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Health Club's Ads Spark Protest in San Francisco

Marketing: Overweight activists take to the streets to protest 24 Hour Fitness billboards that they say are demeaning.

February 16, 1999|From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — More than 30 overweight women and men chanted "Eat me!" while some performed aerobics on the sidewalk in front of a health club to protest a new ad campaign they say demoralizes fat people.

The "fat advocates" banded together to protest a 24 Hour Fitness billboard campaign that depicts a hungry space alien and reads, "When they come, they will eat the fat ones first."

Company officials say they didn't intend to offend anyone.

"Sometimes humor helps make things easier, and can even be motivational," 24 Hour Fitness said in a statement.

Portly protesters said they saw little humor in the ad that sought to entice new members at the expense of human feelings. "It's really hard for fat people to get into the gym anyway. To alienate them before they even walk in the door is cruel," said Rebekah Bridges.

"I may be fat, but I'm fit, I'm happy, I'm sexual, I'm all of those things. How dare an ad man decide for society that we're not allowed to be someplace," Bridges added.

Others waved handwritten signs that read, "Bite My Fat, Alien Butt," "Fat and Fit" and "Honk If You're Fat," which received loud support from traffic on the busy downtown street.

A fitness trainer for rival club World Gym even ran a low-impact aerobics session at the sidewalk protest, leading four hefty participants through a rigorous high-kneed, arm-pumping routine complete with crossover grapevine steps.

Marilyn Wann--author of "Fat!So?," a book that seeks to strip away the notion that fat is bad--organized the event. Wann said the 24 Hour Fitness ad is not funny and took her "fat rebels" to the front lines to be seen and heard.

"We've got an epidemic of eating disorders, an epidemic of exercise disorders, people who have to work out twice a day or they're not worthy human beings," Wann said. "It really makes me sad to think the fitness isn't about health, they're just about looks."

Wann said she'd like to see the company retract the ads and work with fat advocates to fill out its membership.

Carlsbad-based 24 Hour Fitness has 284 gyms in 10 Western states, Europe and Asia.

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