations for kids under 12, UNDER TWELVE, who have eating disorders? The National Institute for Health just issued a statement that said that programs that shame kids:
carry a great risk of increasing stigma for those children who are overweight or obese which, in turn, can reinforce unhealthy behaviors (e.g., overeating). A number of research studies over the last decade have supported this concern. For example, studies suggest that overweight children who are teased about their appearance are more likely to binge eat or use unhealthy weight-control practices, and weight-based victimization has been correlated with lower levels of physical activity. Not surprisingly, stigmatization of obese individuals, particularly adolescents, poses risks to their psychological health.
Other studies show that the perception that obesity is solely a matter of personal responsibility, as opposed to understanding the complexity of contributing factors, can increase negative stereotypes of overweight people. It is important, therefore, that public messages about obesity address this complexity whenever possible.
So the NIH is willing to admit that it doesn’t have all the answers for kids’ health, but Blue Cross Blue Shield thinks that they do?
I’m going to do something, but I’m not sure what yet. I’m very tired from 13 hours of travel today, and deeply saddened that my vacation respite is ruined and that 44,000 people a day are being exposed to weight bigotry and body shaming by the so-called “Happiest Place on Earth”, and so many ideas are swirling around in my head – Should we petition, protest at Epcot (dress like the bad habits and hold signs saying ‘I’m not the enemy’?), start a letter writing campaign? I’m open to suggestions…
You know, I understand where we are as a civil rights movement and I understand that there will be days like this but it doesn’t always make it easier. In good news, our Georgia billboard campaign got a major article in Huffington Post, some of the commenters even get it!
UPDATE: On 2/25/12 Disney closed the ride indefinitely. There are rumors that it is being “reworked”. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
My work is supported by my 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 always completely free. Thanks for reading! ~Ragen