You may have seen these ads last week from Atlanta’s Strong4Life Campaign, which attempt to let kids (and their parents) know that they are fat and shame/scare/bully them into just stopping being fat already.
Nothing inspires kids like scaring them with mean posters that say they’re going to die soon!
Now, childhood obesity, and fatness in general, is a hot-button issue, even within the feminist community. While we all want kids to be healthy, the media often oversimplify the “obesity epidemic” and conflate health and weight, encouraging us to view fat kids as near-death and skinny kids as the very picture of wellbeing. This obscures the real issues, which are more about physical activity and nutrition than they are about weight (believe it or not, the two are not inextricably linked). No matter how you feel about kids and fat though, this is a damaging and mean-spirited ad campaign that seeks to make everyone (kids, parents, me, you) feel bad. And how is that supposed to help anyone, exactly?
According to the creators of the campaign, “The purpose of the ads aren’t to bully children but to make parents/caregivers aware that childhood obesity is an issue.” Do they really think that these kids, and others who look like them, dont know that they’re fat? As a former chubby kid, let me tell you: THEY KNOW. And I’d bet their parents do too, though this ad would have you believing otherwise:
No, you are not watching Law & Order SVU.
Since the ads aired last week, they have garnered lots of negative attention for being bullying and ineffective, and many people have pushed back and asked Strong4Life to rethink their tactics. (For you science-loving skeptics out there, check out this review that found that obesity intervention campaigns are not effective in getting kids to lose weight.) Strong4Life is still going, well, strong, though, and appears to be continuing with the campaign.
I get that in our media-saturated environment organizations feel like they need “shock tactics” to stand out and get people’s (especially kids, who have the attention spans of chihuahuas) attention. What I don’t get though, is why Strong4Life thought that a cruel, pushy, and scary campaign like this one was going to do any good? If their website is to be believed, they’re actually advocating for fresh food, more play, less screen time, and a bunch of other sensible things. Why not have an ad campaign that promotes those ideas instead of one that shames and bums out everyone in its path? If I remember anything about being a kid, it’s that you’d rather do something fun than NOT do something that a black and white commercial told you would kill you and make everyone hate you (not in that order). And what’s with the ads that show kids talking about being picked on, like this one?
This is sadder than that Sarah McLachlan ASPCA ad that makes me cry and want to get a cat.
Isn’t it obvious that the real issue here is the kids who are being mean to Jaden?! Why single him out and make him feel worse? Apparently it’s because it’s supposed to help him lose weight, so that he can then befriend a bunch of jerks. No thanks.
It’s disappointing that, even after the criticism the ads have received over the past week, Strong4Life is still standing by them. They do seem to be responding to complaints though, so visit their Twitter and Facebook pages if you’d like to let them know that bullying kids isn’t helping anyone.