SPRINGFIELD, Tenn. (WKRN) – A Robertson County family wanted a “Dancing With the Stars” cast member to remove a meme he posted on his Facebook page that features a picture of their teenage daughter who has Down syndrome.
Stephanie Mitchell reached out to News 2 Thursday after her daughter Harley saw the meme while scrolling through her Facebook feed and realized the girl in the photo is her little sister, Skylar.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw it; makes me wonder what kind of people are out there. It makes me sick,” Harley Eden told News 2.
The meme features a photo of Skylar and says, “Letting your kid become obese should be considered child abuse.”
It was posted on Valentin Chmerkovskiy’s public Facebook page and later deleted.
The professional dancer, who has been featured on several seasons of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars, “captioned the post with “I am truly sorry for the lack of sensitivity… but on some level I have to agree. Raising a child is the hardest thing in the world, I know, but being negligent when it comes to their nutrition is a crime. The lifelong obstacles and health issues you place on your child because of it can be devastating moving forward in their life. You’re handicapping your kid, and they’re defenseless, they don’t know better, that’s why you’re there… anyway I’m just a childless preacher, but here’s some food for thought. #nopunintended”
The Facebook garnered hundreds of thousands of likes and tens of thousands of shares while it was up.
News 2 checked and found Chmerkovskiy not only shared the meme on Facebook but also on his Instagram and Twitter pages. It has since been removed from his Instagram and Facebook accounts.
Skylar’s mom believes the dancer should use his celebrity in other ways, “With his celebrity and popularity, he should be helping kids like this, not bullying them and putting them down.”
The family told News 2 they don’t know who took the original picture of Skylar, but they believe it was captured several years ago when Skylar, who is now 16, was around nine or 10 years old.
Mitchell said her daughter has battled with her weight since the age of four. She now attends a weight management clinic at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
According to the National Down Syndrome Society, people with Down syndrome are more likely to be obese than their typically-developing peers due to hypothyroidism. There is also research that shows people with Down syndrome may have a lower level of metabolism.
Skylar’s mom told News 2 Chmerkovskiy should try to be a role model for those children who might be a little different.
The family has commented on the post and sent him messages, asking for it to be removed.
News 2 also reached out to Chmerkovskiy and his publicist via email and phone, but he has yet to respond.
As far as the legality of the photo, Ryan Levy, an attorney for Patterson Intellectual Property Law in Nashville, said there is little expectation of privacy in public places.
So if someone takes a picture of your child and distributes it online, in many cases there’s not much you can do about it.
“This is a situation where the internet is developing rapidly,” said Levy. “We’re trying to balance on one hand a person’s right to privacy, their expression, their own likeness, and also balance the expressive freedom that people have on the internet. And it’s a challenge.”
Levy said the Tennessee Personal Rights Protection Act is intended to preclude individuals from taking one’s likeness or reputation and using it for a commercial purpose.
But that generally applies only when someone is using the image to make money.
“The challenge here is memes are typically used for social media or the like, and generally not associated with a commercial endeavor,” Levy said.