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Well Worth the Weight

February 26, 2013

What a difference a year makes.Almost exactly one year ago I wrote a post about The Not-So-Wonderful World of Disney and my concerns regarding their new Healthy Heroes Exhibit as it related to eating disorders and body image issues for youth.

I sent the following email to Disney and to the Orlando Sentinel.

This exhibit, while I am sure has the best of intentions, unfortunately misses the mark. Not all fat kids are fat because they are lazy and living on junk food. And not all thin kids are healthy, abstain from junk food, and engage in exercise. By targeting fat as the “wicked witch” and fat kids as the gang of evil thieves from Aladdin, the message of health for everyone is eclipsed. Many of the kids I work with are fat because of medication or other genetic/chromosomal conditions, and the children I work with who have anorexia or bulimia (eating disorders) look thin, thus pass for healthy, when they may, in fact, be using laxatives and throwing up after meals. This exhibit is shaming and ineffective. If Disney wants to help kids get healthier, how about making the rides at their theme parks more physically interactive and offering a more diverse selection of food choices at the concession stands? And please stop characterizing fat people as evil, gluttonous, and lazy, it’s inaccurate, mean, and provides a fertile ground for bullies.

Peace with Disney

Making peace with Disney.

Many of my readers jumped on board and, of course, I was not the only one to jump to action. Kelly Bliss, Ragen Chastain, Joanne Ikeda, and the Binge Eating Disorder Association (to name just a few) separately and together organized petitions, tweets, and phone call campaigns.  Impressively, a Disney representative contacted many of us by telephone. I was surprised at how much time the person spent on the phone with me (20 minutes) asking about my concerns and suggestions for change. She was noticeably non-defensive and I felt empowered at the end of the phone call. The feeling, I was to find out not too long afterward, was not entirely unsubstantiated or delusional when a press release was circulated announcing that Disney closed the exhibit down for “further development.”

That was 12 months ago and as many causes do, that one faded into the background as more newsworthy items emerged and other opportunities for activism took center stage (you can keep up with the latest calls to action in my monthly Schmooze-letter).  But now the “new and improved” version of Healthy Heroes has opened and although there have been some folks writing about it (including Ragen Chastain and About Face, among others), unfortunately it has not caused as much of a stir as the original event.

I sent an email to TWDC.Corp.Communications@disney.com and applauded their responsiveness to the public outcry last year. Yet unlike last year, I didn’t receive a phone call to discuss the positive outcome. Sadly, it is not untypical in our world to focus on the negative and throw a perfunctory nod to the positive.  But that is a topic for another blog on another day. In the meantime, I am allowing myself to take a moment to enjoy this turn of events; this rarest of rare moments when we live to see the fruits of our activism.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have not been to the exhibit yet (if someone would like to sponsor me to check it out as a research mission, I’d be happy to oblige), and I had been hoping to have a personal exchange with someone from Disney before the deadline of this post arrived. But what I do know about the new exhibit is gleaned from posts written by other folks. The piece written by Hailey Magee on About Face describes the positive differences between the two exhibits.

It seems that the new exhibit has struck the perfect balance: it promotes healthy living in a positive, encouraging way, as opposed to a punishing one. As far as attractions go, it may not be as exciting as Mission: SPACE, but still worth checking out if you make the trip to Epcot!

Kristen Ford writes at AllEars.net, a blog about Disney news from a parent’s perspective, that despite  the changes made, the exhibit does not live up to the educational and entertaining combination that Disney has been famous for.

By creating only a so-so attraction about an important topic for families, the exhibit’s creators missed an opportunity to entertain AND teach.

In an article written by Marni Jameson for the Orlando Sentinal, we hear from Peggy Howell, spokeswoman for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, regarding the first exhibit:

Most negative habits were attached to really fat bodies. These pictures further the stigma against people of higher body weight.

In contrast, Peggy is quoted in Ms. Jameson’s article about the revised exhibit:

We really thank Disney and Epcot for listening to our concerns. We appreciate that they heard us and took the necessary steps to tailor the message.

I echo Peggy’s sentiments and fervently agree with Ragen Chastain’s opinion that “I see this as proof not only that activism works and that people are capable of hearing our message, but that it is possible to talk to kid’s about healthy habits in a way that makes it fun, and doesn’t shame kids for their bodies.”

Experiencing the tangible outcomes of our activism happens few and far between. Change is a slow and maddeningly incremental process. When the Vietnam War was officially declared over, it was a rewarding validation for all of the months that I wore black moratorium arm bands.

Opinion - Moratorium demonstration

I schlepped down to the Washington Monument for my almost weekly dose of pepper gas. As a group, we weren’t necessarily optimistic that our actions would result in real change, but we knew that our inaction would certainly not spark anything remotely related to change. But we marched and we marched and we marched… and then one day, we looked around and saw how many more people were marching with us. And we felt powerful. And we felt right. And we felt normal. And the war ended and we felt victorious.

In that moment, all the time it took to achieve our goal evaporates and is replaced with the sweet, mouth-watering flavor of success. Refueled and re-inspired, we moved on to the next cause because we learned that making societal change is well worth the weight… er, um… wait.

February is Eating Disorders Awareness Month, please spread the word… GET ACTIVE!

Til Next Time,
Dr. Deah

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