Disney Finally Gets The Message That Parents Don’t Love It When Their Kids Are Fat-Shamed

shutterstock_91401389I’m all for constructing positive, healthy role models for kids. I just don’t think we need to be fat-shaming them in the process. Disney’s Epcot Center, in a collaboration with Blue Cross Blue Shield, launched an interactive educational attraction called “Habit Heroes” last spring. What was meant to inspire kids to be healthy ended up just making kids feel pretty awful and pissing off their parents. Way to go, Disney. The attraction lasted all of three weeks before Disney closed it for “maintenance.”

Habit Heroes got a much needed revamp and is re-opening this week. Gone are the “villains” Snacker, Glutton and Lead Bottom. Apparently, the “Most Magical Place On Earth” didn’t realize it would be offending anyone when it fancied overweight characters as gluttonous disgusting forces that destroy the health and well being of America. Oops.

From The Orlando Sentinel:

“When the attraction had its soft opening last February, the creative team sought guest feedback,” said Brent Strong, creative director for Walt Disney Imagineering, who oversaw the project.

And they got it.

“We’re appalled to learn that Disney, a traditional hallmark of childhood happiness and joy, has fallen under the shadow of negativity and discrimination,” came a scathing statement from the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, which triggered a nationwide reaction.

“Most negative habits were attached to really fat bodies,” said Peggy Howell, spokeswoman for the fat-acceptance organization. “These pictures further the stigma against people of higher body weight.”

The new version of the attraction doesn’t portray fat characters that aim to destroy health fighting against buff and beautiful thin characters, or “the good guys.” Instead, it uses non-human cartoon symbols. “For instance, the Scorchers are animated flames that dry you out. The Sappers resemble life-like boulders that weigh you down and sap your energy. Blocker Bots are many-armed monsters that stand between you and healthier food choices.”

It is certainly true childhood obesity is a huge problem in this country. But making overweight children feel awful in the “Happiest Place On Earth” isn’t going to do much to combat that.

(photo: Katherine Welles/ Shutterstock.com)

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  • Derp

    Oh, god forbid that we suggest that being an overweight couch potato isn’t healthy. Because that could hurt a speshul snowflake’s wittwe feelings. Because this is ‘Murica, and we have the RIGHT to be as fat and lazy and unhealthy as we want. And anyone who suggests that maybe packing on the pounds or sitting around all day watching TV instead of going outside and moving around is a bad idea is an evil monster who wants to discriminate against us! Seriously, Disney is moronic, but it was an exhibit co sponsored by an insurance company (who don’t make money if they have to pay for your kid’s bypass surgery because he’s 5 and weighs 300 pounds) so what do you expect? Talk about some first world problems.

    • copycait

      However, there are kinder ways to teach children that “being an overweight couch potato isn’t healthy.”

  • Scarlette

    Fat acceptance society?

    Yes I would rather we ‘fat shame’ (How dare this be compared to ‘slut shaming’.) kids than have them grow up and spend a lifetime of stupid dieting that doesn’t work, body image issues, and other avoidable problems. Also, if we encourage children to be healthy and toned, that will translate into positive financial feedback for our already overloaded health care system.

    I’m not talking being 20lb over weight… I am addressing the obesity and morbid obesity crisis impacting this country.

    That’s fine that this educational attraction got shut down because it hurt some feelings. Tip: the middle schoolers, classmates, and teenagers will make up for that 100 fold.

    • copycait

      Well, if you would rather we “fat shame” then I think you are certain to see kids who “grow up and spend a lifetime of stupid dieting that doesn’t work, body image issues, and other avoidable problems.”

      I think that there’s probably a way to teach kids about these issues without automatically equating being fat with being “bad” and if the lessons could be taught with a bit of empathy, that’s even better.

    • ;kjh

      Being “fat” IS bad. Just because so many people and children are fat these days doesn’t make it okay. It makes it a crisis.

