Strong4Life and growing up fat

An ad campaign in Georgia is educating parents of fat kids about the fact that their health is in danger. But who’s making sure their self-esteem is safe?

It was always my niche in the family. My cousin Betty was beautiful, my cousin Coleen was smart, and my cousin Lonnie was a cut-up. I was the fat one.

On my father’s side, I have six aunts and uncles and, at the time I was growing up, I had 17 cousins (our family has since greatly expanded, thanks to second marriages and another generation) with whom I spent most of my time. Everybody had their place and mine was firmly chubby.

It was a running joke. I would binge eating for comfort because of turmoil at home, but nobody thought to ask why. When I went back for seconds and thirds at family gatherings it was just hilarity–as was the fact that I couldn’t wear anybody’s hand-me-downs.

And, I knew I was big. All I had to do was look around at the rest of my family, my classmates, and the world, to know I wasn’t someone they’d be calling up to pose for the cover of Seventeen.

But I didn’t know know it, so I lived my life like a normal girl. Sure, I was larger than some, but I was liked by everyone.1 Yes, I looked ridiculous in Jordache jeans and a cut-off shirt, but besides chub, the other thing I had an overabundance of was confidence. So, I took dance classes, I flirted with boys, and I tried out for a cheerleading squad.

While my grandmother was making jokes about me sucking a chicken bone clean in record time, I was busy writing my life story in my head: “girl overcomes family adversity to become the most beautiful Miss America the world has ever seen.” I told myself it was going to make a great ABC After School Special starring Kristy McNichol.

In short, while the rest of my family was part of an ensemble in National Lampoon’s Vacation, I was starring in Coal Miner’s Daughter. I just hoped I remembered to thank them in my Oscars speech.

— ∮∮∮ —

In Georgia, billboards have been popping up that are causing quite a stir.

They feature black-and-white photos of sad-looking, overweight kids with tag lines like “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid” and “My fat may be funny to you, but it’s killing me.”

The ad campaign, being run by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and is called Strong4Life.

From the Huffington Post article:

ABC News reported that the health organization produced these ads after surveying parents in two Georgia towns. They discovered that 75 percent of parents with obese children were not aware that their children were overweight, while 50 percent of parents didn’t realize that childhood obesity was a problem to begin with. And in a state where nearly 40 percent of children are overweight or obese — Georgia is in 2nd place for childhood obesity rates nationwide, only behind Mississippi — these statistics are problematic.

And there are television ads. One shows a female child with a voice over by her “mother,” talking about how she eats the same food as everybody else in her family, and the mom thought the girl had just inherited her own “thick” genes. There’s one where a boy sits down across from a large woman and says “Mom, why am I fat?” while the woman just looks down in shame.

At the end of all of the television ads, while facts and the website flash across a black screen, heavy breathing–presumably of a fat person–can be heard.



The ads are getting mixed reviews. Everyone agrees that fat kids are a problem, but not everyone agrees that this is the best way to educate parents about it.

As Dr. Miriam Labbok, director for the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told ABC News, “Blaming the victim rarely helps. These children know they are fat and that they are ostracized already.”

While I experienced a childhood where ain’t nothin’ gonna break-a my stride, all children don’t have the blind optimism that I had.2 This campaign just further reinforces the fact that bigger kids aren’t normal–as if they couldn’t turn on the Disney Channel and feel that way on their own.3 Besides, no one needs to hear “You’re so fat, you should be in a Strong4Life commercial!”

There has to be a way to educate parents, without making kids feel bad.

I’ve, obviously, achieved all of my childhood dreams, so let’s give today’s kids a chance to achieve theirs with as little stigma as possible. Besides, After School Specials have turned into reality shows, and Kristy McNichol is retired.

— ∮∮∮ —


  1. Someone please ensure that “larger than some, liked by everyone” is engraved on my headstone. 
  2. Have, really. It’s rigoddamndiculous the things I think I can do, even though I’m fat. 
  3. How good was That’s So Raven for taking this thing and turning it on its ear? Raven weren’t no tiny little Lizzie McGuire and SHE HAD PSYCHIC POWERS. 
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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

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