Monday, March 5, 2012

Is Disney Telling Kids That They Are Fat?

Boy oh boy, Disney is at it again.

They just can't seem to catch a break. According to an article I came across last week on Yahoo, the Disney company, who is synonymous with oversexualized princesses and children's entertainment with a lack of educational material, has recently created an exhibit at the Epcot Center in Florida called Habit Heroes. The exhibit was designed in partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield and was designed to teach young kids to eat better.

The fun exhibit included some characters that, frankly, make me cringe. Villians such as 'Snacker', who eats too much fatty processed foods, and 'Lead Bottom', who doesn't exercise enough, are featured throughout the exercise. One interactive game was said to allow the played to shoot digital vegetables at the screen in order to knock cream puffs and other sweet junk out of the way.

The exhibit is drawing fire because of its art direction. The villains mentioned above are all drawn to be obese, and in many cases are depicted as lazy or even evil! One villain is named 'The Glutton' which harkens back to one of the seven deadly sins, not to mention that he is dressed in a Sopranos Style double-breasted suit. The pictures of the animation featured in the Yahoo article coupled with the characters' obviously obesity related names display an astounding lack of creativity, in my opinion. Critics are calling Disney irresponsible for allowing such blatant fat-shaming to take place in its works.

Sigh. I think I get all the sides of this debate.

I get the outrage. With 70+ percent of the American population over weight or obese, likely there are going to be over overweight and obese adults viewing this content even though it is an exhibit geared toward children. And with a steadily growing portion of children also registering in as overweight and obese, you can rest assured that some of the audience will be overweight. The exhibit clearly sends the message that fat equals bad. Children especially can't sort out the complicated messages beyond that. Children don't understand the intricacies and science of weight loss. So they are left with only confused emotions and a sense that if they are overweight that they must be deficient in some way.

Fat shaming doesn't work. I have written about that before. If you have a drug problem or an alcohol problem, you can many times hide your health issues from the world. But when you are obese you are on display. And the social implications of obesity are not just 'the obese person isn't beautiful' but also 'the obese person does not have self control', neither of which are true. Exhibits like this one from Disney do nothing to dispel these ever present social assumptions. And who is motivated by shame and hurtful words? Isn't that the first thing they tell you in all those progressive parenting books?

I get the irony. Disney theme parks, though I have never visited one (I want to be up front), are reported to be a wonderland of funnel cakes and French fries. It is ironic that a company that takes in huge profits from all things fast food would be so motivated to create an exhibit like this one. It is then not surprising that they would f@$! it up.

I get the intention. I give Disney some credit for agreeing to take a small portion of their big budget and address this issue. No doubt they see a growing problem in our world. No doubt they see a growing population among their own customer base. No doubt Blue Cross Blue Shield thought they could capitalize on Disney's massive world wide audience in order to send a good message to kids. But with so many hands in the pot from project organizers, animators and insurance people, who knows where this project went astray?

My two cents? Maybe the answer to childhood obesity doesn't lie in the children. Perhaps it lies in the parents. And 70+ percent of the adult population is overweight or obese!! Children cannot legally work. So it is logical to assume that they are not purchasing a majority of their own calories. Maybe just as we should stop marketing ALL foods to children, perhaps we should stop dumping the solution on them as well. They are kids after all. The worst thing we could do to try and combat childhood obesity is try and talk a bunch of science at these youngsters. And complicated eating and exercise plans? Forget about it.

Make Real Food for your family. Get your kids to play outside.

It really is that simple. Kids do not need to worry about their percent of fat in relation to their total calories. Kids do not need to worry about the sugar content of a carrot. Kids do not need to be running laps to have healthy bodies. Kids do not need to be shamed if they have put on a few more pounds than their friends. Kids do need to have active fun doing things like playing tag or kicking a ball. Kids do need you to make vegetables for them so they can try them. Kids do need parents that eat well so that they grow up assuming that is what grown ups do. Kids need to be kids. Keep. It. Simple.

Disney Corporation, I dare you, stop selling funnel cakes in your theme parks and then MAYBE I will take your intentions seriously. Until then I am going to keep assuming that you were looking to make a buck and some much needed positive PR off this project.


  1. I agree the food they sell at Disney is awful. The best I could find that last time I was there was a Turkey Leg. I wish that in America we would make street carts like the ones in Mexico or other parts of the world that sell local fresh fruits, grilled corn, nuts and dried fruit. I'm a total sucker for fresh fruit any day.

    1. Totally agree with you on that one. Disney certainly has no sense in food at all.

  2. I've only been to Disney World once and only to Epcot then. But I had a lovely salad with seared tuna for lunch and Moroccan veggie fare for dinner there. I think they offer some good foods but, like most places, you have to look carefully and past all the junk.