Chloe McSwain as Maritza in Georgia’s Strong4Life childhood obesity ad campaign.

 

Have you checked out my latest column on Owning Pink? If you haven’t, let me give you the short version: Georgia ranks #2 in the nation for childhood obesity and decided to use shaming tactics directed at our children in order to get the point across that things need to change.

I know.

Trust me.

I’m a smartass, sure. But I’m also a recovering bulimic, a (mostly) recovering binge eater, and probably rank a 10 on the How Messed Up is YOUR Body Image scale. Growing up I was always referred to as The Big Girl because what else were you going to call the 5’1” eight-year-old who was borrowing her mother’s jeans? Exactly. It’s okay. The complex I have now is probably old enough to be considered retro.

It may be up for public debate how Georgia’s Strong4Life campaign is going to affect our kids (for the record, my bet’s on more bad than good) but one of the featured child actresses, Chloe McSwain, has spoken out recently saying she feels pretty and feels confident. That’s all well and good, but she also is quoted as saying she needs to get healthier and lose weight and that the ads are meant to help other children do the same.

I’m applaud this little girl’s self-image, (of course she’s pretty) but if this is any indication of how these ads are going to affect other children her age, I don’t like it. The girl is no doubt reiterating what she has heard other adults say and quite frankly, it’s disturbing to me to hear a girl as young this one equate health and weight. The two are not mutually exclusive no matter what anyone says.

The problem is that no one who has ever chased shame with a Twinkie or dealt with an eating disorder can actually understand what the thought process is like for someone who has, or at the very least, is even susceptible. And I’m glad for that. If you have no idea what I’m talking about and assume I’m just bitching about these ads because I was a fat child who didn’t like getting picked on and s ee nothing wrong with the approach, then good for you. I’m glad you grew up with a healthy body image and boat loads of confidence and didn’t cry yourself to sleep because you got made fun of in swim class again. But throwing these ads in the faces of a new generation of children already primed for a skewed sense of reality and no control over what the government is calling a vegetable in the school cafeteria is just adding gas to an already smoking fire.

The actress feels pretty and confident. That makes me feel good for her and for her future sense of self worth. But what about the children who will see the ads in which she and other children are featured?

I’ll tell you a secret: I made myself throw up for the first time after watching a news special on eating disorders because it sounded like a good idea. I was 15! Who’s going to address damage control for those who, when they look at the messages emblazoned upon them, see a reason to follow down the same path?

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  19 Responses to “She Feels Pretty but…”

  1. I HATE how Iknow that children are going to feel when they see those ads.

    Wanna know how I know? (other than being a fat kid myself?) My 13 year old daughter writes a blog about being overweights and keeping a positive self image, and SHE wrote HER thoughts: http://losergurl.com/fat-ads/

    I think that there MUST be a better way of teaching parents than shaming kids.

  2. First of all, thanks for giving this issue another voice… I guess what troubles me on the whole issue is that shaming anyone- the kids or their parents -is just NOT the way to make change happen… Is it? I know personally, when I feel attacked, I shut down. I stop listening. However, when I’m approached in a loving, honest way (not coddled) I’m more receptive.

    I’ll be honest and say that I don’t have the answer… But I know this isn’t it. Shame is another way to bully…and bullying sucks no matter what shiny spin you put in it.

  3. Thank you for voicing this. I was one of those kids that was shamed into thinking that I was never good enough and would never be included in things – and to this day it still affects me. I wonder all the time if this is the reason I’m not married. I wonder if my weight is what makes people reject me.

    I would never want a kid to go through what I’ve been through. And it’s not always the kids that are cruel – sometimes it’s the family members that are the worst. :(

    • Isn’t interesting that I can tell you how beautiful and special you are and how the number on the scale doesn’t mean a DAMNED THING and how I wish you could see what others see when they look into your eyes and when they read your words and I MEAN EVERY SINGLE WORD? But when I look into my own reflection and hear the Am I Good Enough Why Am I Not Good Enough record playing in my own head, I automatically think what I just told you could never apply to me?

