Hatred Does Not Equal Health

“I stand for a life free of shame for all little girls.”

“I stand for happy, healthy children–no matter their size.”

“I stand against social stigma and the right to be happy just as you are.”

These are powerful statements, and just a few of the many “STANDards” (above right) assembled by Marilyn Wann and other fat acceptance activists in opposition to a problematic public-health campaign initiated by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (above left).

The controversial Children’s Healthcare campaign, called Strong4Life, features posters and billboards depicting depressed-looking fat children with slogans like, “It’s hard to be a little girl, if you’re not.

These poster children, it turns out, are actually healthy actors and models. They do not have the health problems referenced in some of the ads–a fact which further contradicts the message that all fat children are unhealthy and unhappy. But the ads legitimize the bullying and shaming that fat children regularly face, while reinforcing the perception that change is needed not in the culture but in the individual.

The “STANDards” are just one among many forms of protest aimed at the Strong4Life campaign, but they are of particular interest for feminists. Penned by individuals (at this point mostly women) the messages bring into focus some important patterns in fat shaming.

No one disagrees with the aim of creating healthy kids. Yet many of the “STANDards” point out that an obsession with the number on the scale and a fear that one is taking up too much space are unhealthy. Those who’ve created “STANDards” are fighting back against the messages of shame, blame and ridicule being put forth under the banner of health improvement. Another “STANDard” reads: “I stand against harming fat children. Hate does not equal health.”

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Board president Doug Hertz, has heard the criticism and remains firm. He offered an op-ed piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on January 12 saying that the campaign gets people talking about a topic that deserves attention. He offered an unreferenced statistic that 80 percent of those who’ve seen the ads agree with the approach and 11 percent don’t.

This high approval rating, if accurate, stands to reason, given that the ads are playing on entrenched cultural values that cast fat people as deserving shame, and that position certain bodies as deviant–in need of correction. These sentiments may be comfortable and familiar, but they have nothing to do with children’s health. As it turns out, fat bodies are not linked with poor health either; a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle are. Anyone, fat or thin, can suffer from lack of healthy food and exercise.

I don’t think this type of fat shaming is what Michelle Obama had in mind when she initiated the Let’s Move! campaign, which celebrated its two-year anniversary yesterday. The four main tenets of that campaign are not focused on fat kids, nor their presumably incompetent caregivers. Instead, Let’s Move’s precepts are:

1) Get parents more informed about nutrition and exercise.

2) Improve the quality of food in schools.

3) Make healthy foods more affordable and accessible for families.

4) Focus more on physical education.

And yet, what some have renamed the “war on childhood obesity” has unwittingly validated some familiar forms of gender discrimination. In the discussion of obesity, we can’t ignore the longstanding precedent that women’s bodies must be controlled, shrunk to near invisibility and reshaped to fit a social standard of beauty that few can healthily maintain. We also can’t ignore the cultural standard for placing blame on children’s caregivers (mostly their mothers) for their poor health and poverty.

Many of the “STANDards” point out that health and body size do not correlate–but discrimination and body size do. In her recent book Fat Shame: Stigma and Fat Body in American Culture (NYU Press, 2011), Amy Erdman Farrell draws on a wide range of sources–including popular literature, political cartoons, advertisements and physician’s manuals–to present the case that our historic denigration of fatness emerged long before it was linked to health concerns. Her work also focuses on feminism’s relationship to fatness, and its intersections with other forms of body stigma. Farrell points out that those who seek to be rid of stigmatized identities–whether related to gender, race, ethnicity or class–will often take up the cause of weight loss and fat hatred in order to validate their own claims to normalcy.

The Stand4EveryBody campaign also addresses these intersections, but from a personal and political rather than scholarly standpoint. Some of the photos accompanying the “STANDards” show fat bodies, some thin, some disabled, some young, some old. They show people of different races and different physical presentations. Check them out! There are instructions for submitting your own “STANDard” as well.

And go here for a more comprehensive snapshot of activities countering the Strong4Life campaign. Fighting fat shame and stigma is a big job, and these efforts have the potential of reaching beyond a single media campaign. And yes, the pun was intended.

