Like just about everyone else in America, I’ve heard plenty about “Maggie Goes On A Diet” but haven’t actually read it.
Paul Kramer’s self-published children’s book about a 14-year-old girl who needs and wants to lose weight has, understandably, stirred up a lot of controversy. While everyone agrees that childhood obesity is an epidemic that we need to do something about, not everyone is so sure that encouraging young kids (the book is targeted to kids — specifically, girls — ages 4 to 8) to go on a “diet” is such a good thing.
After all, eating disorders on the opposite end of the weight spectrum are as big a problem as kids weighing 20-30 pounds more than they should, and Americans are particularly screwed up when it comes to body image. (I can’t even bring myself to read about those little pageant girl shows, much less watch them.)
But after reading this AP article by Leanne Italie, I’m beginning to think that the book — and its author — are as misjudged as the chubby girl on the cover. Or at least that’s what Italie implies having interviewed the author and actually read the book. (It doesn’t come out until next month.)
Kramer expresses regret for having drawn such a thin version of Maggie’s “fantasy self” on the cover and that the word diet has such negative connotations. “To me, diet means a change of habits, eating nutritiously, losing unhealthy weight,” he says.
It sounds like Maggie doesn’t want to lose weight for beauty, but because she wants to be able to move easier on the soccer field and feel healthier. The AP reporter does reveal some odd benefits of Maggie losing weight — gaining friends, including guys; getting higher grades and invitations to sleepovers; “bringing deodorant spray so she doesn’t have to worry about leaving a smell when she uses the bathroom” (ugh, deodorant spray. Is there anything worse, any place more uncomfortable than a middle school locker room?) — but in general, the theme doesn’t seem as malicious as I’d originally assumed.
Italie, the AP writer, ends the article with a fitting piece of irony:
The book concludes, as Maggie collects a soccer trophy: “It is sad that people are judged mainly because of how they look. A pretty cover does not necessarily guarantee a good book.”
Hm. Being judged by our looks instead of what’s inside. Even if we haven’t been the overweight girl looking in the mirror (and don’t make me pull out the photos to prove I’ve been there, too), we all know what that feels like.