    • copycait

      But being a fat person does not make you a bad/evil person. It does not automatically equate to being lazy, stupid or worthless. That was my point. That was what Disney was implying.

    • No Thanks

      Fat-shaming and slut-shaming are actually… pretty damn similar.

      They’re both taking a lifestyle choice (for the most part, barring those with physical or mental health disorders) that CAN have negative consequences – health issues – and equating that negativity of consequence to negativity of an individual.

      Sleeping around can harm you if you’re not careful. It’s not a (complete) reason to not do it nor does it make a person lesser. Overeating/being overweight can harm you if you’re not careful. It’s not a (complete) reason to not do it nor does it make a person lesser.

      Just because we more readily acknowledge the health impacts of being overweight (in part because it’s not glamorous or desirable) and play down the negative consequences of sexual open-ness, doesn’t suddenly make them “how dare you compare it!!!”

    • Rachel

      Slut-shaming differs in that it’s a tactic specifically used to socially repress women. While some people view it as a gender neutral phrase, it overwhelmingly isn’t considered as such.

      While women are also specifically under more pressure to look certain ways, boys/girls and men/women are both regarded the same as far as being severely overweight/obese is concerned.

      Sleeping around is only physically harmful (not delving into potential emotional tolls of either of these lifestyles) if someone is not careful and/or happens to get unlucky with catching a disease. There’s no magical number of sexual partners that grants them diseases or infections.

      By contrast, in the weight department there are magical numbers (waist measurements, blood sugar, cholesterol, etc.) that are indicative/directly result in terrible diseases and health conditions. It doesn’t matter if you become obese eating nothing but healthy home-cooked meals… overindulging will still pack on the pounds.

    • Wombat

      I did only say they were “pretty damn similar”, not exactly the same. I wouldn’t consider ‘slut-shaming’ gender neutral, but I would consider weight’s judgmental aspects more slanted towards women, especially sub “super obese”.

      As for your “magic numbers”, I’ll admit that obesity is USUALLY more cut and dried… though not always. Some studies have shown that it’s quite possible to be healthy and overweight, and that such findings are not just a rare anomaly. I’d also point out that if we tried to make an equal “scale” for the shaming, a women who’s 20-40 pounds overweight and ok with wearing shorts is shamed much more than your average ‘slut’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White

    I’m leery of an organization that’s geared at people to accept being fat–and I’m saying this as a guy with weight to lose (about 40lbs still–I’ve already lost 60+ in the last 18 months).
    Being really overweight isn’t good for your health and shouldn’t be encouraged. You shouldn’t hate yourself for being fat but you should actively try to change it.

    • SusannahJoy

      I agree, and congrats on your weight loss! I know that takes a lot of work, so good for you! :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White


  • Andrea

    YES there should be fat shaming. Are you saying it is OK for a kid to be morbidly obese? That it is OK for a parent to feed their kid crap? Like Scarlette said, it is better than to grow up a fat ass with unhealthy habits and condemning them to a lifetime of health issues.

    • copycait

      Nobody says it’s OK to be obese. Somebody with common sense is merely pointing out that making children feel terrible isn’t the best way to solve the issue. Would you belittle a teenager for cutting themselves? Because this problem, like that of overeating, is intricately linked to feelings of self-worth. Fat shaming will never solve the issue. Sensitivity is the only approach that will.

      However, you raise a point about the role parent’s play. More parent education is definitley called for as a way to fight this epidemic.

    • Andrea

      Here is what I am trying to figure out: you got a kid that is 6, 8, 9,11 years old. They don’t have their own money, they are not buying their own food, they are not cooking their own food. HOW are they getting fat? The parents feed them crap and they buy them crap to have in the house. And I really, truly believe that the reason those parents got pissy wasn’t as much that Disney was “fat shaming” their kids but because they are fat asses THEMSELVES and also are guilty of making their kids fat.

