A healthcare association in Atlanta have been pushing a major advertising campaign lately, targeting childhood obesity.
Or, more accurately, targeting overweight children.
The ostensible goal of the campaign is straight-forward enough: healthier children in the state of Georgia. But it’s worth listing the various things these ads don’t do to achieve this.
They don’t offer medical advice of any kind. They don’t discuss or explain the health issues associated with any particular kinds of diet, or the benefits that can be derived from a healthier lifestyle. They don’t offer children a vision of a positive, attainable future if certain health advice is followed. They don’t offer parents any practical tips on simple changes that can be made to the way they look after their children.
What do they do? Well, they emphasise that being overweight is bad. That “fat” is an awful thing to be. That you should, and inevitably will, feel bad if you look like this, or if you let your children look like this.
That fear and shame is what’s being pushed more than anything about health or well-being. You’re expected to just look at them, realise they’re fat, and know that that’s bad. Just look at them.
This is what these ads make very clear. And they do so in a way that children can understand. Children who have problems with their own weight, and children who’ve already been tempted to make fun of the fatties in the playground.
The video spots they’ve made, if this monstrosity is anything to go by, are even worse.
In all dimly lit black-and-white, a kid (who, frankly, seems barely even chubby to me) sits opposite a notably large woman, and asks: “Mom, why am I fat?”
The woman sighs and hangs her head in sorrow and shame. A caption tells her and fat women like her to “Stop sugarcoating it”.
For fuck’s sake.
That video has far more likes than dislikes on YouTube, and it’s clear that not everyone feels the same visceral repugnance to it as I do. But it’s hard to explain in detail just what it is that seems so self-evidently inhumane about actively spreading shame and compounding the guilt people already feel about themselves.
Here’s my main problem with this whole campaign. Have you ever seen an overweight child in a movie, or a TV show, or a documentary, or basically being depicted in any form of popular culture either factually or fictitiously? Because the impression I get from them, just about every damn time, is that they’re already pretty fucking clear on how ashamed they’re supposed to feel about their bodies without you hammering it in any further.
If you’re going to claim, as a health agency, to have children’s welfare at heart, then maybe try taking a different tactic in motivating them to change their behaviours than the bullies a lot of them deal with every day of their lives.
At least one of the children starring in the ads says she feels “really good” about herself, and doesn’t seem to be the pit of self-loathing that Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta seem to want her to be. I only hope their failure here is part of a much wider trend.