Sign here to tell Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to stop fat shaming in their Strong4Life campaign!

 

 

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 Top left: Photo from Stand4Life anti-childhood-obesity campaign; Top right: Photo from Stand4EveryBody anti-fat-shaming campaign.

 

Comments

  1. Females should not be shamed like this..disgusting ploy by Georgia…I STAND WITH ALL SIZES!

  2. I stand with the original campaign.

  3. Doesn’t matter your size whether too big, too small or somewhere in the middle- no one is happy. We have it all wrong and need to teach people how to love them self today. How health is not a reflection of the number on the scale. Too feel good is to do things that do something for you. Many people don’t do things for them selves nor do they listen to their internal hunger and satiety signals. People have the nutrition knowledge but they’re missing intuitive eating skills. And BMIs are another name, scapegoat and biased approach to understanding a person’s true depiction of health. We all need to listen to what our bodies have been telling us for do long, that we have been taught to ignore or deflect for too long. Power in numbers, only we can change this!

    Great article and thanks for being a supporter of this approach to health!

    Throw out the scale!

  4. The author makes an excellent point: Under the guise of combating
    fatness in kids, everyone gets demeaned, especially girls and women. I
    think Ms. may have been the first to have made this connection with the
    ill-conceived Georgia campaign. Thank you!

    B. Fabrey
    http://www.cswd.org
    Mt. Marion, NY

  5. Freedom 2bShamefree says:

    Thank God there are people today willing to openly stand up against bullying…. if that would have been the case 40 years ago, my childhood would have been totally different.

    Thanks to everyone that is working to put an end to shaming children. I too stand with ALL sizes.

  6. Obesity -can- lead to serious health problems, but if you’re healthy, I don’t care what you look like. I’m 100 pounds. I was 110 a while back. My grandma said, “Oh honey, you don’t LOOK that big!” Someone my age and height should be closer to 120. I am sick of people shaming us away from healthy weights.

    If you’re skinny and still healthy, good. If you’re fat and still healthy, good.

    And I’ve told my little sisters (who are 11 and 12 and a little “chubby”) that I don’t care what they look like as long as they’re happy and healthy. It’s depressing to think that other kids will, inevitably, make fun of them for being overweight. And it’s even more depressing that my body type is the “ideal,” when, in reality, I’m small enough that it’s a huge inconvenience. (You ever tried to lift something over 40 pounds when you’re 100 pounds with no muscle mass? It sucks.)

    I honestly think that keeping us shamed into being small is a way to reinforce the idea that women are weak, since smaller women will have trouble as far as physical strength goes. I actively -try- to gain weight (fat and muscle), and other women are -jealous- of me because of these ridiculous beauty standards when they don’t even realize what a major pain it is to be so small.

  7. Marilyn Wann’s STANDards are a positive and powerful social media campaign. I’m proud to have participated! If you are interested in working on another amazing project, Ragen Chastain is working with some others in the size acceptance movement to raise money to buy billboard space and post health messages that are relevant and positive for kids of ALL sizes. You can learn more about it here: http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/enough-is-enough-the-big-fat-money-bomb/

    Thanks!
    Jeanette DePatie
    AKA The Fat Chick
    Certified Fitness Professional, Writer, Speaker and Fathlete

  8. I think this STAND campaign is amazing and I hope it influences people everywhere to stop size discrimination. Not only is it possible for kids to be “overweight” for the BMI and be healthy (with healthy habits), but they could have a metabolic issue or an eating disorder. You can’t tell a person’s health by the way they look. Why does “fat” have to be so bad in our society? Let people live their life. Let them choose health!

    And I’m all for making schools healthier and having phys ed daily in schools. I got into a major TIFF with Neil Cavuto (Your World on Fox News) about this. He was angry that schools were adding salad bars! Are you kidding? Clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnlH6_nrDYE

  9. This campaign has the potential to change the national conversation. I hope everyone who sees this article goes to the campaign, donates, signs the petition an sends in their photo. My I STAND statement is: “I STAND for a world where body hatred is no longer a rite of passage for girls.” What do you STAND for?

