Disney's Habit Heroes has closed

Well, that didn't take long.

Walt Disney World has pulled down the Habit Heroes website for maintenance and it seems the Epcot exhibit is also closed. In addition to complaints from fat activists, Eating Disorder groups and a number of bariatric doctors also complained loudly about how the exhibit shamed fat children. Right now, the best anyone knows is that the site is closed for retooling.

This is what concerns me. Sadly, I imagine those bariatric doctors carried the most metaphorical weight with Disney. While many bariatric doctors and organizations, like Yale's Rudd Center, share fat acceptance's opposition to socialized fat shaming, their motives for doing so are, in fact, still inherently fat shaming. There is a rather considerable difference between opposing fat shaming because it is disrespectful and hostile towards fat bodies, and opposing fat shaming because you feel it its not productive at inducing weight loss. I mean, its not, but neither are the alternatives these people propose and they all are still fat shaming in their way. Anything that defines a fat child as something to fix is going encourage that child to feel ashamed. We don't give kids enough credit to realize they can pick up on even "good intentioned" fat shaming.

What I want to see from Disney and the Habit Heroes exhibit is probably very different than what a doctor who specializes in telling patients to stop being fat would want to see. I hope that Disney incorporates perspectives from fat acceptance and from medical professionals who believe in Health at Every Size. I suspect, though, that the exhibit as designed simply is too far from being retooled to meet our needs. Maybe they can tweak the site and the game to stop rewarding players for bullying children (which is seriously how the video game plays), but the essential message that fat people are bad hardwired. Especially in the actual EPCOT exhibit which features elaborate artwork and virtual reality videos depicting fat bodies as lazy and villainous.

Frankly, I think the best we can expect from Disney is for "Habit Heroes" to just go away. Fat stigmatization is built into the exhibits DNA and I won't be encouraged to see what might result from them placating critics who disagree with fat shaming, but still think fat bodies are unacceptable. I'd encourage Disney to start from scratch and find ways to model better behavior without creating moral imperatives to meet them or by presenting fat bodies as the problem to be solved.


Disney's Wonderful World of Fat Shaming

UPDATE: The exhibit and website are now "down for maintenance".

Earlier this month, Disney announced a collaboration between Blue Cross Blue Shield Florida to bring their considerable experience and expertise in marketing to children to the health insurance industry's long-standing commitment to blaming fat people for their health problems. These titans of industry will pool their talents to give fat shaming of children a brand-new re-branding. Oh, that's not what they announced, of course, but it is what they are doing.

Newly unveiled at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center is "Habit Heroes", an exhibit and online game designed to combat "bad habits" by personifying those habits and then stigmatizing those personifications. I'm guessing you are already ahead of me. 25 Pixar-inspired characters make up the "Bad Habit Gallery", a collection of low-ambition super villains content to use their powers to model socially unwelcome behavior. I'm not going to really get into the advisability of the project. This sort of negative reinforcement feels misguided in general, but especially when the negative reinforcement involves creating cool characters of the things you are supposed to be stigmatizing. (See Hungry) Never mind the broad condemnations of things like being in a bad mood are just setting kids up to fail. Everyone gets in bad moods or doesn't get enough sleep enough some of the time. Especially counterproductive is shaming kids for lacking self-esteem. You're going to make kids feel bad about themselves because they feel bad about themselves? Way to go, Disney. So, there is a lot to complain about, but as you probably deduced, what really concerns me are the fat shaming characters in the "Bad Habit Gallery".

And yes, characters. As I noted, the residents of the "Bad Habit Gallery" are all personifications of "bad" things. One is a personification of bullying (so, he's a bully), one is a personification of listening to music too loudly (a guy with headphones; they really didn't try very hard), one is a personification of sharing your personal information online (find out more when you register with http://www.habitheroes.com!). There is even a personification of eating spoiled and moldy food, which I must admit, I was not aware was so pervasive a problem.

