Listen to the Kennedy administration fat shame kids in 1961

Originally published at: Listen to the Kennedy administration fat shame kids in 1961 | Boing Boing


One of the great Robert Preston’s rare missteps as a performer.

I’m willing to bet that most Happy Mutants of a certain age here loathed this physical fitness test (really more of a competition) as much as I did.


I think I heard that song on Dr Demento back in the day.


I am told that MIT’s response to Kennedy’s call for greater physical fitness in the schools was to create their tiddlywinks club.


I’ve been doing CrossFit for about four years now – and down sustainably about 50# from the beginning of COVID – without injury, but when certain things come up that I just can’t do (pull-ups), I’m warped back to the shame of that stupid thing.

(And I remember this record very much from 1978/1979 2d/3d grade)


I couldn’t be assed to give any effort, but another kid in my school ran the mile at a sprint and collapsed afterward. I definitely didn’t learn the lesson from it that they intended.


According to the Wikipedia: In 2014, “Chicken Fat” was used in a TV commercial by Apple Inc. to promote its new iOS 8 health application. The commercial shows people swimming, running, and checking their weight while connected to iPhone apps and accessories to a recording of “Chicken Fat”.[4][5] It was reported to be a 2000 recording by Bernie Knee, a jingle writer and part-time cantor, which was released by Kimbo Educational Music,[1][6] though he died in 1994.[7] Separately, it was reported that it was a new recording but that Apple would not name the singer.[8]
The final citation is to a NYT article that is behind the paywall.


I’ve been exercising regularly for more than a decade now. I would have started a lot sooner if not for lunkhead PE teachers pushing this culture.


+40 years later and my record still stands at 0.


It’s a shame, really. I’m just kicking myself for not discovering weight training earlier in life. It’s fun, it’s completely measurable, a great feedback loop, you really are only competing with yourself. But it’s hard to organize in a public school PE class so… RUN SOME LAPS!


I think I first heard this song on Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, when Shaloub is working out on the docks at the camp. In that context it was quirky and charming. In this context…not so much.

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We worked out to this record in our elementary school PE class. I don’t remember how long they used it. Couldn’t have been too long or it would’ve made more of a dent in my memory.

I don’t recall the song at all, but I do remember doing the President’s fitness test. I don’t remember how I did on it, but I was a complete bookworm, so…

1961, first grade for me. Yup, those photos look authentic :slight_smile:

And yes, @jlw, there was much more fat on chickens then. All types of meat were bred fatter, and trimmed fatter, back then. Chickens from the store came with big globs of fat. Tasty, tasty fat.

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here is your cite.

Q. Who is singing the “Chicken Fat” song in the new Apple commercial for exercise and fitness apps? It does not seem to be the actor Robert Preston, who performed the original version in the early 1960s.

A. A new version of the song was recorded for the commercial, dear reader, but neither Apple nor TBWA/Media Arts Lab is divulging the name of the singer. It is not, as has been reported, a version of the song recorded in 2000 by a commercial singer named Bernie Knee. Anyone who recognizes the voice, please stop exercising long enough to clue the rest of us in.


In Canada we had something called “Participaction” which was this grueling annual fitness test we all did which was supposed to instil something something love of fitness in all of us. What it really did was make sure all the naturally athletic kids felt like rockstars at least once a year and the rest of us were made to feel like human garbage. Everyone got a patch in the end, but these patches were gold, silver, bronze, and “participaction” for everyone else. The latter was, of course, the failure patch and everyone knew it.

It’s hilarious to me when people complain about how “we give every kid a medal now”. Well guess what, we’ve always done that and it doesn’t make everyone feel special or entitled. Everyone knows the bottom “medal” is the failure medal. Kids aren’t stupid, but they sure are mean.

Googling, I see that this program still exists. I hope it’s a bit more enlightened in its structure these days. I think I still have mild PTSD from that stupid thing.


They used to play that f**king song once a week during calisthenics in PE in junior high school - wanna say 1979? Six and a half minutes the PE teachers could grab a quick smoke (no really) while we exercised to a record. It was humiliating and obnoxious, but so was most of junior high so I don’t think we particularly noticed. I also had a drafting teacher at the time that was a part-time coach and hung a paddle on his wall, so - enlightened they were not. Southern California, who you’d hope would have known better.

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The whole reactionary anti-Participant Trophy crowd is an interesting thing.

I think competitive sports (beyond a certain level of teaching the kids the game) is important. There are (and ought to be) winners and losers. I think participation trophies are kind of dumb but the thing is most of the kids know they’re pretty dumb too. And I was involved enough in my kid’s sports and if you pay the slightest bit of attention, it’s pretty damned clear kids instinctively know the difference.

My older boy got a bunch of that stuff – 15 or 20 of them – and it all ended up in the garbage soon enough. But he still has his first legit home run ball from Little League from when he was 11 in his desk

And the handful of kids that liked them – my experience was they were probably not neurotypical – ought to be left in peace to enjoy them, or come to terms with their meaning later on.

But there’s a crowd of parents (almost all men, but manifestly not just men) who are besides themselves to let you know, in effect, that all those trophies they earned as kids are still really, really important.

It’s a small crowd, but I did my best to avoid them.


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That song is triggering for me. Every fucking year they played that song a few times, and every time I was “Hey, Chicken Fat!” for a week.


It might be “The Music Man” singing it but it sounds like Tom Leher wrote it.


Honestly, what you’ve written there has made me feel like participation trophies are a good thing. The kids that see through it don’t care either way. They’re gonna toss them or tease other kids regardless. But for some kids (as you point out, typically the more neurodiverse ones) they are a nice thing so why shouldn’t we let them have that? It seems like all upside to me.

The BS part to me is the angle that participation trophies are spoiling kids and making them entitled or weak. This is a ridiculous Social Darwinism school of thought wherein we have to make kids’ live brutal to toughen them up, rather than, say, teaching them to love each other and try to make the world a better place. The world will toughen them up soon enough regardless. We don’t need to “train” them for that.