Boycott This Book!

Yesterday, I stumbled across a book called Maggie Goes on a Diet. It's a picture book for children ages 4-8. It is due on shelves in October, and it has me all riled up.

Maggie Goes on a Diet tells the story of an insecure, overweight teenager who is bullied and teased by her schoolmates. She decides that losing weight will solve her problems. When she does lose weight, she becomes instantly popular and the school soccer star.

The author said in an interview that he wanted to address the childhood obesity epidemic, that he wanted to promote healthy eating and an active lifestyle for kids. Those are certainly good intentions. I'm trying to incorporate those exact behaviors into my life right now.

But, we all know where good intentions can lead. That's what happened with this book, I think. Despite this author's good intentions, his story reinforces far too many harmful messages. For example:

  • The story implies that it is acceptable to bully and tease overweight children. 
    • It is never acceptable to tease or bully children--or anyone else, for that matter. 

  • The story blames Maggie for being teased and bullied. (It is her fault because she's overweight.)
    • Teasing and bullying is never the victim's fault (even though they tend to blame themselves. I certainly did.) 

  • The story sends the message that losing weight will solve all of your problems.
    • This is called "magical thinking," and it doesn't work. 

  •  The story sends the message that a child should be liked and accepted on the basis of his or her weight. (Maggie does not become popular until she becomes skinny.)
    • To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Children should be appreciated for the contents of their character, not the size of their waistlines. (So should everyone else, by the way.)

    Then there's this:
    Do we really want 4-year-olds learning about diets? Do we want 6-year-olds obsessing about their body image? Can you picture some sweet little preschooler saying to her teacher, "Just juice for me, please. I'm on a diet"? Or some first grader telling her friends, "I need to lose at least 5 pounds--I can pinch a whole inch"?

    It's bad enough that we play these body-image mind games with teenagers and grown women. We don't need to do it to young kids too.