Published December 21, 2010
He's fat, he's jolly and children love him. but that's not good enough. He's too fat.
Why does Santa’s weight problem matter? Because approximately 16 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are now considered obese in the United States. First Lady Michelle Obama is campaigning to end childhood obesity. Our military is worried about finding recruits fit enough to fight. And recent studies show that a high percentage of obese children have the same thickened arteries as a 45-year-old.
In light of the above and as one of children’s most prominent role models, Santa has got to think about the message he is sending by constantly giving in to the whims of his stomach and Mrs. Claus’ perilous overfeeding. I’m not calling for Santa to develop an eating disorder or to start working on a six-pack, but, yes, Virginia, Santa needs tough love and he needs it now. Unlike The Wall Street Journal’s recent humor piece on upgrading Santa, my plea to shrink the jolly gift giver’s waistline is serious.
Some of you are probably protesting: “but Santa has to be fat…” Wrong. While Santa can be plump and huggable, he shouldn’t be a walking heart attack. Besides, being fat isn’t an essential Santa characteristic. Being caring and generous is.
The rotund image of Santa Claus that we know today had its beginning in the 19th century when the famous cartoonist, Thomas Nast, modeled his Santa on the robber barons of his time. Wealthy men in those days were overweight because they could afford to eat as much as they wanted. Nast sought to change St. Nicholas and created the image of an obese gift giver who would bestow gifts on children in need. Later, in an effort to increase winter drinking of its product, Coca Cola managed to standardize Santa’s red and white outfit to match its own brand’s colors while keeping him fat.
But what’s caring or generous about leading kids down the fast track to diabetes? You can do better, Santa.
Besides, Santa is not Santa because he is fat. His fatness is an exterior quality that comes from its old-time association with generosity and abundance. That’s right: a hundred years or more ago people could be “fat and happy,” because being thin was associated with negative realities: poverty, starvation and illness. But today when food is cheap and abundant, fat simply doesn’t have these connotations. We know that obesity leads to negative medical consequences. Moreover, Santa’s exterior is the result of artistic and advertising decisions made long ago.
Advocating a thinner Santa is not about being a scrooge. Santa remains an iconic figure to our children and needs to step up to the healthy plate for their benefit. If parents have to egg him on this year to lose a few pounds, so be it. Christmas future will be happier and healthier for everyone.
And remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.
John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert who is a principal in Metzger Tantillo Marketing, a recently formed strategic alliance targeted to small business professionals. He also offers his own services as The Marketing Doctor. He is a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion and the author of the new book, "People Buy Brands, Not Companies."