Words: Mahira Dayal
A community centre is under fire on social media displaying a sign that reads: “Tired of being fat and ugly? Hit the gym and just be ugly!”
Jessica Baudin-Griffin took to Facebook on Thursday to call out Leefield Community League in Edmonton, Canada for the “inappropriate” message on a sign which is positioned to greet people as they drive into the area.
Community Leagues are made up of local neighbourhood residents who come together to create recreational, educational and social opportunities for residents — they have been part of Edmonton’s history for almost a century.
In her post, Griffin writes that the sign not only isn’t funny, but it also perpetuates a message that children shouldn’t have to internalise.
“This is NOT humor! This kind of messaging only perpetuates body shaming culture. This is NOT the messaging I want my daughter or any child to read,” she wrote. “Our words and language MATTER! Children learn through what we model. We teach them how to treat others. We teach them how to speak to others and themselves.” (sic)
In a statement, Leefield Community League president Wil Tonowski tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the sign’s messages — which are often used to make announcements about upcoming events — usually stay up between 4 and 7 days, depending on how much time he has to change them. He says that while the sign has since been taken down, “It was only taken down because it was time for a change.”
“I thought we would post inspirational, thought-provoking, humorous and even ‘edgy’ messages sometimes. Since we started doing this about 3 to 4 years ago, the vast majority of people have told us that they love our signs; that they look forward to seeing the different messages that we post every week,” Tonowski tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “They tell us that our weekly messages put a smile on their faces or makes them chuckle on their drive to or from work.”
He adds that the sign wasn’t intended to hurt anyone, and is unhappy that some community members saw the sign as anything other than a joke.
“We at the Leefield Community League have never, and would never intentionally want to hurt or ‘offend’ or ‘fat-shame’ anyone,” Tonowski says, adding that “if others cold only see humor as a gift to use to help them with their own struggles and challenges, their own lives could be so much more pleasant.”
Some people agreed with this sentiment and commented on Griffin’s post that it is unnecessary to “take the actions of others so personally.”
“I'm fat,” one person wrote. “Have been for probably 20 years. Thankfully I have a sense of humor about it. I see this sign as the humor it was intended to be. They're just old fashioned slapstick style humor. You really shouldn't take the actions of others so personally. They should've left the signs up.” (sic)
Another commented, “This is funny... people are just too sensitive these days to see it.”
However, some still think the message was not a good one.
“Completely inappropriate and especially for a community league,” a person commented on Griffin’s post. “Community leagues are supposed to be inclusive and promote connections. Yes this gets people talking but for all the wrong reasons.”
“If you have people feeling angry then your joke isn’t funny,” another person added. “Obesity is hard. Try to lose 25 pounds and keep it off. It is work. And it might come back—in the case of so many, double what is lost comes back. I think the ads fail. I would not join anything that started off by mocking me and countless others. Sensitive? Sure. Do you think fat people don’t have feelings?”
Tonowski adds that the situation has escalated far beyond social media outrage, and tells Yahoo Lifestyle that he and his family have been receiving death threats because of the Facebook post.
He says that people are also now accusing him of being a “racist, bigot and a misogamist.”
While Griffin did not immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment, she wrote in a comment on her post that she hopes the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues will “use this as an opportunity to create guidelines that address appropriate content for the intended purposes of community league signs.”
Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues executive director Laura Cunningham-Shpeley tells Yahoo Lifestyle that her organisation has reached out to Leefield Community League to “present our concerns with the messages.”
She adds that “The EFCL believes the messaging on the sign was not welcoming and inclusive to all community members which are part of the original guidelines of all Community Leagues formed in Edmonton.”