      So no, it’s not about making kids feel like crap, but to raise awareness that being a fat ass is NOT acceptable in the same way that being mean, being a bully, or being a jerk is NOT acceptable either. We don’t tell kids to be “accepting” of bullies are we? And isn’t bullying stemmed from pretty much the same place? The parents and self-esteem?

    • copycait

      I agree that children shouldn’t be receiving any mixed messages about the negative effects of obesity.

      And I agree that, barring medical issues that cause obesity, parents have a responsibility to help their children lead healthy, active lifestyles to avoid this outcome.

    • bumbler

      I agree, I think the exhibit pissed off parents more than it hurt kids, because it made the parents realize that their little lumpkins is a tiny tubbo thanks to nothing more than the sludge the parents are shoveling into them. I doubt a disney display is going to be a wake up call for these parents though.

    • Sara

      Andrea, that’s an excellent point. Also, kids learn their exercise and activity habits from watching–by and large–their parents.

  • Nat

    Obesity isn’t ok. It’s unhealthy and expensive and can kill you. Screw the kid’s feelings if he’s dying. Screw an adult’s feelings if they’re dying. That sounds blunt and rude, but rather than make everyone feel special while encouraging bad habits and killing them we should make sure everyone is gonna live fulfilling lives spent doing activities and being happy and healthy. Americans are so prude and overly sensitive and oh-so-special and hell bent on being accomadated and made to feel precious.
    These kids got their first dose of hurt feelings at an attraction. When they go out into the real world and school(esp high school), their peers will make them feel worse. Let’s not spare their health(and risk their lives) to try and spare a couple feelings.

    • copycait

      Screw the kid’s feelings? Really???? Obesity is something that doesn’t have a medical cure but is absolutely made worse by feelings of shame or inadequacy. Yes, you do sound rude. And I happen to know from experience that children, in particular, have an easier time living a healthy lifestyle when they ARE made to feel special. Your “tough love” approach is unlikely to work any better than failing to address the issue at all.

    • Lawcat

      For most obese people, there is a cure: eating healthier and exercise. I say this coming from a family where 90% of my relatives are obese. They’ve “tried everything” except for, you know, eating healthy and exercising. They think creamy fettuccini with broccoli or just eating 2 pieces of fried chicken instead of 4 is “healthy.”

      Fat “acceptance” isn’t helpful. Obesity isn’t something that we should be ok with.

      The only problem I have with shaming young kids, is that they usually don’t have control over their diet. We should be pressing adults to make changes.

    • Scoop007

      I wonder if you would have the same attitude toward someone who was anorexic. Studies have shown the underlying causes of both anorexia & obesity are strikingly similar, the only difference being in how the causes manifest themselves in the individual. Unfortunately, as a society we write off those that are overweight as simply lazy, do not treat the causes, and then wonder why it’s still such a problem. No one would ever tell someone dealing with anorexia to just eat a damn sandwich & their problems would be solved.

  • Amanda

    I can’t believe the ignorance in these comments. Don’t you realize that part of the problem for obese individuals is the shame? Making food and eating shameful is NOT helpful. I’m not saying that we have to accept that people will be obese. We SHOULD be working to lower childhood obesity, but making kids feel like they are less of a person just because they are overweight exasperates the issue. When they feel shamed, they turn to food for comfort (cue horrible cycle). Instead we should work to make a culture of health and activity. I’m glad that they took time to rethink this ride. There are many ways that you can encourage healthfulness without belittling others.

  • Lastango

    It’s time to bring back fat-shaming. We could start by showing the kids pics of their age groups from the 1950′s, 60′s, and 70′s. “See — 100 kids in that photo and almost noone is fat. You don’t have to be either.”
    Follow that with, “…and you should’t be. Here’s why…”

  • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Guerrilla Mom

    Shaming someone in a bad situation does nothing to help them get out of it.