  10. Thank you for writing this article! Shame never helped to heal anyone. I stand for putting the HEAL back into Health and the CARE back into Healthcare.
    Warmly,
    Dr. Deah

  11. catrpilrgirl says:

    SO happy to see this getting attention. Thank you!

  12. Iliana Echo says:

    I wonder if there’s a way to submit one? Mine would read “I STAND for every girl who was made to feel ashamed in the name of “health”.” I struggled for years (and still do) to accept my body for what it is, even though my BMI acually falls within the “acceptable” range (not to say that BMI should be a measurement stick, just pointing out that even those people that campaigns like Strong4Life consider healthy are not immune from the damage such campaigns do).

    • I welcome you to join in, Iliana Echo! Email me your photo and your credo and the Photo Heroes (fabulous volunteers) will created your STANDard and email it back to you for posting online. Here’s the address: marilyn at fatso dot com. Everyone is welcome to join in!!!

  13. I am a registered dietitian as well as a retired faculty member of the Nutritional Sciences Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Why do we continue to think that shame, discrimination, stigmatization, and alienation will motivate children and adults to lose weight? If these practices worked, there wouldn’t be a fat person left in the country! I motivate students and patients by empowering them, by nurturing them, by helping them see they are worthwhile human beings. When they feel good about themselves, they become confident that they can do whatever they need to do to be happy and healthy. All of this research about fat people being unhealthy should be tossed in the garbage. Recent HANES data showed that 1/2 of overweight people, and 1/3 of obese people are metabolically healthy whereas 25% of the “normal weight population”is metabolically unhealthy. My conclusion is that there are people of all sizes can be healthy or unhealthy. We need to stop focusing on fat people and help everyone have a healthy lifestyle.

  14. Susan Stinson says:

    A lot of people are asking me if they can still submit an I STAND picture & slogan- the answer is YES! This is Marilyn Wann’s campaign and she is dedicated to getting the message out so please send your pic & slogan to marilyn@fatso.com

  15. Iliana, my picture is in the pipeline to become a STANDard, and here’s an answer to your question that I saw on my friendslist:

    A lot of people are asking me if they can still submit an I STAND picture & slogan- the answer is YES! This is Marilyn Wann’s campaign and she is dedicated to getting the message out so please send your pic & slogan to marilyn@fatso.com

  16. Fattertainment.
    Is food our next tobacco?
    I think we need to go on a diet from fat tv.
    Obese children are not the enemy.
    They are the victims of a culture that has stood back and watched children being bullied.
    Who is funding the inactivity model with regard to obesity?
    How has the media impacted our children?
    Can the media report on childhood obesity?
    Fattertainment is about exploitation and the normalization of a Biggest Loser mentality.
    “Hatred Does Not Equal Health”. I think this could be a rallying cry.
    Obese children are not the enemy,so why are they being scapegoated?

  17. Obesitythunderbay is a think tank and it is 100 % not for profit. I invite you to stop by and post feedback on the subject of obesity bullying.
    Children are dying to be thin.

    • Paul Murphy, I don’t use the O-words (so-called “overweight” and “obese”). I don’t find them valid science, but used to promote stereotype and prejudice. If you oppose weight-based definitions of health and weight-based discrimination, I’m with you! I have no interest in weight-loss goals, as they’re counterproductive and steeped in prejudice.

  18. I’m very glad for the I STAND campaign.

    It’s important to remember that not only can people be fat or thin and still be healthy, there are plenty of things which can go wrong with a body which won’t be affected by gaining or losing weight. Some of those problems can be treated if you have doctors who don’t substitute looking at weight for doing careful diagnosis and treatment.

    In other words, “as long as you’re healthy” doesn’t cover the whole situation.

  19. Thanks so much for this article. I submitted a photo and phrase for the “I STAND” campaign. It is so important that we each learn to love our bodies, no matter our size. Loving your body can only spread to loving others bodies too. We are each uniquely beautiful, created individually. Gratitude for this gift is keeping it healthy and loving every inch of it.

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