Ever since the Shrek franchise of films hit the big screen in 2001 I’ve been a big fan of the giant green ogre and his pals. The narratives in both the first and second Shrek films have held undeniably positive messages for both youth and adults – and I’m sure that if I were fifteen years younger the series would not be subject to my mother’s Princess Ban. But even in my adoration and enjoyment of DreamWorks’ most popular character, I am deeply disturbed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ decision to appoint him the official spokesperson for the new childhood obesity prevention campaign.
Why, you ask? How could anyone want to oust America’s favorite swamp beast from a campaign aimed at the impressionable minds who adore him so? I’ll give you two great reasons:
1) With current endorsement deals with McDonalds, Sierra Mist, Cheez-Its, Snickers, M&M’s, Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, and Keebler cookies, Shrek is hardly a poster-child (or poster-ogre) for healthy dietary choices. As one Harvard Medical School faculty member puts it, “Surely DHHS can find a better spokesperson for healthy living than a character who is [simultaneously!!!!] a walking advertisement for McDonald’s, sugary cereals, cookies, and candy.” It doesn’t take a brilliant critical mind to determine that Shrek’s very public relationships with some of the unhealthiest brands around are ill-matched with the government’s aim of promoting healthy lifestyles to America’s increasingly plump generation of children.
2) Shrek is overweight. And I don’t mean some-unsightly-love-handles- and-a-badonk-a-donk-butt-but-still-in-the-healthy-body-mass-index- range overweight… The creature is decisively large, and his BMI would undoubtedly be sky high if we could indeed calculate such figures for digitally animated beings. I will be the first to reject the DHSS’s official statement that Shrek is being used to promote exercise (not foods), and that “he doesn’t have a perfect physique… We hope children will understand that being physically fit doesn’t require being a great athlete.” Um, excuse me, but last time I checked, exercising and eating right go hand in hand. And while we should certainly steer clear of the often emaciated media images of models/celebrities that some argue are a major catalyst for eating disorders, it is ludicrous to say that Shrek’s blubber is merely the mark of a “non-athlete” with an otherwise healthy lifestyle. If you ask me, this swamp-man needs to cut back on the “Swamp Rat au Jus, Big Green Slugs, and anything with a face, feet, and hands.” (Yeah, that was from the official website.)
The bottom line – Shrek is truly loveable guy, and the television-campaign-in-question is really quite cute. But the ogre’s dirty marketing deals and his distinctly unhealthy lifestyle choices (and physical manifestations) send the wrong message to youth. Instead, let’s get Shrek on Celebrity Fit Club, or have him start a cooking show with “Healthy Swamp Treats of the Week.” At least then we wouldn’t have to deal with this ideological struggle… And I wouldn’t have to rant about my favorite green man!