Going through the gallery, some big fat bodies stand out and naturally the endeavor wants you to connect fat bodies with the kind of flaws fat people are normally accused of. The Glutton is a fat hot dog salesman who can't stop eating his own product and wears a donut as a pocket square(!). I mean, I know they are characitures, but how is it that even sensible on their terms? Wouldn't he just eat the donut instead of using it a bit of accoutrement? Next, we have Lead Bottom, the resident couch potato looking like one of the humans from Wall-E in a wrestling outfit. His bio tells us that he failed to pursue his dreams of dance because he was too fat and fell into wrestling instead. Its almost ironic given that fat people can totally dance and that these days, professional wrestling is actually pretty hostile towards fat bodies. His bio also contains the memorable line "blubbery loves company" which I so want on a t-shirt. Finally, we have our female fatty, Snacker. She washed out from the Tooth Fairy Academy and slathers all her food in butter. Would you believe me if I said her voice in the video game was more than a little reminiscent of Paula Deen? Her super power is summoning fatty food with her magic wand, which sounds kinda awesome to me. She's also a good example of why these slick character designs are counterproductive because I think Snacker looks totally bad-ass, like some awesome femme fairy godmother.

I'm having a little fun with all of this, but that's because I can. I'm an adult and I'm encountering all of this with cool detachment. That doesn't mean the influence on children isn't insidious. These three characters are carefully designed to get children to associate fat bodies with the negative behaviors our culture associates with fat bodies. Its like a "My First Fat Shaming". The game pretty explicitly tells children to see fat bodies and think they are slothful beasts cramming themselves full of fattening treats. All of these bad habits that we know our culture links to fatness, the game does, too. This isn't about the bad habits at all. Its training children to adopt the socially dictated bigotries around fatness.

Don't think the creators didn't know what they were doing, either. Indeed, its clear from the site's video game that they created another character to shield them from criticism for making all of the anti-fat "Bad Habits" big fat fatties. They already had Snacker designed to personify eating junk food. She was even designed like a sugar plum fairy of sorts. But she doesn't eat sweats. Oh, no. They have another character for that, Sweet Tooth. She's thin and everything. Well, "shapely" is how they describe her. See, they pointed out that she's not fat. Immediately after doing so, they scold her for not being fat, too, teaching kids to rely on the visual evidence of evil fat bodies even if some evil people have disguised themselves as "shapely" while really they have high blood sugar. (Yep, diabetes shaming, too!) For gosh sakes, she's got the name Sweet Tooth instead of Snacker who's bio identifies her as a FAILED TOOTH FAIRY? How clearer can it be that this character is just an afterthought to provide some deniability for their fat shaming? Well, as I mentioned, the game makes it completely unavoidable.  While all the other bad habits are encountered on their own, Sweet Tooth and Snacker are just doubled up and do the same thing. (You douse them with vegetable juice while they pelt you with donuts and cakes)

It doesn't stop there, though. Three other characters are fat in ways that specifically exploit prejudices about fat people. Stress Case is a fat opera singer. Well, former opera singer. Stress caused her to blow out her voice and destroy her career. Sounds tragic, but remember the point is how inexcusable it is to be stressed. The real take-away, though, is that she was too busy being stressed that she doesn't bother to exercise. While dressed up to be about stress, its actually just another lesson about fat people being lazy. What else do fat people do? They stink! Stinkbomb is the personification of bad hygiene. If you guessed that he's also fat, congratulations. Get Sweet Tooth to launch a cookie at you. I guess we should be relieved that he doesn't explicitly connect being fat to smelling bad. I'm pretty sure kids already "know" that, though, so they'll put two and two together. Finally, we have The Prescriptor, the personification of not doing what your doctor tells you. Hmm. Like lose weight? Again, they don't specifically connect is fatness to his fault, but its not hard to make the connection given existing social beliefs that people are fat because they are ignoring all the people telling them not to be. In a lot of ways, the construct of The Prescriptor is how a lot of trolls view fat acceptance. Just a bunch of ignorant people ignoring their doctor's orders. The fact that those orders can't really be fulfilled is meaningless.

