The Georgia Billboard Project and Ragen’s Lack of Financial Transparency

One of Ragen’s most significant claims to fame is her 2012 “Support All Kids” campaign to put up billboards and bus shelter ads in response to “fat shaming” anti-childhood obesity billboards from Atlanta Strong4Life, which also created the 2013 anti-obesity video Rewind the Future. As soon as the original Strong4Life billboards went up, they received a lot of negative attention in the media. Ragen saw her opportunity and launched the Support All Kids campaign to raise money for her own billboards in partner with other fat activists like Marilynn Wann.

The campaign started with a “big fat money bomb” appeal on Ragen’s blog and a successful GoFundMe campaign that raised over $16,000. A further contribution of $5,000 came from More of Me to Love, a company that sells assistive devices for super obese people like seatbelt extenders and wiping sticks. The goals of the project were outlined in the original post on Ragen’s blog.

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Additionally, Ragen made it clear the financial accounting would be open and accessible.

Funds collected for this project go directly into an independent bank account and all financials are transparent and publicly available with the exception of donor names which can be made anonymous on request.

After funds were raised and submissions for billboard designs were accepted, the Support All Kids campaign itself started to generate some controversy. Instead of creating ads specifically targeting Strong4Life as originally planned, the focus shifted to promoting a general “Health at Every Size” message using Marilyn Wann’s existing “I Stand” design with clearly visible HAES branding. Ragen was also criticized for a noticeable lack of gender, sexuality, and racial diversity in the campaign planning and the models initially chosen to be featured, which she was careful to rectify in the final shelter ad choices. “I Stand” photos of all the organizers can still be seen on the official HAES blog, so on the former point we leave our readers to decide for themselves.

At the end of March 2012, Ragen announced the billboards and shelter ads had been erected. She never provided any photos or evidence. We were able to locate a single photo of a bus shelter ad posted by one of her Facebook friends, which appears to be the only proof they ever existed. Ragen responded to the campaign controversy with an extremely uncharacteristic apology, and she outlined the “original goals” of the project again, which now included prominent promotion of HAES.

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Ragen was still dogged by some criticism of the altered message of the campaign.

I was sad to see that the “putting me down will not make me strong” message had been lost somewhere along the line, though. I thought that a clear criticism of the Strong4Life campaign was in order, although it shouldn’t necessarily be the only message.

  • Dances with Fat commenter

She again committed to complete transparency with the campaign finances, promising to disclose full financial information on her site as soon as the documentation was available.

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Two months later in May 2012, Ragen claimed a filmmaker was planning to make a documentary about the billboard project called “Behind the Billboards”. This was never mentioned again, and Ragen quietly abandoned the Support All Kids domain displayed on the billboards and ads, then removed the page from her site the following month. No financial information was disclosed, and no proof the billboards and shelter ads actually went up was supplied by Ragen herself. Like every other Ragen project (e.g. Better than the Bullies), it was abandoned and forgotten as soon as Ragen got her interviews, gold star, and a point to add to her “activism” credentials for interviews and speaking engagements.

To be clear, we do believe the “Support All Kids” billboards and ads were paid for and erected, despite Ragen providing little evidence and washing her hands of everything within months. Nevertheless, since we know Ragen follows this blog, we publicly call on her to release the financial disclosure she promised and never delivered 3-1/2 years ago. Whose “independent bank account” was used to collect funds? Was any money left over, and if so, where did it go? Were funds collected through a non-profit or charity organization? Is there a financial accounting of the way the money was spent? Are there receipts? These are all important questions Ragen should be able to answer, especially with her strong commitment to financial transparency for the project.

Note: Edited to correct link and information about final bus shelter ad designs.

21 thoughts on “The Georgia Billboard Project and Ragen’s Lack of Financial Transparency

  1. I’ve been reading your blog with interest for some time and just wanted to give you some encouragement. Keep up the good work! Every charlatan like Chastain deserves their own “dances with Facts”!

  2. Suspect that all the financial paperwork on this was lost, stolen, misfiled, misplaced, accidently destroyed, damaged when a pipe burst, lost in an earthquake, shredded for security reasons, taken by an ex-roommate, in storage, inaccessible, lost when a computer crashed, swept away by flood, erased from the hard drive, back-up files corrupted, peed on by the dog, eaten by goats, etc.

  3. Just swooped in and grabbed the domain. How about we put something up to help kids instead of teaching them to die young?

    • Great work. Funny thing is, kids aren’t stupid. Put up a site that says “follow HAES and you can dance this well” with a video of Ragen dancing. And then “follow HAES and you can run this well” with a video of the Fit Fatties “running” into the ocean. And that might make more impression on their young minds than all the dry statistics and science ever could. Kids set their sights high, and see through BS. Show them the fat dancer and fat runner and they’ll know they can do better.

    • Mirror this post there! Anybody who follows the link from Ragen’s old sites should know that she has yet to disclose the financials.

  4. I’m happy to see you guys back on “point” with really bringing her antics to light. The Ironfat stuff is fun, but the financial shenanigans are important.

  5. It was truly bizarre that she posted her excitement about being in Atlanta and meeting the filmmaker in less than 24 hours to see her billboards, then went silent from that day on. Something went very wrong for her to have flown all that way, for a filmmaker to have flown in as well, and then have not one blog post or image to show. If the billboards were erected, perhaps she brokered a bad deal and they were too poorly located, small or low-quality for her to show them.

    The project was soundly criticized for ignoring local nonprofits, particularly those serving the minority communities the original ads targeted. She and Wann were just white ladies on the news, promoting themselves by swooping into a poor, urban neighborhood to save the children from weight loss. They didn’t bother talking to people who live and work there for advice or a referral to a reputable billboard company. I believe they didn’t want to risk someone else getting any credit for participating, even if it meant doing less “activism.” That’s probably why they dropped some early sponsors to push a much more self-serving agenda.
    *Sources available if you want them.

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