At the end of January 2012, Leah Segedie, a fitness blogger and founder of Mamavation, sounded the alarm about a childhood obesity campaign in Georgia that was shaming overweight kids. The Strong 4 Life campaign included a series of billboards, print ads, television ads, and social media featuring overweight children. The children talk about the negative social and health impacts of their size, including being excluded and made fun of by classmates.
According to Strong 4 Life, the campaign was intended to wake up the parents who, in many cases, are not even aware of the problem. Instead, the campaign sent out the message that these children should be ashamed of their size. It sent the message that bullying and excluding overweight children is normal and acceptable. Instead of blaming bullies for being bullies and giving overweight children the motivation they need to make positive changes, the campaign simply worsened the stigma that they live with.
Segedie started a campaign called “Ashamed”, pointing out that shaming the “fat” kid is not solving the obesity epidemic. In her post calling on other bloggers, parents and activists to join her, she wrote about her own struggle with her weight, having been an overweight child, being morbidly obese, and living with an eating disorder.
I was that child years ago. Every time someone drew attention to my weight, I spent my time eating more. Why? Because food was how I made myself feel better. If you were going to make me feel bad about myself, I was going to run to food again. Does that make sense? No. But since when does having an eating disorder make any sense?
BTW, I assure you this child knows she is overweight. It’s not like drawing attention to it is going to make her have some kind of an epiphany. Like “Wow, I never knew that…are you serious? You mean this roll in my belly isn’t just water?”
And guess what? I’m right. These type of tactics don’t work when it comes to weight. They are counterproductive. I would say abusive.
Since her initial call to action, Segedie has been working hard to convince the Strong 4 Life campaign to take a different tact and it looks like it is working. On February 26, she wrote that the billboards were coming down. When I spoke to her later that week, she explained more about what had happened.
We’ve been working tirelessly on the Ashamed movement to have the Strong 4 Life billboards taken down since January. We organized two very popular protest chats on twitter and had several media outlets cover our efforts, but I don’t think Strong 4 Life took us seriously until we started focusing on the money. After we gently nudged Carters and asked them to tell us whether they were in support of the billboards of not, I think Strong 4 Life realized that this would hurt them where it counts–their pocketbook. Then ALL OF A SUDDEN I got emails about negotiating an end to the billboards. There are PLENTY of mom brands we could “nudge” that have given them lots of money and have promised future support. Before that I think they were just happy to get all the attention.
I’ve been privately urging Strong 4 Life to extend an “olive branch” to us this entire time as a way for us to all work together for the greater good, but now I realize they will never say that we had anything to do with their decision because they can’t. That means they have to admit that what they did was wrong. I think if they did that, it would give them a black eye to the sponsors. None of this matters to me though. I just care that those damn billboards are going to come down already.
In addition to the billboards coming down, it looks as though the Strong 4 Life campaign has made changes to the imagery on its website, twitter account and facebook page. Where the black and white images of children looking upset or ashamed used to appear, they now have images of children looking motivated, strong and confident.
Childhood obesity is a problem in Georgia. Thankfully, the activism of Leah Segedie and others in the blogging community, has helped the Strong 4 Life campaign move toward a more positive message. Motivating families and children to exercise and eat well and giving them the tools to do so can make a difference. Shaming them will only make things worse. The goals of the Strong 4 Life campaign have always been good, but now they have a fighting chance of being heard by those who need to hear them instead of hurting those who need their help.
Photo credit: Mamavation