Although the website features 25 bad habits, what I've found of the actual exhibit makes me wonder if most of the non-fat shaming ones were just filler. This site includes the preview posters for the exhibit which pretty much exclusively focus on fat shaming. The only habit we haven't already talked about is the one representing TV/internet/video game addiction although the poster renders him as a pudgy sprite instead of the robotic overload the site features. Spoiler alert? I wasn't able to finish the game due to site errors, but it wouldn't surprise me if the reveal on the interactive entertainment boogeyman was that he was just a squat guy. This review of the now open exhibit reinforces the point. No sign of the website's peer pressure or teethcare villains. It seems to just be the ones about eating and laziness. A point also made by the exhibit's focus on a gym as the hero's base. This was in the game, too, but was a minor point there. In the exhibit, its clearly a focal point.

Perhaps the most dangerous part of the program is how it teaches kids to shame their peers. All of the bad habits are defined as having a "master plan" to subject everyone to their socially stigmatized trait. While the video game that accompanies the site has you winning over the bad habits (though much that involves making mean-spirited remarks to them which seem an awful lot like the bullying that is supposed to be a bad habit), the wording on the bios just makes it out like these people are obsessed with ruining everyone around them. Got a fat friend? They want to make you fat like them so they won't feel so bad! No, really, that's what the site tells you. At best, its teaching kids to constantly pressure their friends about their supposed faults. At worst, its telling you stay away from them at all costs. Or maybe best and worst and mixed up there. Its kind of hard to differentiate between two awful outcomes intended to stigmatize kids for not meeting certain standards. Either by constant pressure or by ostracizing them.

Simply put, kids don't need this message. They already know to shame kids for not fitting in, and that is a problem. Programs like this just teach those kids they are right to do that. No fat child needs a video game to belittle them for supposedly being lazy or gluttonous. Fat children already hear that all of the time. It has nothing to do with what bad habits they may or may not have, either. The implicit connection "Habit Heroes" draws between fat characters and fat lifestyles will empower the continued abuse of fat children, both externally and internally. They'll keep being taught to feel constant anxiety about their eating and activity level. They'll keep trying to do "the right thing" only to find it doesn't make them thin, teaching them that moderation is worthless and encouraging dangerous activities. It will keep teaching fat children that they aren't right and teaching other children the same thing. Society was doing just fine on that without Disney's metaphorical weight behind it. This is the last thing the world needed.

Habit heroes represents some of the worst of our society. It relies on cheap and easy prejudice, pandering to cultural bigotries surrounding weight and morality. It bullies the disenfranchised for the benefit of the status quo. They rely on the widespread of acceptance of fat shaming and fat stigmatization to put forward a message that will be poisonous to fat children. Fat shaming needs no more corporate partners or endorsements. Fat children are constantly being told to feel awful about their bodies. Given that no safe, reliable means of weight loss exists, even for the children, this is a prescription not for good habits, but for self-hatred. Worse than that, its an endorsement of others hating fat people.

For information about contacting Walt Disney World and Epcot, please visit their site or find them on Twitter @WaltDisneyWorld. Contact information for Florida Blue can be found here or on Twitter @FLBlueCenter.


I'm not your metaphor

Earlier this month, a commenter here hit on a continuing frustration I have with progressive allies and how some relate to fat rights. Its frustrating, because I consider myself politically progressive. While I don't think one necessarily needs to a progressive to believe in fat acceptance, it is indisputable that the movements political foundations were products of radical feminism in the late 1960's. Progressives should be natural allies to fat acceptance, but a reluctance to respect our needs and perspectives continues to be a problem. The simple fact is that fat shaming is heavily ingrained in our culture and an expectation that fat people will sit down and shut up is all too common, even from people who think they are fighting with us.

Actually, that's usually the issue. They don't think they are fighting with fat people. They think they are fighting for fat people. That was what came up with this commenter who wanted to be able to blame fatness on corporations. This is a very common line you see from supposed allies in progressive communities and the fact is that this is a just feeding into fat shaming. The idea is that corporations are to blame for rises in obesity levels. The proof invariable amounts to some variation on "Look at all the fat people. Corporations must have done it." Which isn't, ya know, proof. Instead, what they are doing is looking at fat acceptance through the prism of their own agenda.

