#Unashamed and Strong for Life

I’ve thought long and hard about how to write a post about the #ashamed hashtag you’ve seen a lot of in the last week or two. In the event that you haven’t seen the discussion surrounding ashamed, let me bring you up to speed.

Earlier this year a Children’s Hospital in Georgia started a campaign revolving around childhood obesity. I’ve posted some of their videos here and here. In addition to incredibly powerful videos there are billboards that accompany them. The billboards and videos feature real life overweight children talking about the real life issues that obesity causes. The issues are social (loneliness) and physical (heart disease, diabetes and more). The videos (watch them) are presented with neither judgment nor over dramatization. The fact that these children are in physical and emotional pain is dramatic enough, nothing more is needed.

strong4life ashamed

There is a campaign to have the Children’s Hospital take down these billboards, the belief is that these billboards bring shame to children who are fat. Many top bloggers are bothered by these ads. Leading the charge is Leah Segedie.

Leah Segedie, who is the brains behind Mamavation, finds these ads to be riddled with shame. Leah is undoubtedly an authority in the weight loss arena as she battled depression along with her weight and has had a wonderful lifestyle change. She lost a hundred pounds and found her voice. Leah would be the FIRST person I would talk to if I needed a lifestyle overhaul. Leah is also an incredibly compassionate and passionate woman, she is bright and articulate, she is educated and she is charismatic. You get the picture? Leah is a woman I respect, enjoy and look up to. As a rule I do not call her judgment into question.

The women behind the #ashamed movement have it wrong. I don’t believe for a single solitary second that an ad campaign will make these children feel ashamed for being overweight. I believe with all my heart that the fat that’s covering these children’s bodies might make them ashamed. It should be noted that the fat covering their bodies also makes them ill and it’s much easier to die of diabetes or heart disease than of shame. Further, these ads are empowering. In the state of Georgia 40% of the children are overweight. Georgia is at the heart of the obesity epidemic and it’s imperative that they become forerunners in the fight against obesity.

By talking about fat, rather than whispering, some of the stigma has to leave. It’s not like no one can see. I’ve gained 15 pounds in the last two years, everyone can see it. If I only talk about it while whispering in private it’s not like people won’t notice. One of the many goals of this campaign is to have parents actually acknowledge that their children are overweight. It’s not baby fat, it’s just fat.

Having too much fat on your body is a medical issue. Yes, it can become a social one, and yes, it can be emotionally crippling. Not talking about the fact that children are overweight won’t stop them from hurting. Not discussing the fact that adults are robbing children of their health when they don’t provide proper nutrition and exercise won’t make anyone thinner or healthier.

When I was a teen everyone was worried about self esteem. There was this ridiculous notion that every child should feel good about themselves. Ted Bundy had incredibly high self esteem. What was missing was giving children the opportunity to feel good about themselves by presenting them with tools to reach the goals they wanted to achieve. The whole give a man fish or teach him to fish thing. If you don’t want children to feel ashamed let’s give them a reason to feel proud, give them a goal they can reach like walking a mile or riding their bike to school for a week. Teach kids to put together a healthy lunch or how to stop eating before you’re full and then to wait twenty minutes before eating again. If you want children to feel good give them some tools, forget advocating against healthcare workers who are trying to save lives.

Some feelings will be hurt. I assure you those feelings were hurt long ago, and if it takes an ad campaign in a region where children are gifted disease by their diets then so be it. I say let’s have hurt feelings, because the folks who are going to look at these commercials and feel like they’ve been sucker punched are going to be the parents. The kids already knew how they felt, it’s not a mystery to them.

I support Strong4Life and I’m sad that we’ve reached this place. I hope that Georgia can be the canary in the coal mine for all of us and that we can all love our children enough to make changes that will keep everyone living happier, fuller lives. Every part of me believes the women behind #ashamed have their hearts in the right place. I think they just missed the point.

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Comments 17

  1. I was overweight in junior high and high school. I already felt ashamed and these billboards would not have made me feel worse. The people who would be shamed by these are the people directly contributing to the weight of these children.

  2. I’m torn. Fat kids are notoriously the target of bullies and it doesn’t take much  of what looks like adult-sanctioned approval for the bullies to feel justified. These are kids — it’s not their fault — and I think I personally would have preferred a campaign aimed at parents and other grownups. In fact, I know I would have. 

    On the other hand, I read stories like this, http://foxnewsinsider.com/2011/11/29/ohio-officials-remove-200-pound-third-grader-from-home-placed-in-foster-care/ where a boy is 140 pounds overweight and despite social services, the parents remained noncompliant. Social services took the boy into custody after a year, as the parents continued to overfeed him. How heartbreaking is that? If you read the comments on this piece though, there’s quite a bit of parental posturing. “Try to take my kid away for being overweight and they will be met with resistants (sic). Govt needs to butt out of others (sic) lives.” But 140 extra pounds on a 3rd grader isn’t chubby, it’s not even fat — it’s morbidly obese and extremely dangerous. 

