Apparently America is freaking out about Nike's new ad campaign, which unofficially piggybacks on the London Olympics and implores viewers to "find [their] greatness." The ads feature seemingly ordinary people doing extraordinary things—like landing fancy flips on a front lawn, or vaulting shipping containers on a pogo stick. But one ad in particular is getting tons of attention (over half a million YouTube hits so far), but it's probably the simplest one of the whole bunch. It's just a fat kid. Running.
At 5-foot-3 and 200 pounds, the London, Ohio, native is, well, fat. In the spot, directed by Lance Acord of Park Pictures, Nathan is shown running toward the camera down a country road at dawn-an arresting and unsettling image of physical struggle and, according to Nike, everyday greatness. Nathan is not identified by name in the spot, and so plenty of people have wondered who he is. Well, a local Ohio paper tracked him down for an interview. It turns out Nathan is not actually an early-dawn runner. In fact, he threw up in a ditch during the shoot. In an editorial, the paper heralds Nathan as an inspiration, though it seems he was the one most inspired by the shoot. Nathan and his mother Monica have vowed to help each other lose weight through good old-fashioned diet and exercise.
Okay. So. I just don't quite know what to do with this. Maybe you can help. My thoughts:
1. Obviously there is nothing inherently wrong with jogging. I jog. (Sometimes.) I am pro-jogging if people want to jog. If this kid and his mom want to "lose weight through good old-fashioned diet and exercise," because they want to, then that's great. Go nuts. But if this middle-schooler is feeling pressure and shame on a national scale and wanting to lose weight because the Nike Corporation put his fat body on display to sell shoes, then that's creepy and depressing.
2. It perpetuates this damaging, condescending fantasy that some (SOME!) thin people love—the idea that they're thin because they worked hard, because they're somehow better than other people. "Well, fat people just need to get up and run. If fat people just worked hard, they could become as thin as me! They could achieve greatness! LIKE ME." No. It is more complicated than that. Some thin people work hard to be thin. But many don't. Lots of fat people work hard to lose weight, but fail. Many fat people go running. Many thin people don't. Many fat people are disabled — physically incapable of running.
3. This ad is not true. It's not realistic, and you know it's not realistic because it's not real. That kid didn't just get up and run—he vomited in a ditch halfway through the shoot. Just getting up and running is not the solution to fat people's "problems," because all fat people cannot just get up and run. There's a physical learning curve that's incredibly limiting. But you couldn't have a commercial in which that kid starts with mild, low-impact exercise, increasing his activity slowly but surely, plateauing, crying, complaining, and eventually—hopefully—succeeding. That's way more than you could show in a commercial. That wouldn't work. What works is "fat = lazy." As fucking corny as it is, I find Jared from Subway more inspiring than this commercial—because Jared from Subway actually happened.
4. I can't imagine seeing a commercial with some big fat dude, like, doing some awesome science with the caption "Find Your Greatness." Fat people are just fat people, and the implication is that "greatness" for this kid would be to become a thinner kid. (And, FYI, there are "fat people" in the Olympics.)
5. I don't want a world of unhealthy kids. If the kid in this commercial couldn't make it through the shoot without vomiting, then it would probably be good for him to look into improving his physical fitness. However, I, the Nike Corporation, and the American public are not that child's doctor. And whether you think he should lose weight or not, entering the cycle of body-shaming is not an effective method to do it. The idea that we're teaching 11-year-olds to begin obsessing about their weight as children (and applauding them for it), without taking responsibility for the root causes ourselves, is disheartening. If American kids are gaining weight, it's not because they're just naturally lazy and they naturally don't want to work out. There are systemic problems in our country—with processed food, poverty, shitty school lunches, corn subsidies, blah blah blah—that are ours to fix, not that kid's.