Controversy

Have you seen this Nike ad?

Apparently, it’s causing a bit of controversy. Some people think Nike is exploiting this kid to sell sneakers. Well, let’s be honest, that’s the business they are in. And I’m pretty sure the kid and his parents had a full understanding of what the ad was going to be. Others are upset that the word “greatness” is used. They claim that not everyone can achieve greatness; it is reserved for the few who are, truly, great. To this I say, greatness means different things to different people, and we should encourage people to achieve whatever greatness means to them, especially in terms of health and wellness.

What bothers me is the people who are up in arms about this ad because the kid is fat.

Take, for example, this Twitter response to a PostSecret tweet about the ad: “That Nike ad is repulsive..A 12 year old shoukd [sic] not be obese & we should not be exploiting it..” This was posted by someone named Cindy, who appears to be a middle-aged retired female high school teacher. I shudder to think how she treated fat students in her class, considering her reaction to this kid. Whether or not a 12 year old “should” be obese, the fact is, many are. I can’t get my brain around why so many people think that shaming and embarrassing fat people is a way to motivate them. She used the word “repulsive”! And yes, she used it to describe the ad, not the kid, but it’s clear that she’s upset that this kid is fat. Fat people exist. They aren’t going to magically go away because you think they “shouldn’t” be.

This ad, and the many reactions to it, also brings up another issue: Society wants fat people to stop being fat, but it doesn’t want to see them getting there. We don’t want to see fat people in workout clothes (especially if they are form-fitting), we don’t want them panting and grunting in our gyms, we don’t want them clogging up our marathon corrals. The message seems to be that we as fat people should do society a favor and keep ourselves hidden until we have transformed our bodies into something more acceptable. Then we are allowed to exercise in public.

As for me, I’m inspired by this kid. Even if he doesn’t lose weight, he’s moving (literally) toward a healthier life. I’m inspired by any fat person who gets up and gets moving, despite the terrible and insensitive remarks of people like Cindy.

Here’s a thought: What if this ad had featured a skinny kid, all pointy elbows and knobby knees, huffing and puffing down a deserted country road? How would the message of “greatness” ring differently? It would be interesting to see the reactions to that. Would Nike still be “exploiting” the skinny kid? Or would he be an inspiration to other kids to get up and get moving?

What if this ad, featuring this fat kid, inspires other fat kids to get up and get moving? Then I think Nike has done more than just sell sneakers.