  4. Um, I’m gonna be the dissenting voice here.
    I live in Georgia. I drive by these signs, every day. I’ll have my three kids, my niece, my nephew in the car. And I’ll look at it, and feel sick to my stomach. Not because the sign is inhereantly wrong–in my opinion it’s not. That little girl in the sign? She’s healthy compared to my nephew, who at six years old weighs 10 lbs less than my husband (6’3″) and gets winded climbing into my car, and who isn’t allowed to play on the playground with his cousins because he broke the swing. Or, for that matter, my 13 year old niece, who weights more than I do–and I’ll ‘fess up, I weight 185, and am totally overweight.
    Those signs make me sick, because I’m the one who watches my niece and nephew have aches and pains from carrying way too much weight on a frame that is meant to be running around and playing.
    Do I think these signs are bad? Hell no. I think it’s a slap in the face to parents, to wake the fuck up. Your kid is eating their way into an early grave, because body image aside (My niece is gorgeous and has plenty of confidence, and my nephew is a bit young to worry about that) BEING OBESE IS UNHEALTHY.
    And I look at those signs, and I think about my niece spending the night, eating an entire bag of Doritos at midnight. Or my nephew at family dinners, eating a third FULL PLATE while his parents laugh about his healthy appetite. And I want to scream that there is nothing healthy about it. I want to scream that they’re eating their way into diseases that will be with them the rest of their lives. I want to shake my sister in law and force her to make something, healthy or not, that doesn’t come out of a fast food bag. I want SOMEONE to look at those signs and say, oh yeah. that’s Joe and Ree. And MAYBE, it’s not baby fat and MAYBE they have a problem AND OH, MY GOD. It is so past time to do something to help them.
    So yeah. No, those signs don’t bother me because they’re shaming children. They bother me because they AREN’T shaming parents.

    • My concern is the children. Eating disorders and body image issues are very real dangers that last a lifetime. Yes, parents may need help and more awareness and plenty of education in addressing the issue of childhood obesity. I won’t argue that. But I believe it’s possible to do that without causing emotional damage to our children. Thank you for reading and for commenting. I do appreciate your thoughts.

    • I totally understand how you feel about the parents seeing these ads… but what about the kids seeing them? What about how they will feel when they are told they have to go on a “diet”? What about the times that they are made fun of by the other kids who see the ads – and tell them that they look fat and are probably sick like those kids on the billboards.

      Yes, something needs to change, but shaming the kids who are most vulnerable is not the way to go about it. Education, getting families involved with events and maybe even creating an incentive plan for schools to change what they are serving food-wise and encouraging more recess and PE time.

    • I can see it being a slap in the face for parents, so put it in a place where parents would see it, NOT children. Growing up is awkward and painful enough, and I can’t imagine what it must be like for an overweight child. A billboard like this just reinforces painful stigmas and is like a free license to bully, whether by peers or parents. I think this is dangerous and detrimental, and I really wish the state pumped the money from that campaign into educating the children and families of Georgia on healthy living.

    • You sound like you care very deeply about your niece and nephew. Why don’t you start modelling healthy eating for them since their parents won’t? You could have them over for dinner one night a week and serve lots of fresh fruits and veggies along with whatever meat dish you’re making. Get rid of the junk food in the house and tell them why you’re doing it. Tell them how bad that stuff is for them. Not because they will get fat but because they will get sick. Explain to them that if they eat healthy, their bodies will work better and they will feel better. If you start serving them healthy, good tasting foods, their taste buds will change and they will start to prefer a meal cooked with love by someone who cares what happens to them, over a happy meal.

      And you can start small. Let’s say you make hot dogs. Put a few Doritos on the plate, but also put some raw carrots or some salad. And some grapes. Instead of soda, give them club soda with lemon juice. Get some really good whole grain bread, toast it a little, and put a little honey on it. Serve that with sliced apples and a little more honey for dessert. These little substitutions will show your kids that healthy tastes good and it will become a part of your lifestyle, not something you have to endure that tastes bad and means giving up everything you like.

      • They already eat at my house once or twice a week and yes, I serve healthy food. And yeah, I care about them. Their weight wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t care.

  5. If this ad was ONLY viewable by the parents of these children, I’d say great marketing…However it’s not. And I believe it’s extremely harmful for these children to see. I can not imagine what my niece will go through if she sees this…

    To me it would be as harmful as pornography to her little heart and soul. It’s disgusting. There is a better way to educate parents on the health of their children and this is NOT IT!!!

    WHY do they want to tear these children down?!?!?! It makes no sense. I want to hug them all…

    It’s about education… I just want to cry.

  6. Nicely done. I worked as a resident counselor in three different girls’ dorms, was an eighth grade teacher, and now have a 13 year old girl. This approach feels wrong and even detrimental. It’s interesting to me that your bulimia kickstarted after the show you watched. I love the American Girl books especially the one about Body Image, but it does include a part about eating disorders. I have always thought that was a big mistake to suggest a path to someone suffering from low self-esteem and weight issues.

    • My bulimia kicked in after watching the television special because my mind was already primed to respond to a trigger. Thousands of people watched that show but how many saw it as a how-to? Those with a healthy and realistic thought process did not. Those of us with eating disordered minds? It was enough to get me going. That’s my fear for these ads and the children already thinking these thoughts.

  7. Excellent post. Thank you so much for sharing and being so honest.

  8. Have you thought of starting a new book around this topic?

  9. I agree totally….if it were EASY to eat healthfully and keep the weight at a good level, we wouldn’t have people making millions from weight loss programs…it is a great business model, because the same people go back again and again and again..

    I think these ads are terrible….and will do more harm than good…

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