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Jewish Journal

Israel pulls ‘fat-shaming’ childhood obesity awareness ads

by Julie Bien

January 9, 2014 | 2:16 pm

Credit: Gordo25/Shutterstock.com

An ad agency in Israel recently pulled an ad campaign that "fat-shamed" children as a form of obesity awareness.

The ads ranged from a photoshopped child whose face was blown up like a balloon with his features made miniscule to illustrate how obesity affects a child's smile, to one featuring four stick figures on a see-saw, with one on one end, and three in the air on the other end.

Yet another ad showed the overweight belly and torso of a child, with a nose drawn over the navel to turn it into a sad face.

You get the picture.

Well, many people were understandly upset about the campaign, concerned that the ads would only harm the children they were targeting, rather than "shame them into action."

The campaign was pulled, and I couldn't agree more with that decision.

The belief that shaming a child about his or her body motivates them to lose weight is up there with the belief that hitting a child teaches them to be a better person.

I was never an obese child, but I was overweight (it turned out it was due to a medical condition, not lack of exercise or unhealthy eating habits).

I remember, very distinctly, being six years old and having my grandmother take me dress shopping. I tried on a black, crushed-velvet dress that I just adored, but when I went to show my grandmother how it fit, all she said was, "You're too fat for that dress."

The feeling of hot, red-faced shame that was brought on in the moment is still tangible. And guess what? Being fat-shamed as a child didn't motivate me to do anything other than want to disappear.

Once the medical condition got bad enough, the weight came off because I was too sick to eat. I was nine years old and remember being praised by neighbors for losing weight. The lesson I came away with? Better to be sick and thin, than healthy and chubby.

Praising (or shaming) a child strictly on how they look is destructive. There are plenty of ways of encouraging healthy behavior without emphasizing looks or a number on a scale.

As adults, it's our responsibility to nurture the next generation--to give them the tools and knowledge they need to lead as good a life as possible. When we crush the self-esteem of an 11 year old, we should be shamed for that destruction.

There are a lot of people to blame for the obesity crisis--both here and abroad, but blaming the children is ridiculous.

They are not adults and shouldn't be treated like adults. They have a lifetime of blame and responsibility ahead of them. Now is the time for them to build their character, personality, knowledge and empathy. Now is the time for us to teach them that to shame others is destructive and wrong.

Instead, when we shame children, we teach them that it's okay to make someone feel bad about themselves if WE deem them as inadequate.  Insitutionalized shame (like via an ad campaign) is that point of view on steroids.

Shame doesn't teach children about health or self-worth.

We teach them that their worth in society is directly related to how they look.  And as a society, we've made that the 'truth' of our world. Those who aren't as thin or attractive often have a harder time in life.  We've devalued some of the most valuable aspects of a community when knowledge, kindness and talent are all relegated to a lesser status than looks.

To ad agencies and adults alike: please stop shaming children for their bodies. If you want them to learn that their body is sacred, teach them that it's valuable (and worth taking care of) rather than teaching them that their body is 'wrong'.

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