    First, we fail these kids by not giving them the tools and habits to live a healthy lifestyle, than we fashion fat, gluttonous villains whose crimes are bad eating habits – at a theme park for kids!

    If Disney really gave a shit about “children’s health,” they could stop using products with corn syrup, only make their snacks with whole grains, stop selling sodas by the bucket, etc. Then children could see that at the “happiest place on earth” food is healthy and still delicious. There is no way in hell they are going to do any of this of course – can you imagine what their profit margin is on soda?

    The point is, there is a huge area between “fat acceptance” as some call it and giving kids tools to lead healthier lifestyles without bullying or shaming them into submission. As if it weren’t enough that pretty much every Disney princess and hero (minus the ogres) has measurements that no normal human being can aspire to.”Habit Heroes” was lame – and I’m glad they changed it.

    • Lawcat

      Well, if they were to get rid of soda, they’d probably have a lot of angry people on their hands. NYC limited the size you could buy…can you imagine the outrage if they banned it completely? The problem is, the same people that want to defend their right to suck down soda are the same people that would get offend at someone telling them their eating habits are unhealthy. It’s not the kids that were offended, it’s their parents. The same ones who control their diet and pass eating and exercise habits. They don’t like to be confronted with their poor decisions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/helen.donovan.31 Helen Donovan

    I think that there is a reasonable place between shamming and acceptance. Surely it is possible to advocate for a healthy weight without “shamming.” Transforming some characters from obese to healthy (note I did not say slender) would be fine with me but there is no reason to make large characters evil. I also would like to see the healthy characters have a weight range and not all look like size 2s and 4s. That being said, I grew up in Orlando, went to Disney more times that I really wanted to, and I’ll decided if I want a soda and what size. Just because some people do not have self control is no reason that the rest of us cannot swill the occasional giant soft drink if that is our choice.

  • Lastango

    “Disney Finally Gets The Message That Parents Don’t Love It When Their Kids Are Fat-Shamed”
    Um, because the parents are fat too?

  • K.

    First of all, fat people SHOULD be accepted and respected, just as anybody else on the street should be accepted and respected. Full-stop. It is like any other physical marker: people in wheelchairs, people with tattoos, people with dwarfism–being obese should not exclude one from being treated with decency.

    Second, on the issue of childhood obesity, talking about how terrible it is and suggesting that it’s a problem of knowledge or information is all fine and good, but the problem extends much deeper than that. Yes, there are families out there that aren’t all to educated in matters of nutrition and physical health, but there are limits as to how much that knowledge will help if fresh food is hard to come by in one’s neighborhood, if school breakfast and lunch is a nutritional disaster, if processed food continues to be cheaper than fresh, and if neighborhoods continue to be so dangerous that kids can’t leave their homes to get out and play.

    To put it in the context of this particular issue at Disney: agree or disagree with the Disney feature, frankly, I think that if we really cared about obesity in children then we’d rally Disney to revamp their food offerings at the park.

  • the fat kid

    I am a little disturbed by these comments. I’ll admit, it’s because I had a weight problem as a child, and I remember how painful it was, so I’m sensitive to these issues. But at the same time, I think people are being callous and don’t really understand the complexities of what overweight children deal with on a daily basis.

    First of all, I’m pretty sure that EVERYONE is in agreement that childhood obesity is not a good thing. But there is a difference in how we should address it and there are effective strategies and ineffective strategies. Railing that it’s not a good thing and then condemning and shaming kids because they’re obese is not an effective strategy. You can criticize obese kids all you want, but I guarantee you that those kids are suffering just fine on their own.

    Being an overweight child is hell. And before y’all chorus, “Well, that’s why we should do something about it!” you need to understand that it’s hell because of the attitude and tone that most of the comments below have, which are judgmental, lack empathy, and sometimes just plain mean. Most overweight children are very aware of their shape, but they’re not necessarily aware that they’re at risk for diabetes and whatnot, they are aware that they are gross and ugly.