    In the end, Jess, and as someone who spent 13 years in advertising and marketing, I don’t think the value of this campaign truly extends beyond shock value. Most children, by themselves, have little power to affect drastic changes in their households and, let’s face it, if you grow up on a diet of corn chips, lethargy, and McDonalds and you’re nine years old, it’s hardly likely you’re going to start wanting to eat lean chicken and carrots and doing jumping jacks. So if the point of the ad was to motivate kids, I think it did a poor job. Fat kids being sad isn’t motivating — at least not enough to skip the morning Pop Tarts.

    If the point of the ad was to awaken parents to their children’s plights and feelings, then perhaps it nominally hit the mark — but only for parents who might otherwise already be open to that message. It does nothing to address the fast held beliefs of big-bones, genetics, metabolic issues, baby fat, “he doesn’t really eat all that much”, etc. 

    I’d like to see an ad that shows, say, a Big Mac Meal and then a whole table of healthy foods that equals less calories combined. Because that’s what so many don’t seem to understand. One Big Mac meal at McDonalds is the equivalent of three regular healthy meals and a snack to a child. Junior may not, in fact, “eat all that much” but what he eats is fat-laden crap.

  3. I love this opinion. Though I am one of the bloggers who have been using the hashtag, I have been talking more about the mechanics of what makes a good or a bad ad campaign than about the shame they create or do not create. I happen to think this one misses the mark for lots of reasons that my marketing background has taught me, not my background as a woman who has struggled managing my weight. If that makes sense. I was part of both of the Twitter parties, too, and found them to be beneficial for the personal, one on one ‘tweetversations’ with the folks there supporting the ads than being one ‘leading the charge’ against them. Lots of the people who participated had unique opnions and discussions, but it was difficult sometimes to extract them because of the overwhelming battle cry of SHAME. It’s been a really enlightening process, and I am energized by the debate in the community about not just the campaign, but all of the issues that are behind the messages on the billboards. Great piece. I enjoyed reading it.

  4. I love this opinion. Though I am one of the bloggers who have been using the hashtag, I have been talking more about the mechanics of what makes a good or a bad ad campaign than about the shame they create or do not create. I happen to think this one misses the mark for lots of reasons that my marketing background has taught me, not my background as a woman who has struggled managing my weight. If that makes sense. I was part of both of the Twitter parties, too, and found them to be beneficial for the personal, one on one ‘tweetversations’ with the folks there supporting the ads than being one ‘leading the charge’ against them. Lots of the people who participated had unique opnions and discussions, but it was difficult sometimes to extract them because of the overwhelming battle cry of SHAME. It’s been a really enlightening process, and I am energized by the debate in the community about not just the campaign, but all of the issues that are behind the messages on the billboards. Great piece. I enjoyed reading it.

  5. I am 100% certain that accoutability is the problem when it comes to obesity and our nation’s kids. Parents don’t have any and they pass that right down to their children.

    My son came in the house yesterday and asked specifically for an organic snack. My daughter “pretends” to work out all the time. Why? Because they are mimicking learned behaviors – behaviors that they see in this house every day, that’s what kids do.

    I am not sure how I feel about the ads, but I know this, complacent ignorance wasn’t working and a lot of these parents clearly don’t care. Something has to incite them to change, and maybe the controversy surrounding this campaign will do just that.

  6. Great point. I do believe the sucker punch needs to be given to the parents of these children. I know I don’t set the best example of eating well and exercising (working on it…saw my extra 20 in the mirror this morning), but I know I probably make healthier choices for them than me. Weird hey. 

    I know I am responsible for them to have a healthy path. That is not teachers, friends parents, governments, or ad campaigns responsibility, it’s MINE!But you are right Jessica these kids need to be given a chance!

  7. Great post Jessica. I’ve seen the hashtag on Twitter and thought a few times about writing a post like this, but then I loose the nerve. This campaign is NOT shaming kids, rather raising awareness in way that will hopefully move the ADULTS who are responsible for them to take action. I’d like to hug you right now.

  8. This controversy goes to the heart of our misunderstanding of self-esteem. Self-esteem is not about always feeling good about ourselves. It is the ability to look at our selves, our choices, and circumstances accurately and know we have the tools and power to make the changes we want–self-efficacy. 
    This is a great program-and its spearheaded by the government.

  9. I could not agree with you more, Jessica! I’m tired of the people in social spaces who take offense to everything and speak out against things which truly should be seen as a two-way conversation rather than merely a negative notion.

    I have never been overweight. I will never be overweight. A healthy lifestyle is now, and for the most part always has been, at the core of my life. So I cannot relate.

    What I am absolutely certain of is your point that obese children already lack the confidence, self esteem and likely LOVE they need in their lives to desire a healthier life. But if we continue to place a blanket over the issue nothing changes because….NOTHING changes if NOTHING changes.

    I agree that a billboard ad presents the problem. And problems are just that- problems. But if people and states are truly willing to work together to Create solutions…..then the ad campaign will be justified.

    I am so passionate about this, and I am really looking forward to watching what might transpire. Thanks for the phenom post, Jess!