I don't disagree that corporations can often have an insidious influence on our lives and culture and I certainly support more accountability for corporate action and how it impacts our environment and lives. I don't see how those goals should obligate me to accept people who want to blame my body on corporations. The whole construct of looking for someone or something to blame for fat bodies is inherently fat shaming. It inherently disrespects our lives and our experiences.

Back in 2007, fatfu commented on a story Dr. Sanjay Gupta (someone embraced in some progressive circles, by the way) did blaming working moms for the "epidemic" of fat people. She pointed our how many things are blamed for fat people...
"Actually, I’m hard pressed to think of an aspect of modernity that hasn’t been blamed for the 'obesity epidemic.' Here’s a partial list of malefactors just from the past two months’ of headlines:

protein in infant formula
mother’s weight gain in pregnancy
reduction in the nutrient content in food
diet soda
radical diets

abundance of junk food and the lack of physical activity
living in a rural area
urban sprawl
living in the suburbs
plastic in baby bottles
lack of family support

mother’s early puberty
“environmental food cues”
not enough fruits and vegetables in diet
permissive fathers
irresponsible parents
emotional eating
emotional issues
inaccurate infant growth tables
food prices
newspaper recipes
lack of individual responsibility
britain’s one-hour lunch break
larger portion sizes
farm subsidies
lack of personal responsibility
belly fat
the fear that being slim will make people think you have AIDS

precocious puberty
reading about the obesity epidemic
poor urban planning
low testosterone
southern high-fat diet
mother’s diet during pregnancy
disruptions of the circadian clock
online marketing"
She closes with a killer line that doing a story on one particular thing to blame for fat people, "almost certainly says more about his prejudices than it does about fat." How people seek to exploit fat people invariable is about their own agenda and their own prejudices and much less about fat people. If you don't respect fat people, there will always be some way to exploit fat people for your own purposes. Some social ill to attach to fatness. Some way to continue fighting "for" fat people and doing everything to avoid fighting "with" fat people.

Fat activists are constantly being told to sit down and shut up. PeTA wants to exploit fat hatred to advance their mission of promoting veganism. Dan Savage and Jon Stewart use lazy metaphors to promote marriage quality that are premised on the lie that fat people don't experience stigmatization. We hear constant cries of "what about the thin people" trying to recenter discussions of fat stigma and fat health. Dr. Sanjay Gupta Throughout all of this, fat activists are expected to play nice while our rights and experiences are erased because others feel they are inconvenient for their own agenda. How dare we suggest that we can pursue corporate accountability, animal welfare, marriage equality, or health care access without exploiting fat shaming? How dare we not sit down and shut up? Our outrage at this is constantly invalidated. We are pressured to know our place from allies normally well versed in standing with disenfranchised communities.

I'm getting tired of it. I'm tired of being told I'm letting corporations off the hook. I'm tired of watching the fat couples fighting for marriage equality so they can marry their own partners be thrown under the bus to make some lazy fat jokes. I'm tired of constantly having to placate thin people who take any discussion of fat contexts as an invitation to center the discussion back onto people who enjoy privilege. I'm tired of hearing that ethical treatment of fat people is expendable. I'm tired of being a cautionary tale or a "consequence". I'm tired of being fodder for cheap gags. I'm tired of being a useful metaphor. Progressive allies can and must be better. Respecting fat people does not threaten your cause. It will strengthen it.



Every day I walk to the bus on my way to work and I pass a gym. They have a a large banner announcing "From MUSH to MUSCLES". Every time I see it, I have to recognize that its talking about me. For the weight loss industry, my body is useful only for the purposes of negative comparison. I'm a "before" picture. I'm mush. I'm a reason to give money to the weight loss industry. I'm what you aren't supposed to be.

