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The Not So Wonderful World of Disney

“When you wish upon a star makes no difference who you are…anything your heart desires will come to you.”

I grew up watching the Wonderful World of Disney.  It was a Sunday evening ritual in my family, gathering around the T.V. and singing along with Jiminy Cricket.  Most of the stories were tales of justice with the good guy winning and the bad guy being punished.  Most of the stories showed people overcoming adversity with an arsenal of little more than a good heart and an honest soul.  And most of the stories did end Happily Ever After.

Of course when I was older, I realized that not everything was so wonderful in the world of Disney.  Most of the stories had children with no mother, or an evil step-mother, or who experience the traumatic loss of a father.  On closer inspection, the characters reinforced certain negative cultural stereo types, ethnic, ageist, sexist, and of course, size-ist.

I spent most of my childhood being jealous of the itty bitty waistlines of Disney princesses and I wish that Dr. Peggy Orenstein author of the wonderful book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, had been around back then to offer me an alternative way of thinking.  Unfortunately when it comes to wishing, I learned at a very young age that all of the star wishing in the world would NEVER bring me thinness or the attention of Ronnie W, the cute boy sitting in front of me in class.  In my world, the only aspect of Fairy Tales that ever came true was my mom dying when I was thirteen and the challenge of integrating a step-mother into my grief-stricken adolescent world.

But now Disney has crossed a line from fantasy-land into the real world, and what they are doing, I feel, demands attention and action.

In an article by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff ,   we are introduced to a new anti-childhood obesity exhibit at Disney’s Epcot Center where the villains are the bad habits that supposedly lead to childhood obesity and are anthropomorphized into animated fat people who are depicted as lazy, gluttonous, and evil.

In another article published in the Orlando Sentinel, the exhibit is described rather benignly as a collaboration between a well known giant health insurance company and Disney in an effort to curtail childhood obesity by arming kids with healthy foods to fight junk food wars, and to dance their way to health by getting off their lead bottoms and playing Disney Dance Dance Revolution.   These interventions alone are not particularly problematic and I would be hard pressed to find anyone in the size acceptance or health at every size ® movement who would not agree that kids should engage in fun physical exercise, establish a healthy relationship with food, and eat well.  And 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 indulge you) but based on the articles I have read about Disney’s Healthy Habit Exhibit, it shamefully stigmatizes and stereotypes fat people as lazy, gluttonous, and like Ursula the fat, evil sea witch, should all be banished from the kingdom!

The Binge Eating Disorders Association (BEDA) has initiated a Call To Action to inform Disney that this exhibit is inappropriate and hurtful and that this kind of shaming and stigmatization frequently leads to eating disorders.  There are many ways you can jump on board.

  • If you are a Tweeter type person:  Use Your Voice Against Stigmatization of Children #constantcontact conta.cc/wHYYz3
  • If you are a Facebook type person: Go to:  fb.me/1IpTvqDqG
  • If you are an email type person:  Email Disney’s Communications Dept: TWDC.Corp.Communications@disney.com
  • If you are a snail mail type person:  Write Disney Corporate Headquarters: Attention: Kristin Nolt Wingard Senior VP of Public Affairs 1375 Buena Vista Drive Lake Buena Vista, Florida 32830
  • If you are a blogger person, blog about it or share my blog or Dr. Yoni Freedhoff’s blog

Here is the email that I sent to Disney and to the Orlando Sentinel.  Please feel free to plagiarize it and tweak it and send it as well.

 “RE:  the new Healthy Habits exhibit at the Epcott Center:  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 be healthier, how about making the rides at their theme parks more physically interactive and offering less junk food at the concession stands? And please stop characterizing fat people as evil, gluttonous, and lazy, it’s inaccurate and just mean.”

Whatever you choose to do, please choose at least one thing TO do.  It matters!