  10. First, I have to say that I feel terrible for these kids – it is sad for them – BUT I was just discussing this with my husband who is a psychologist – he looked at these and said ‘good’ … WHY, these teens are most likely already ashamed, and eating is one way of feeling better  – at the end of the day one way or another ACTION LEADS to CHANGE – and we need to shout out this problem – there is no reason in this day and age to not be smarter about health – get these kids good nutritional information, therapy, empower them – whatever their reason is to have got them here there is a way to start climbing out – I’m not judging because anything can happen to anyone but things can change – seeing these is disturbing but sometimes that is the only way to implement the shift that is needed  –

  11. I enjoyed reading this, too. I am one of the voices against the campaign in its current form and did participate in both twitter parties with the #ashamed hashtag.

    While I agree with so much of what you say, I just want to state that as an eating disordered kid, I firmly believe an ad campaign focusing on shame is not the answer. No one is debating that childhood obesity is an important issue that needs to be addressed. And as far as I can see, no one is against awareness being brought to the issue itself. I think a change of focus for the campaign from one of negativity to one of encouragement, education, and positive reinforcement can make all of the difference in the world.

    It’s not the campaign I’m against. It’s the tone I think that needs to be changed.

    thanks for keeping the conversation going.

  12. This may be the 1st time I actually agree with you Jessica. I consider Leah being seriously an icon fitness wise and personally see her point about trying to protect kids and i have deep respect for her and the changes she effects in her field. My issue with sensationalism etc is on the intent. Here they are not making it up, those kids are in trouble. I applaud them not just trying to poke fun to sell ads but they are actively trying to help those kids. I watched those videos and it was refreshing that they not only talk the talk but walk the talk too. I see this more as shocking than shaming.

    This is similar to what Food Revolution did – many can say he shamed those families and schools, but he changed things and helped. Same with many other shows like Biggest Loser, Restaurant Impossible etc all work to shock how deep trouble people are in. What makes me extra nervous is someone out there just waiting in the wings to convert this honest discussion into a political issue with hidden agenda, mocking any validity all sides may have on this issue.

  13. Jessica,
     I agree with you on many points and I commend your honest opinion on this subject.Of course, overweight children know they are overweight. Of course, they already feel the burden of shame. There is no denying that.
    And I think you know that I do not advocate for fat acceptance. I think people need to take ownership of their issues and work towards a healthier lifestyle.
    But when it comes to children, the burden, the shame the responsibility should fall on the parents. This is my opinion.
    There are many things that can and should be done to rectify the obesity epidemic. First and foremost parents need to parent; make the hard decisions, pass on the chicken nuggets and french fries because it’s quick and easy, get up off their asses and get their children active. Be an example and make the tough choices. Walk the talk. Be involved.
    I think Georgia should keep the billboards and put the parents faces on them with the same quote that ignoring the problem is what got us here. Putting an overweight kid’s photo on a billboard is not going to do them any favors only draw their attention to a situation that is beyond their control. Last I checked parents are responsible for feeding their children, buying the food, making the lunches.
    As a woman who lives with body dysmorphic disorder and has survived many years of severe eating disorders, I can pin point the moment that I noticed my weight. It was the moment that my father told me that I needed to run more. There was no bullying. There was no teasing. There was no shame. In reality, there was no weight issue at the time.
    But as a preteen, I took what was an innocent comment and twisted it into a lifetime of issues. I’d hate to think that any child could look up at these billboards and twist the message around to think they are the problem. The problem is the obesity, not the child. I think the campaign billboards blur that line.

  14. Being one of the bloggers that has been supporting Leah’s #Ashamed conversations, I have to still say that I’m not a fan of those ads and can see how kids could get really ugly really fast on the playground.

    However, while doing my research into the Strong for Life site, what I found were great tools for parents and kids on ways to get healthier and break the cycle of obesity. Kids learn from their parents, but if parents only do what they’ve always seen done (prepare and feed their kids too much fatty food), no amount of good intention is going to work. One of the moms in the videos even said that she hadn’t really known what to do to make her family healthier. 

    In my tweets during the #Ashamed chats, I did mention that I thought the intention behind the program was good, but that I still didn’t care for the ads. I still hold that opinion. The ads are shocking, and as you said, that’s what will get people to react. I get it. But I would hate to be that kid that resembles the ad and then have to go into school hoping not to be a target of ridicule. 

    There were a few people who jumped in the chat that were recalling their own eating disorders and obesity issues as kids and adults, too. While most of those lead back to the issue at hand, some of those conversations became more about them and less about the billboards. It was a bit disappointing, but hey… it’s Twitter, not a think tank.

    Parents definitely need the tools and opportunities to help change the poor eating habits they’ve learned all their lives and spur them into becoming active as a family. If we focus the conversation on how to do that in a more constructive and edifying way (and less on how jacked up someone else’s childhood was in the 70’s or 80’s), the conversations could have a great impact on parents that might be following the hashtag and who might identify with the situation.

    LIke the site says, it took 30 years, but people are finally talking about it. Ultimately, that’s what matters.

    BUt I still don’t like the billboards.

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