Dangerous Stamps

New fitness-themed postage stamps were put on hold due to government concerns over the safety of headstands and cannonballs.

Would you jump off a stamp if all your friends were stamping it? As the nation regains composure in the wake of abject failure of governance, some Americans have forgotten to be outraged by the simpler things.

Animator Eli Noyes recently designed 15 new fitness-themed stamps for the U.S. Postal Service. Announced in January but yet to be released, they depict young people engaging in youthful activities; like sports, juggling, and jump/twisting (?). They are intended to commemorate Michelle Obama's anti-obesity, pro-movement "Let's Move!" campaign. These are they.


"Look at these fit people," the stamps seem to say. "If they can move, you can move."

But that's exactly the problem. Stamps are not role models. They didn't ask to be. We recently learned that production of the Let's Move stamps was put on hold due to objections from the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.

Specifically, it took issue with at least three of the stamps, a U.S. Postal Service official confirmed to ABC News this week. Those in question:

  • The skateboarder skateboarding without knee pads;
  • The headstander headstanding without a helmet;
  • The swimmer doing cannonball, which is not allowed in some pools.

I might add, a baseball player batting without a helmet, which is actually something people do wear helmets to do. But, just like bike helmets are only good for us if they don't keep us off bikes, headstand helmets are only good for us if they don't keep us from doing headstands. Also none of these things should be attempted without a face.

The President's Council has not responded to me for comment on that, or the rest of the story, as of this writing.

Artist Michael Deppisch reconciled feelings about this decision by tweeting mock-ups of stamps that might depict a more traditional understanding of what constitutes unsafe activity, e.g. lighting oneself on fire, or jumping into a shark.

(Michael Deppisch)

The story of the stamp offense initially broke on the stamp blog Linn’s Stamp News, a good stamp blog, which said that the already-printed stamps would be destroyed. Because, even though not all of them are offensive, they were printed in sheets of 15, with one of each per sheet.

Roy Betts, a spokesman for the USPS — which, remember, is on the edge of bankruptcy and earlier this month defaulted on $5.6 billion owed to the U.S. Treasury later told ABC that they might not destroy the product: “The stamps are on hold and a decision [will] be made later."

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James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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