I Am the Fat Kid in Georgia
Troubling Anti-Obesity Campaign
by Emily Ho Sandford
I tend to not be a controversial person. I stay pretty neutral on a lot of topics because I like to be well versed in both sides before forming an opinion. That being said, the controversy this week regarding the Strong4Life campaign that is currently running in Georgia has really hit home. The campaign is sponsored by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and is billed as childhood obesity campaign. According to Strong 4 Life, “50 percent of people surveyed did not recognize childhood obesity as a problem and 75 percent of parents with overweight or obese kids did not see their children as having a weight issue.”
Georgia has the second-highest childhood obesity rate in the country. To bring this closer to home, according to the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Kentucky comes in right behind at number three.
In this campaign, overweight children appear in grim black-and-white images and on videos. One of the children, Tina, appears in a video somberly saying: “I don’t like going to school, because all the other kids pick on me. It hurts my feelings.” The tag line reads, “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid.”
I WAS that girl.
I was born in Augusta, Georgia, and lived there until I was about 12. I was always big. ALWAYS. Always taller, always plumper. My round face, cheeks, and belly rarely escaped a photo. I think I had cellulite when I was 12. Appearances aside, however, I was as active as a child could be. Nearly every day after school I had jazz class, tennis practice, swim practice (was on an all-year league), and Brownies (the Girl Scout, not the food). My mom cooked everything at home, and it was pretty standard fare: baked chicken, broccoli, and rice. Sometimes my dad would cook stir-fry. We didn’t have junk in the house, and didn’t drink soda. I took my lunch to school most days, with a Thermos full of soup and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If I was lucky, I’d get a pudding snack pack.
The difference between Tina and me? I WAS that girl, but I didn’t know it.
This girl in the video will always know that something was so “wrong” with her that she was in an ad for it. She will forever be a poster child for childhood obesity. What parent would sign up for their child to be that?
The one thing you can never get back in life is your innocence. Children are born unaware of hate, societal pressures, social norms, and unrealistic expectations. They only know love for their caregiver. As soon as people start pointing out differences, the innocence is lost. I distinctly remember when I realized that my dad was Chinese and my mom was white – they were different. I was about 8 years old and another Asian child at school said something about me having an Asian last name and Asian parent, but not looking like it. I was gobsmacked. Really? I’m half Chinese?
By no means am I saying that childhood obesity should remain unaddressed. I wish I had a solution for it, because I’d run around shouting it from the rooftops. As a formerly obese child, however, I have no idea what my parents could have done differently to instill different habits that would have made me smaller. I was extremely active, wasn’t eating junk, and had home cooked meals. My sister did the same things as I did and was always tiny. It’s just how it is. Don’t make me the poster child for poor health and poor food choices made by parents – that is 100% not the case.
This girl, and the others in the campaign, will have an entire life of knowing how different they are, and how wrong “society” thinks it is. I was 14 when I started contemplating suicide over my appearance. I am so thankful that I was old enough at that time to reach out to someone for help. Thinking about a child any younger than that and the pressure, scrutiny, and shaming they might endure makes my heart ache. Instead of putting this $50 million media spend on the air and on, put it behind political change that will get healthy lunches in schools, and reinstate PE and recess to all children.
One day I hope there will be a solution to childhood obesity. Until then, let’s focus on promoting healthy living no matter what the child’s appearance.
Emily Ho Sandford is Lexington-based weight loss blogger behind Skinny Emmie (http://skinnyemmie.com), where she journals her experiences on the way from unhealthy to fit. She was recently named one of the top 5 inspirational “tweeps” on Twitter (@skinnyemmie), and was featured on Shape Magazine’s website showcasing her 113 pound weight loss.
This article also appears on page 5 of the January 12 print edition of the annual Ace Weekly Health and Wellness issue.
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