“Maggie Goes On A Diet,” Children’s Diet Book, Criticized For Hurting Body Image

Add this to your fall reading list (or book burning pile): Maggie Goes On A Diet, a children’s book for elementary schoolers, about an obese 14-year-old girl named Maggie who loses weight and becomes the school soccer star. As you can imagine, quite a few people are not happy with this. Bitch Magazine called it “douchy.” A Huffington Post blogger called it “disturbing.” The UK’s Guardian questioned whether this book was “the worst idea ever.”

Everyone, just stick a donut in your mouth and shut up for a second. It’s true that a book like Maggie Goes On A Diet could get in the wrong hands and be used by fat-hating and fat-shaming parents and grandparents to mess up their kids. (My mind keeps going to Elizabeth Leefolt in “The Help” who complains the whole movie about how pudgy her toddler is.) However, the reality is that those kinds of parents will be the outliers — the most extreme examples. Not every person who cares about encouraging an obese child to eat more healthfully and to exercise more has terrible intentions. In fact, caring about healthful living is what a good parent does. The tricky part, of course, is that “skinny” and “healthy” are not synonymous. An overweight child or adult can still be quite healthy; a person carrying a few extra pounds can be healthy, too. Of course obesity puts stress on the heart and lungs, but there are many indicators of one’s health, not just size. (Think, for instance, about a kid who eats a well-balanced diet and plays sports, but lives with two parents who are two-pack-a-day smokers. Or an adult with a well-balanced diet who plays sports and drinks a fifth of vodka every night.) All this fat-hating shrieking about how people who are too heavy have a deathwish is over-the-top and the kind of person who believes their otherwise healthy kid will die is going to be that over-the-top with or without a children’s book.

It’s frustrating that the critics of this book are mostly focusing on those people. I think it’s perfectly fine for reasonable parents to read a book to their child about how if someone is overweight, they can exercise and eat more healthfully to lose excess weight. It’s not like Maggie is published by Weight Watchers or the producers of “Toddlers & Tiaras.” The author, Paul M. Kramer, has written a bunch of books about difficult topics for kids, like Divorce Stinks, Are You Afraid Of The Doctor?, and Is It Dumb To Suck Your Thumb?. Kids have books for everything these days, from Everybody Poops to Heather Has Two Mommies. And that’s a good thing. One of the ways young people learn about the world is through storytelling. While I’m not in love with the particular story — Maggie loses weight and becomes a soccer champ, which could simplistically be interpreted by children as a cause-and-effect narrative — Kramer’s intentions nevertheless seem good.

Like anything else involving what parents expose their children to, whether this book helps or harms a child depends on how the parents use it. If you’re gravely offended by this book, then don’t by it for your kid. But if living healthfully and even dieting is something you want to teach your children about — whether for their own sake or because you are going on a diet — then read responsibly.

[ABC News]

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