    …Should any child be made to feel gross and ugly? I don’t think so, and if you do, “because then maybe they’ll do something about it!” then you’re more interested in assigning blame and expressing your own self-righteousness than actually addressing the problem. Let me assure you–kids who feel gross and ugly are more likely to feel hopeless and insecure and undeserving of love, joy, or achievement in their lives than they are to feel positive and capable enough to change. And that’s also not considering the fact that most children can’t control what foods they are fed or how much exercise in their lives, so even if they want to do things differently, they don’t really have the same resources (and willpower) as adults do. So before you say things like extending sympathy and compassion is treating “speshul snowflake’s wittwe feelings” with kid gloves or that fat kids are because of their “fat ass” parents or that “fat shaming” is acceptable, please think for a second as to whether that vitriol is at all helpful. It’s really not. It’s ugly and mean.

    No child should be shamed for the way they look. And before we condemn children (or their parents) for being overweight, we should condemn those who bully and shame overweight children. Bullying is bullying–it doesn’t matter whether the kid is nerdy, reclusive, shy, too tall, has acne, wears a back-brace, or is fat. We can’t tell children things like, “people come in all shapes and sizes” (and they do) and “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” and that character is more important than appearance and then turn around and say some of the things being voiced in the comments: equating fat with laziness, calling people ‘fat-asses,’ saying ‘being fat is not ok.’ I would place Disney creating obese characters that are meant to be belittled and made fun of in that category of fostering a mean culture and making it acceptable for kids to extend the same judgement on each-other.

    It really disturbs me to read things like: “That’s fine that this educational attraction got shut down because it
    hurt some feelings. Tip: the middle schoolers, classmates, and teenagers
    will make up for that 100 fold” because that’s tantamount to saying “Obese children should change so they don’t get bullied.” Really, it’s the other way around: It’s the bullies need to change. Not their victims. We say that when kids get picked on for being gay, when kids get picked on for being disabled, when kids get picked on for being socially awkward–why should the standard be any different for kids who are picked on for their weight? I’m not saying that weight problems in kids shouldn’t be addressed, but it’s a bit disheartening to read things that say things like “These kids need to lose weight because otherwise they’ll be bullied” because it’s like saying that overweight people deserve to be bullied. No child, no matter what their shape or size, deserves to be bullied, period.

    There needs to be a clear distinction in the messages we give to kids between “we want kids to develop healthy habits” and “we want our kids to look a certain way.” Because, as an overweight kid AND an adolescent girl, these two things were conflated in my life and believe me, it devastated me, as it does for many teens and young adults. Being an overweight child may have been unhealthy; but it was nowhere near as unhealthy or as damaging as throwing up food and having to be hospitalized for eating disorders. And when I suffered from ED, before anyone knew about it, everyone thought I looked great. So I know for a fact that we can’t–and shouldn’t–judge someone’s overall health by how they look (and even if you can surmise that someone isn’t healthy because they are obese, it doesn’t give you the right to disrespect or judge them). I suffered for feeling like I’d never be loved, I’d never succeed, and that I had no right to any passion in life unless I achieved a certain physical standard and I think it’s wrong for any child to feel that way. We want our children to feel like they deserve joy in life and that anything is possible because they work hard and because they’re good people. You don’t get that by making kids self-conscious about how they look and shaming them about habits they don’t have a whole lot of control over. You get that by applauding what they DO.

    We can teach our children how to be happy and healthy; we don’t need to do it in a way that’s mean and disrespectful.

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  • John Mountfort

    What this shows is that we are already so self-satisfied and prickly in our determination not to be told anything negative about ourselves that we cannot under any circumstances be told anything negative in a negative way. If you create a culture that resists honesty, this is the result. There is no way to have your cake and eat it too (oops I just fat-shamed cake-eaters). If we want to improve our health we have to confront the culture that demands to be told nothing but good about ourselves.