I am so fired up and upset that I can barely put my words together. What has me so up-in-arms you ask? Well, I just found out about a book soon to be on the market for children as young as 4 called “Maggie Goes on a Diet” by Paul Kramer. In this book he says that poor Maggie was bullied and made fun of so she looked in the mirror and wished she could be thin. If only she was skinny all Maggie’s problems would melt a way. (as someone who was a Maggie in school such experiences are brutal and not necessarily limited to fat girls. If kids want to bully they will find a way).
To calm her troubled heart she then does what all overweight children do- she went “searching the refrigerator in hopes she would feel better” . (Because all children have full access to the refrigerator at home- no adult supervision in the middle of the night! I hope you catch my healthy dose of sarcasm in the above paragraph!)
Seriously, what is wrong with people? Fat children are not searching through the refrigerator in the middle of the night to calm their troubled self-esteem. Give me a break! I ate the same as everyone else but my body processed it differently. All junk like this does is make overweight kids feel guilty about every last treat, every piece of bread, they eat. Hey, here’ s a thought- how about actually teaching them about their bodies, how cells absorb food, how some people have different blood sugar responses?
Many people believe children are too stupid to understand their own bodies and the complex goings-on inside. I disagree. I judged a 6th grade science fair a while back and the experiments were remarkably complex. If they can understand the intricacies of electricity or volcanoes give them a shot with their own bodies. I think we’d be surprised. In my experience anyone who actually understand how their body really works instead of just focusing on weight feels much better about themselves. Ahhh! I’m so frustrated by this.
Maggie stares in the mirror at a skinny version of herself and knows that if she could only be thin her life would be better. She would be more popular and happier- a better person. You know who stares into a mirror and thinks being skinnier will solve all your problems?- the millions of girls in eating disorder clinics and rehab. I have known people going through eating disorder treatment and it is brutal.
To make matters worse in the book Maggie actually does become popular after losing weight and she even ends up as a star soccer player (because if all fat people would only exercise a little they would become star athletes- almost as dangerous a promise as becoming popular). I just lost a lot of weight where’s my star athletic prowess and hidden popularity? What a terrible expectation to set up for children- on so many levels.
As I mentioned in a recent post skinniness as a goal is foolish because it is a unclassifiable term- meaning who’s to say what being skinny really means? Is it Twiggy from the 60’s or is it a more muscular Cindy Crawford? Who is to say? By focusing on being skinny there is no end, nothing is good enough and most people become obsessed with it. It overtakes your life and all that matters is your appearance which is part of the reason this book made me so mad. The focus is on becoming skinny and how that will make you happy, popular and athletic. That’s just not true and it it can be a dangerous message.
Maggie is also shown as losing the weight in a fast time period by “eating fruit and oatmeal” and “exercising more”. Tell that to the constantly on a diet 16 year old me who life guarded and swam competitively. Tell that to the kids who eat their oatmeal and fruit but still are chubbier than all the other kids.
What are we doing in our society? Why can’t we just love people especially little children? Why does everyone have to look a certain way to be accepted? Why can’t we discuss concerns of health on their own accord without them being wrapped up in vague images of being thin. It makes me so mad.
I still remember the first time I was told I needed to diet. I was 9 or 10. It was my parents and despite their best efforts it is seared in my brain for all time. At least they didn’t try to pretend I would be more popular or be good at sports if I lost weight. It still felt like a great sin I had inadvertently committed- something that was my fault but at least I knew they loved me and would accept me either way.
The book also fails to mention that children are not responsible for the food that is served to them- whether it be at home or at school. (My parents did serve healthy food and I was still fat but not all parents do). What is a child supposed to do force his or her mother to make oatmeal? Tell the school lunch lady that they can only make Low GI food? Give me a break! The book treats a child as an adult who can make all her own decisions and doesn’t even mention parents or parental support.
The author says he wrote the book to let children know “they are not alone in their struggles.” How does reinforcing stereotypes, creating false promises and promoting eating disorders do anything but make a child feel more alone, more ostracized? Did the author think of what a little girl will feel after reading his book, eating oatmeal and fruit, exercising and yet somehow she’s still fat?
How about we teach that little girl that making healthy choices is good regardless of the physical ramifications? How about we teach her that she has intrinsic value and that her body is beautiful and special? How about we look at each individual child and find out how their body is absorbing food and give them the right food choices? How about we teach a child that the formation of your character is not related to the weight of your body? You are not a bad person if you are fat. I wish someone had taught me that years earlier…
I would like to write a book like that. Maggie and her Healthy Heart. I’m seriously so mad about this I want to scream. Mainly because I know the hurt the little girls who are unfortunate enough to read this book will feel and believe me they are not turning to the fridge for comfort. They are turning to their pillows wet with tears.
In my experience the only way to be happy whether skinny or fat is to accept yourself- flaws and all. We all have imperfections and yet our family loves us- we should love us too! Only then is weight loss typically successful and long-lasting. Even when you are skinny you are still the same person you were before just with a little less baggage. The core is the same. Focus on making that core strong and then you will be happy at any size. Let’s teach our children that message!
Surely America we can do better than this crap. Please lets do better.
For another good blog on this topic look at http://www.beautifulyoubyjulie.com/2011/08/diet-books-are-not-for-girls/