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Blue Light Special —

January 11, 2012

I have it on good authority that Children’s Hospital of Atlanta (CHOA) has been responding to email complaints (keep ’em comin’!) about their unbelievably fat-shaming campaign (aka Operation Big, Dumb Bully) with a well-crafted response from Kevin McClelland, Director of External Communications for CHOA (if you get a response at all, which I didn’t).

Thanks to Mary Baird, I have obtained a copy of that response:

Dear Ms. Baird:

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 really appreciate your point of view and want to thank you for the work you do with children. We also 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, camps, 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.

Sincerely,
Kevin

“See? It’s just the first phase. It doesn’t really even count. There’s gonna be, like, 50 more phases. Don’t get your panties in a wad.”

Weird. That response looks familiar, somehow.

Oh yeah, I just read Strong4Life’s Twitter account.

There it is again… Phase 1 is to “capture the attention of parents” who “are ignoring the crisis of childhood obesity.”

And yet these posters feature fat kids sulking over fat jokes.

What’s next? Are we going to make fat kids do the Truffle Shuffle in the town square?

That should get their parents attention, alright.

*sigh*

I understand that people are concerned about childhood obesity. I think it’s a complicated situation and I fully support any program that makes fresh food available to more people and that creates safe and welcoming spaces for people of all sizes to exercise, if they so choose. I think there’s a lot of passionate views about this issue and we all have our experiences informing how we see the issue, so as long as we’re respectfully discussing the issue in an open and honest manner, then I welcome all viewpoints to the table.

But for the love of all the is good, kind and true, can those of you with the money and authority to influence policy and/or create awareness campaigns just agree to leave the fat kids alone? Seriously.

What was that board meeting like?

McClelland: “We need a way to capture the attention of the parents about the severity of the obesity crisis.”

Walsh: “I know, let’s plaster billboards around the city of pathetic fat kids and talk about how often he goes to the buffet.”

McClelland: “Or how about this, ‘It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not a little girl.’ Get it? She’s fat.”

Walsh: “Oh, I know! How about we tell all the little fat kids out there that they’re going to die before their parents!”

McClelland: “Brilliant!”

Was there no one with a conscience available between the original conception of the idea and the ultimate execution? Did nobody say, “Hey, you guys, isn’t that kind of mean?”

I can’t wait to find out what these geniuses have planned for Phase 2. In fact, I’m starting to speculated already.

What do you think the next Phase of Strong 4 Life will be?

We will be back on Monday to continue pressuring the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta to tear down the billboard and end Phase 1. In the meantime, feel free to send a friendly (or pissed) email to the people defending this community child abuse

Linda Matzigkeit (doing interviews in defense of the billboards)
Vice President of CHOA
404 785 7824 (her admin’s number, so please be polite)
linda.matzigkeit@choa.org

Stephanie Walsh (doing interviews in defense of the billboards)
Medical Director of CHOA
404 785 6104 (her admin’s number, so please be polite)
stephanie.walsh@choa.org

Kevin McClelland (who they direct you to for complaints about the billboards)
Public Relations Director for CHOA
404 785 7600
kevin.mcclelland@choa.org

Children’s Foundation
404-785-4483
choagiving@choa.org

.

And check out this awesome example submitted by Mary Baird, which received the robo-response.

To all parties concerned,

I have been made aware of your Strong4Life campaign currently in use by your organization.  As a youth camp coordinator, I see on a weekly basis, the troubles associated with the shaming of children in their daily lives. Kids deal with a lot this day in age, with bullying from their peers, and a media pressuring kids into an unattainable standard of beauty.  It is our mission with our company to provide a safe and nurturing environment for kids of all shapes, sizes, and physical abilities to express their creativity and find the confidence to shine as individuals.  We end up undoing a lot of damage with our policy of positive enforcement.
The challenge of our job is made all the more difficult when we have to fight through the stereotypes these children are subjected to on a daily basis.  Do you know how difficult it is to help a kid to break down the walls of shame and self doubt when they have been exposed to the kinds of message your campaign promotes?  I have seen the most talented and hilarious kids destroyed by a single comment about their appearance.  We forget how fragile and susceptible they are to the words of others.

The Strong4Life campaign, as stated by your twitter account, are directed towards the adults in the lives of kids.  Unfortunately, in making public images and statements, you are unable to regulate who sees your messages.  Kids are likely to see what you’re saying about them and their self perceptions will ultimately be damaged.  You can’t know the ultimate toll these images will have on kids who could possibly be hurt by them.

Again, as an advocate for youth performing arts, I feel it is my duty to leave nothing but positive influence on the lives of kids in our program.  It is not my job to raise these kids, or make assumptions on the way in which their guardians have chosen to guide their lives.  It is not yours, either.  It pains me to see a group using a public forum to make these children feel real negativity. Your assumption on the health status of kids you deem to be “fat” is with no actual merit.  You cannot know anything about a child unless you are their direct healthcare provider, and shaming the entirety of a group of kids you have subjectively deemed to be not good enough is incredibly irresponsible.

I really hope you can reconsider your campaign.  Please take a look at the potential impact you may be having on the lives of children in your city, and please know that shame is not a useful teaching technique.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have, or with any updates on the status of your campaign.  I will be keeping close attention on your organizations decisions regarding this issue, and please be aware that the people in opposition to this youth shaming will not be quiet about our feelings.  Your advertisers and the media will know how we feel.

Thank you so much for listening,
Mary Baird

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