When I first saw the billboard ads for Georgia’s anti-childhood-obesity initiative — which debuted to much controversy toward the latter part of 2011 and were discontinued in early 2012 — the wordplay and pun-fulness of the text accompanying the stark, sad photographs actually reminded me of some of the well-known “pro-anorexia” mantras out there.
You know, things those of us who starve ourselves whisper in the back of our minds — cling to like a life raft in a violent surf, clutch like a talisman in our back pocket just before the winning lottery numbers are unveiled — in an effort to contort our willpower past the urge to eat a Dorito. These include such gems as:
“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
“A moment on the lips, forever on the hips.”
(If you didn’t know, welcome to the anguished, illogical, creepy world of an eating disorder.)
The singsong tone of these sayings so artfully disguises their viciousness, the destructive shame they conjure. Yes, they are just words strung together in wee sentences that sound positively foolish and thus seem of little consequence. They are quite powerful — insidious — however, as the eating-disordered mind (or any addicted mind) will grasp at any sort of “logic” to keep itself safe, contained, thriving. To make self-destruction seem like hands-down the best idea that could have ever possibly existed ever.
[On a side note, from the annals of I’ll-never-again-get-to-mention-that-I-know-this-useless-factoid-so-I’m-going-to-put-it-in-here pop culture: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” was allegedly the brainchild of ’90s heroin-chic model Kate Moss, and, since its birth into our catalog of catchphrases, it has rightfully been condemned, ridiculed, stomped on, banned from T-shirts, etc.]
À la Miss Moss’ proclamation, the quips in the Georgia ads — such as “It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not” — have a nice, tidy ring to them that masks their cruelty, their condescension, the way they compact a very vast, tangled problem into a shipshape slogan. And the slogan goes: You’re different because you’re not thin. You should be thin. You should want to be thin. You should be trying to be thin. Otherwise, you’re a punch line.
According to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the pediatrics organization behind the billboards, the purpose of the ads (which also aired as TV spots) was to get people’s attention. To wake them up to the seriousness of childhood obesity — this buzzword of an “epidemic,” this utmost burden on our society, this crisis worthy of government intervention. If the goal is to get the youth of our nation of slovenly scale-tippers and their parents on a path toward a lifetime of healthy eating, however, motivating them via shame seems a tad plenty ill-advised.
The desire to have an honest, un-sugar-coated conversation about childhood obesity is a fine objective. But tapping into shock value and shame in lieu of presenting actual solutions clouds that goal, and, I believe, can have unintended consequences.