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Local media campaign targets teen obesity through shaming, blaming

I remember my childhood bullies very clearly. They used to call me fat, push me around and even call me “ugly” and other mean names. Every day, I would go home crying, all because of them. But once I became a freshman in high school, it all stopped. I guess the bullies decided to harass the kids known as weirdos. But last year, the Strong 4 Life campaign came along, and all eyes were on me again. 

Billboards are Bullies, Too

Strong 4 Life is a campaign that began in the fall of 2011 by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. They placed billboards all over metro Atlanta depicting overweight children and degrading messages; a lot of them can be found riding MARTA. I’m not saying that I get bullied all because of Strong 4 Life, but I did hate the fact that the billboards were being hung everywhere, and I could do nothing to stop it. 

They say things like, “WARNING: Big bones didn’t make me this way. Big meals did.” Or, “WARNING: It’s hard to be a little girl when you’re not.” “WARNING: My fat may be funny to you, but it’s killing me.” “WARNING: Fat prevention begins at home. And the buffet line.”

But I read something different. It felt like they were saying, “WARNING! Anybody overweight is contagious and has a disease.” It kind of lit a fire inside of me, considering the fact that I am an overweight teen, and I have to see these sad billboards everywhere I go. I guess it was back to bullying the so-called fat kids, even though the billboards felt like a worse bully than the kids at school.

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines a bully as, “a person who hurts, frightens or tyrannizes over those who are smaller or weaker.” My definition of a bully, on the other hand, is pretty simple: someone mean, bad, condescending to others, hurtful and someone who makes you question your self-confidence. The funny thing about that is, that’s also my definition of the Strong 4 Life campaign. If you compare the two, they are one and the same.

Take My Advice

If I could give any advice to the Strong 4 Life campaign, I would say: Don’t use such dark billboards. It makes people look at those who are overweight as if they’re disgusting or they could harm someone. Try to use more colors like blue, green or yellow. Don’t use such hurtful quotes, but do use kids with smiling faces. 

If you want kids to be active instead of overweight, then use pictures of different-sized kids playing around, laughing and having fun being active, instead of kids with mean or pouty faces. It’s not appealing at all. I know if I was a 12-year-old needing to be healthy, colors would definitely catch my eye in a positive way!

OMG, Is that You?

Whenever I think about the billboards, I think about the time I was standing at a bus stop, and there was a Strong 4 Life billboard behind me. Of course, it said “WARNING: Chubby kids may not outlive their parents.” The bus stop was on a busy street, so every carload of people that drove by would just stare at me. Someone was even bold enough to roll down the window and say, “OMG, is that you?” I had no words for that person; I just turned my back. That ruined my whole day.

Even though it isn’t me, every time I see a billboard with that girl, I stop and think to myself, is that really how people picture me? Like a sad, mean-looking overweight teenager? Then I turn and look in the mirror and think, but I’m not sad or mean-looking. I don’t even look unhappy. I smile and laugh all the time, despite the fact that I am overweight. But that doesn’t mean my face should be plastered on billboards and hung up around metro Atlanta, because I’m not sick, I’m not ugly, I don’t have a disease, and I’m not unhappy! I’m a happy-go-lucky, beautiful 17-year-old. I may be overweight, but that’s not stopping me one bit, even if the billboards portray me differently.

Courtney, 17 and pictured above, is a rising senior at Tri-Cities High School who aspires to be a journalist and a traveling botanist.

Editor’s Note: Teens at VOX attempted to capture an image of the Strong 4 Life campaign billboards in late April, but many of the original placements (around MARTA transit stops, specifically) had been removed. To read more about the Strong 4 Life campaign, visit

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  1. JasmineC posted on 05/04/2012 12:49 PM
    I respect you so much for sharing your story, Courtney. Strong4Life shouldn't use the scare tatic for their advertisements, a more lively visual would come across as helping not discriminatory. People can be so judgemental but we can choose to be better.
  2. LydiaB posted on 05/08/2012 09:53 PM
    I think that the Health Administration is getting concerned about the number of obese children in the United States. They've tried those tactics, health advice, children programs about health, etc. Yet, I think that they've finally decided to crack down and be real with people about the health risks of being obese. While being obese isn't neccesarily a disease, it's an unhealthy way of living that can prohibit your body from functioning to it's full potential. While their tactics of potraying black and white posters of sad and obese children isn't 'nice', they're trying to warn parents that it's not ok. The one problem that I have with the posters is that they don't show the brighter side of being healthy. They merrily point out your mistakes without giving you a solution. I feel sorry for the people that bullied you because of the posters, because they are being ignorant towards your feelings and play on the notion that you are sad and unhappy.
  3. Brianna Curtis posted on 05/09/2012 09:35 AM
    I love this article, because I have to deal with the tears of my little sister about child obesity. At the age of ten she does not understand the concept, but she feels the pain that you are having. I really dont understand how people could be mean about this type of subject, because everyone has their differences. Courtney Great Article!!
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