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Disney’s latest attraction: fat shaming?

Posted by m.e.h. in Brand, Marketing, Media

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Both Disney World and Children’s Healthcare of Georgia have recently launched campaigns targeted to people battling weight issues. Georgia’s Strong4Life campaign features videos and pictures of overweight kids saying things like “it’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not” among other provocative language. The campaign calls for us to “work together to solve the crisis” and warns that ”it’s time to wake up.” Pointed and heart wrenching to see.

More recently, a new exhibit called Habit Heroes was opened (on a limited basis) at Epcot at Disney World, and co-sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield, which stars Will Power and Callie Stenics who teach patrons the risks of poor eating and a sedentary lifestyle. It features Disney-esque animated characters that carry a less than Disney-esque message. Pictured above, Snacker, Lead Bottom and The Glutton are depicted as clueless at best or at worst, lazy and slothful.

In both cases, they have been met with controversy and major criticism in one camp, and a call to “get over it” from the other camp. Detractors say shame tactics do more harm than good. Supporters are happy that steps are finally being taken when clearly people won’t take steps on their own. Needless to say, this is a pretty incendiary topic.

This also represents a colliding of worlds for me. I blog about health and fitness over at The Weightress and have lost considerable weight myself (80 lbs.), and I’m also a marketer who understands the need to develop a campaign to meet the needs of your business/cause. So I stop and ask the question: what were the marketers (or imagineers, in Disney’s case) trying to accomplish by starting a conversation about weight?

It’s no secret that obesity is a huge problem in our country. Over 30% of adults are obese and the number jumps over 50% for adults that are overweight. (As measured by BMI.) Georgia, in particularr, has the second highest childhood obesity rates in the nation. It is a major social issue (with things like body image, bullying, eating disorders, etc.) but it a huge financial one as well. What are the medical and physical costs of obesity? Between therapy, medication and disease treatment, I’m going to go with “huge.”

As a marketer, I would guess that education and awareness are the primary goals of both the Strong4Life campaign and the exhibit at Disney World. If I measure success on those two criteria, I would first say they have nailed awareness. The state of Georgia has generated broad discussion and debate on the topic. They have generated an army of mommy bloggers who are outraged at their methods. But there is no disputing the fact, they have generated awareness. As for education, time will have to tell. Changing habits it like turning around a giant ship. It takes time and lots of small corrections. I know this first hand.

As a person who has battled weight, I don’t think the tactics used in either case are respectful of the audience or show any compassion for their situation. Tough love doesn’t work when encouraging people to get healthy. Shaming someone in the happiest place on Earth doesn’t encourage them to do better, or to say no to the funnel cake offered just around the corner. Embarrassment doesn’t get people excited about learning about nutrition and exercise.

It just doesn’t.

A supportive community, an open and honest dialogue with your doctor and building a culture that applauds activity and lifestyle changes (and not fad diets), those are the things that turn a ship around.

I hope more good than harm comes these efforts because I truly believe the collective hearts are in the right place.



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