Maggie Goes On a Diet hasn’t even come out yet and it’s already sparked world-wide controversy. There’s even a “Say No to Maggie Goes On a Diet by Paul M. Kramer” page on Facebook, for instance. Experts, educators and parents are weighing in (no pun intended) on the issue of whether this is an appropriate book for 8 to 12 year-olds. (Amazon cites it as being for 4-8 year-olds, which makes it even more controversial.) Critics worry that it will lead to eating disorders at worst and hurt feelings at best.
This video shows parts of the book and includes an interview with the author (who, ironically, is very overweight himself, a fact no one mentions in the interview).
My worry is about how this book gets in the hands of a grade-school girl. If the book is given to her personally the message she’s going to get is, “They think I’m fat.” Even if it’s true that a child needs to lose weight, there are more sensitive ways of approaching the issue. A fat person knows he or she is fat, especially in this society with all the images of skinny people on TV and in movies and commercials. Not only that, but he or she has been sent the message that fat people are marginal in our society. Maggie herself achieves “fame and popularity” as a soccer player, but not until she becomes thin. Admittedly, part of the book’s message is that Maggie is not only fat, but she’s also not physically fit and supposedly the author’s intent was to show kids a model of how to become more healthy. But the truth is, you don’t have to be skinny to be physically fit, yet you wouldn’t know that from this book.
There are other things I take issue with, like the part where the author writes that Maggie got fat from eating bread and cheese. No one food makes someone fat and in fact bread and cheese are sensible parts of any diet. I also wonder why the author doesn’t criticize the kids who tease and bully Maggie for being fat. He acts as if this is a given—fat people are going to be treated badly—and seems to view it as a motivator for a fat person to lose weight. When in reality we should be teaching our children that it’s not right to be mean to people who are different, even if that difference is that that they’re fat.
I also question the title. Wouldn’t it have been better, and more sensitive, to have called it, “Maggie Makes Her Dreams Come True” or even “Maggie Gets Fit”? The author says that the word “diet” has many meanings and not all of them are negative. This just shows his insensitivity. Telling someone that they need to go on a diet does carry a negative connotation. It’s code for, “You’re fat.”
If a little girl finds this book in the library or book store and expresses interest in it, it might be a sign that she is ready to do something about her weight problem. But if she doesn’t have a weight problem, that should be a red flag that you need to have a conversation about body image and eating disorders.
But perhaps the biggest problem I have with the book is that it targets girls. If the author had come out with editions for boys and girls, I would have felt better about it. Girls are already bombarded with the message that they must be thin. Boys, not so much. What made the author think that his best audience would be female? Perhaps because he knows that they’re more likely to be concerned about their weight? The facts are that boys are more likely to be obese than girls. [Source.]
What do you think about this book or others like them? Do you think they’re helpful or hurtful? Are you comfortable with the target of grade school girls?