Sunday, 26 February 2012

Where does it begin? Where does it end?

In the news this week, Disney launches its new interactive exhibit at Epcot. Called Habit Heroes, the exhibit is designed to help kids beat their bad habits. All good and well, you'd think, but some of the bad habits have raised a bit of a stink.

Take, the Glutton. He overeats and he eats too fast. And just look what happened to him! Or the Snacker: too much fatty processed food. And look at poor old lead bottom. He doesn't get enough exercise.

What kind of messages were these characters sending? Weight stigma groups and people working in the area of childhood obesity have been up in arms. Some people didn't understand why - of course if you're fat you must be a lard ass glutton. Why else would you look like that? Have some self respect and pull yourself together.

Kids who don't know what they're doing wrong are made to feel like dirt by their peers, their doctors, even their families. And now Disney wants to take a stab at them too. Never mind that the only food and drink available in Disney parks is of the somewhat rapid variety. Or that lots of thin kids eat junk and get no other exercise than to turn on their PS3s. Making judgments about people's character from the way they look tends do be frowned upon in most other populations. Unless you're fat. Then, you're fair game. You must deserve it.

We aren't born fat phobic. Very young children prefer cuddly caregivers. But weight stigma hits young. By the age of 6, US kids will already prefer a severely disfigured child to a fat child as a friend. They describe the fat kid as "lazy, dirty, stupid, and ugly". Young girls are more afraid of being fat than of nuclear war, getting cancer, or losing their parents. College students rate overweight partners as the least attractive marriage material, after embezzlers and cocaine users, amongst others. And in one study, over half of women aged 18 to 25 thought that being hit by a truck would be preferable to being fat.*

Where is this madness going to end? Well, there is some good news. Less than a week after this exhibit opened, the uproar in the press and on social media has seen Disney close the exhibit down for tweaking and the Habit Heroes website is offline for 'maintenance'.

People power.

* Note: The weight stigma stats came from a book I'm reading at the moment: Beyond a Shadow of a Diet by Ellen Frankel and Judith Matz.