An Edmonton sign reading "Tired of being fat & ugly? Hit the gym and just be ugly!" is becoming the source of locally grown controversy. One activist has called it “fatshaming,” while the man that put it up implies it’s just a little “edgy.”
CBC has called the discussion that resulted from the post a “social media firestorm.”
In an interview, the daughter of one community dweller, she explained the sign made her uncomfortable.
"It made me feel like if I entered into that community there would be a lot of judgment and hostility toward people.”
"If people see it enough they'll start to believe it. So that can make people feel very unhappy about themselves."
The girl’s mother Jessica Baudin-Griffin, understands that “children read these signs and they're not necessarily seeing the humour behind it."
However, Wil Tonowski who arranged the sign outside of Edmonton’s Leefield community league is so far unrepentant. The league—of which Tonowski is president—spent over ten thousand on the sign, situated just by the road.
The large letter-ready board is meant for the advertisement of events, but during slower and less active periods, Tonowski has his way with it.
According to the league’s president, he finds generic posts like “Have a great summer” to be “boring.” Instead, Tonowski believes he creates “humorous” and otherwise “a little bit edgy” messages for locals.
"The vast majority of people, they understand and they get it. And some just don't.”
Tonowski is a retired cop. As a hobby during his retirement he’s been amassing jokes and witticisms, with a list he claims reaches 500 for the sign that he changes up each week.
"You almost feel like saying, 'Look, if you don't like the sign close your eyes as you drive by. It might not be that safe but at least you won't be offended. Or go home a different way if it's so horrible."
Artist and activist, Allison Tunis, has voiced her strong disapproval of Tonowski’s moves.
"But this is a community league. What is the purpose of this? There's nothing beyond it other than maybe trying to — in a very off way — make a joke and be a light-hearted comment for their community members,” explained Tunis.
"You're laughing at something that hurts people."
Tonowski said the sign would not be changed, claiming it was not “hate speech” nor was it offensive or hurtful to his understanding.