I tend to not be a controversial person. I stay pretty neutral on a lot of topics because I like to be well-versed in both sides before forming an opinion. That being said, the controversy this week regarding the Strong4Life campaign running in Georgia has really affected me. Billed as an anti-obesity campaign for children, the message of the ads is to “stop sugarcoating it, Georgia.” Here's one that literally made my heart hurt.
I WAS that girl.
I was born in Augusta, Georgia, and lived there until I was about 12. I was always big. ALWAYS. Always taller, always plumper (seriously, look at the bottom left photo- my friend and I were the same age!). My round face, cheeks, and belly rarely escaped a photo. I think I had cellulite when I was 12. Appearances aside, however, I was as active as a child could be. Nearly every day after school I had jazz class, tennis practice, swim practice (was on an all-year league), and Brownies (the Girl Scout, not the food). My mom cooked everything at home, and it was pretty standard fare: baked chicken, broccoli, rice. Sometimes my dad would cook stir fry. We didn't have junk in the house, and didn't drink soda. I took my lunch to school most days, with a Thermos full of soup and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If I was lucky, I'd get a pudding snack pack.
I WAS that girl, but I didn't know it.
This girl in the video will always know that something was so “wrong” with her that she was in an ad for it. A poster child for childhood obesity? What parent would sign up for their child to be that?
The one thing you can never get back in life is your innocence. Children are born unaware of hate, societal pressures, social norms, and unrealistic expectations. They only know love for their caregiver. As soon as people start pointing out differences, the innocence is lost. I distinctly remember when I realized that my dad was Chinese and my mom was white – they were different. I was about 8 years old and another Asian child at school said something about me having an Asian last name and Asian parent, but not looking like it. I was gobsmacked. Really? I'm half Chinese?
By no means am I saying that childhood obesity should remain unaddressed. I wish I had a solution for it, because I'd run around shouting it from the rooftops. As a formerly obese child, however, I have no idea what my parents could have done differently to instill different habits that would have made me smaller. I was extremely active, wasn't eating junk, and had home cooked meals. My sister did the same things as I did and was always tiny. It's just how it is. Don't make me the poster child for poor health and poor food choices made by parents – that is 100% not the case.
This girl, and the others in the campaign, will have an entire life of knowing how different they are, and how wrong “society” thinks it is. It wasn't until I was 14 that I started contemplating suicide over my appearance. I am so thankful that I was old enough at that time to reach out to someone for help. Thinking about a child any younger than that and the pressure, scrutiny, and shaming they might endure makes my heart ache.
And that's all I have to say about that.