In an era consumed with body image, childhood obesity has been a growing concern for years. In fact, a controversial children’s book by Paul Kramer is shedding light on the problem that does not seem to go away. Kramer’s rhyming book Maggie Goes on a Diet tells the story of overweight 14 year-old Maggie who gets teased and ridiculed at school and then becomes popular and more confident after she becomes skinny and joins the soccer team.
The forty-four page book, suggested for children four to eight years old, has been causing controversy for a message that parents argue would manipulate children’s mentality about fitness and social acceptance as well as promote eating disorders. A poster on the Pen and Paper blog agreed that children should enjoy their childhood and forget about the lifestyle that is well beyond their years: “Little girls shouldn’t even know what a diet is, much less be encouraged to lose weight!” Even the book cover has sparked outrage as an overweight Maggie is displayed on the cover holding a dress and staring into a mirror at a skinnier version of herself. Adrienne Ressler, a commenter on Amazon.com, said this: “The idea of this book makes me want to either cry or scream—actually both. It’s bad enough that the messages and images in the culture have co-opted most women into loathing their bodies, but targeting the insecurities of young girls, vulnerable to the risk of developing an eating disorder, borders on promoting high risk behaviors and attitudes that are destructive both physically and psychologically.”
Kramer, who has previously written about bullying and explores divorce and bedwetting in two new books out this year, says that Maggie’s transformation deals with “the issues that kids face today.” He also goes on to say, “My intentions were just to write a story to entice and to have children feel better about themselves, discover a new way of eating, learn to do exercise, try to emulate Maggie, and learn from Maggie’s experience. Children are pretty smart, and they will make a good choice if you give them that opportunity.”
Although many people agree that promoting a healthier lifestyle and being proactive is encouraging, they are not thrilled about the message that suggests that because she is skinny, Maggie is now confident, newly popular, and has other students’ acceptance. Yahoo Contributor Victoria Leigh Miller says: “Why couldn’t Maggie’s popular personality shine through before she went on a diet? And is it realistic to think that the kids who teased her will suddenly give her high-fives on the soccer field just because she lost weight?”
Descriptions such as “teaching kids to self-hate,” “give your children neuroses” and “anorexia bait” have been tagged by customers on Amazon.com who are dissatisfied with the book. Even on Twitter, “savemaggie” is now a trending topic. Other people who have expressed opposition have created a Facebook page called “Say No to Maggie Goes on a Diet” that also threatens boycotts and pleads with both Barnes & Noble and Amazon to not sell the book which is slated to be released in October.
While Maggie Goes on a Diet is getting a lot of negative reviews, relationship expert Logan Levkoff says that this book is getting people talking about a problem that is relevant and currently happening. Levkoff continues by saying that getting a reaction out of people so that they will address this issue and adjust their own lives may be a way that this book can be looked at in a positive way: “The only upside to this book is that it gives us an opportunity to talk about how bad our priorities are and give us the opportunity to change them and to say to our kids, this is now who I want you to be.”