Its not just the gym banner reminding me. Newspapers, magazines, billboards, web-ads, radio, and TV are all shouting at me for being fat. Heck, its not just to sell weight loss promises, either. At the Super Bowl, both Toyota and Volkswagon used fat shame to sell cars. Everyone takes for granted that I'll agree with them that my body is embarassing. That I should be ashamed to be fat. Fat shaming is used not to in spite of the risk of alienating fat customers, but in the total expectation that they will be fully on board with it. When I see the cascade of fat hatred promotion, I don't just realizing that they are talking about me. I realize they feel entitled for me to listen and care about it, too.

Well, I don't. I don't care that they think I should be sad about my fat. I don't care that they think I should feel resigned about their abuse. No, that's not true. I do care, just that I'm not willing to put up with the abuse. My body isn't mush. It is solid, not formless. It may yield to the touch, adapting to pressure but staying firm. It moves with me, moves as it needs to. You know who started calling fat bodies mush? Someone who never felt a fat body. Someone who has never lived in a fat body and who knows the form and tangibility. Someone who just looks at our bodies and thinks we are just sacks of fat. And they have used social stigmatization to make fat people feel this about ourselves.

My flesh is mine. It is not mush. It is curves and slopes and moves and adapts. I will not be ashamed of it for the benefit of someone else's marketing.


The All-New Fat Hate Bingo 3

The All-New Fat Hate Bingo 3 is finally here!

So, back in 2007 in the early days of the "fat-o-sphere", fat bloggers were weathering seemingly endless fat shaming attacks from trolls and concern trolls alike. During a discussion at Shakesville, I made a subtle reference to the history in social justice movements of using "Bingo" cards to diffuse commonly repeated attacks. Kate Harding suggested actually making a Bingo card and 90 minutes later, there it was. Fat Hate Bingo 2 followed the next day and both remain among the most popular posts at Red No. 3. Each card catalogs many of the "brilliant" put-downs fat activists face online and in our lives when we try to advocate for the horribly radical concept that maybe its not the end of the world that we're fat.

Honestly, its something a lot of fat activists try to avoid because its emotionally draining to have to hear the same thing over and over and over again, always repeated by people who are enamored with their brilliance and courage to finally say this to a fat person. I usually avoid it, too, but last fall when I started doing the Maggie sequels, I came upon a whole host of new attacks that I'd see quickly repeated endlessly by all sorts of people who don't realize they are reading from a script. Thus, Fat Hate Bingo 3 was born.

I know fat people aren't supposed to have friends, but if you did have 2 friends, now all three of you can play against each other the next time the concept of fat shaming is introduced to a not so receptive audience. Actually, since we now have 75 Fat Hate Bingo squares, just as many as used in actual bingo, maybe we can all get in the act!

[Image Description: Header Text: “red3.blogspot.com presents Fat Hate BINGO 3. We really have heard it all before.” Below is a 5x5 Bingo Card with squares in alternating red and gray colors with text in each square.

Column 1: My tax dollars are paying for your fat lifestyle. | Shaming of Dieters is the real problem. | If you don’t like being bullied, just lose weight. | If that’s true, why are you so fat? | Fat people threaten our national security!

Column 2: You can’t control fat bigotry, but you can control your weight. | Diabetes! Hypertension! Heart Disease! | You are ugly. Do something about your health. | Fat acceptance shouldn’t mean accepting an unhealthy weight. | Somebody needs to start shaming fat people.

Column 3: Take responsibility for what you put in your mouth. | You can’t all have thyroid problems. | Its not a diet… | Thin privilege doesn’t exist because you can choose to be thin. | People shouldn’t have to look at you.

Column 4: What’s next? Cancer pride? | I can’t condone your self-destructive behavior. | Instead of promoting obesity, use your energy to lose weight. | Fat people are empirically unattractive. | We are becoming an obese nation!

Column 5: BMI may be flawed, but we have to do something. | Its not hate if you really are unhealthy and disgusting. | Your fat activism is killing people! | Since when is laziness like gender or race? | You can’t argue with facts.]