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Georgia, Disney, and the Wave on My Mind

January 23, 2012

Originally posted on Dances With Fat.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the ads about Georgia’s Strong4Life “anti-childhood obesity campaign.”  If not, suffice it to say that it is pictures of fat kids with sayings like “It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not” and “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid”.

First of all, I’m 5’4, 284 pounds, and 35 years old and I dare you to tell my Mom that I’m not her little girl.  So surely other people can get past the idea of little in little girl not necessarily being dependent on body size.  And I was a fat kid and had lots of fun, and I know other fat kids who have lots of fun.

Maybe the ads should say “It’s hard to be a little girl when the state of Georgia is shaming and bullying you.” and “Being the victim of state-sponsored bullying and body shaming takes the fun out of being a kid.”

I saw the play “Beauty and the Beast” at Disney’s Hollywood studios yesterday (stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this).  In the play, Gaston convinces the townspeople to kill the beast – who had been living there for years without anyone trying to kill him – but giving a speech about how he was going to come after their kids.  I’ve seen this used in other political fights as well.  Can’t whip people up into a big enough frenzy about two consenting adult men who love each other?  Just say that they are coming after your children.  I worked on the No on 9 campaign in Oregon in 2000.  The ballot measure Prohibited “public schools from providing instruction on behaviors relating to homosexuality and bisexuality in a manner that encourages, promotes or sanctions such behaviors”.  They trotted out teachers who said that gay teachers were infiltrating schools and teaching kids to be gay and people lost their minds.  The phrase “Won’t somebody please think of the children” is iconic.  When kids get involved we have to be careful to hold onto rationality.

I think that if we really thought it through, we would realize that shaming and stigmatizing fat kids is not the way to go.  You cannot have a war on childhood obesity without having a war on obese kids.  We can be for healthy kids without being against fat ones. Being for healthy kids means that we avoid the double whammy of giving fat kids the erroneous idea that healthy habits don’t “work” unless they make you thin, while giving thin kids the dangerous idea that they don’t need to worry about being healthy because they are thin. With hospitalizations for eating disorders in kids under 12 up 119% we can do better for our kids’ health than bullying them, shaming them, and making them terrified of their bodies and of the state-sponsored bullying and shaming that will be heaped upon them if it decides their body is the wrong size.

I saw something else at Disney’s Hollywood Studio that gave me hope.  We were at the fireworks show.  Like many of the over 1500 people crowded into the standing room only space, we were hungry, exhausted, freezing cold, and cranky.  Five kids two rows below us decided that they wanted to start the wave.  They tried repeatedly but only ever managed a five person wave.  They stopped for a while and then one of them said “let’s try again”.  They did a couple more 5 person waves and were about to give up when someone a row behind us yelled “Do  it again!”. This time it was a 10 person wave.  The person who yelled had caught the attention of people two rows below the original wave group.  Now they joined in.  Within a couple of minutes the ENTIRE STADIUM did the wave.  But them something amazing happened – it came back around.  The kids who started it went NUTS, they were so happy they could barely form words except to say “Let’s do it again!” and again it went all the way around the studio and them came all the way back.  In the space of less than 5 minutes, 5 people influenced 1500.  To me it was the perfect example of grassroots activism.  A small group of people can make a difference.

So if you agree that the Georgia campaign against fat kids is wrong, there are some things that you can do:

Sign the petition

Tell other people what’s happening and let them know what they can do to get involved. The key word in activism is “active”  We can make a difference.

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