Feminism, Pop-Culture | Posted by Danielle B on 08/29/2011

My Problem With “Maggie Goes On A Diet”

I discovered Maggie Goes On A Diet during one of my morning rituals (I tend to start my days with a cup o’ joe and a few interesting Yahoo! articles). As the above video explains, the book, aimed at girls as young as 6 or 7, is about an overweight 14-year-old who decides to go on a diet after being teased mercilessly by her classmates.

I probably don’t have to tell you that Maggie has sparked a lot of controversy. The media has been raving about so-called “mommy bloggers” who are up in arms over how the book mishandles sensitive body image issues, but what I noticed after sifting through the comments on several news articles is a slightly different attitude:

“There is nothing offensive about this book, unless you’re living in denial. Girls do tend to obsess about their weight and image far more than boys, so choosing a girl as the main character makes sense.”

“God forbid she take up an activity that causes her to lose weight. What an awful message.”

“This book is a good thing. The last thing this world needs
is more fat chicks.”

I’m not usually a fan of chatspeak, but I think that last statement warrants a big-ass smh.

I have no objection whatsoever to children’s books teaching healthy eating habits and the value of exercise, but as a former (and current) Fat Girl this book is offensive. Society has always done a bang-up job of making girls feel like crap about themselves, and this book is the icing on the cake — or should I say, the no-calorie sweetener on the high-fiber oatmeal?

What could have been an uplifting book about a girl eating wholesome foods, having fun playing outside, and ultimately feeling good about herself (without other’s approval) turned into a social commentary about the unacceptability of being overweight in our society. Maggie is a loser when she’s fat. Nobody likes her. The boys all point and laugh. But then she drops X number of pounds and people are putty in her hands. She becomes the star of the soccer team, people know her by name and want to be her friend, and boys even think she’s cute — the ultimate triumph! *gags*

I’m not denying the fact that there’s an obesity problem in this country and I’m certainly not knocking the importance of a balanced diet and exercise. But there’s a way to deal with these issues without telling little girls that their physical appearance and value as a person are inextricably linked.

Danielle also writes for her own blog, Experimentations of a Teenage Feminist

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  • Autumn La Tour @ at 12:36 pm, August 29th, 2011

    I totally agree women and teens girls are escpecially put under constant pressure of being “perfect” in society’s eyes. On the “size 0″ will make it big. They dont take into account that there are differnt types of skinny as well as body types. Books like these are degrating and foolish.

  • Miriam @ at 10:50 pm, August 29th, 2011

    I love this post; it’s one of the best responses to this book I’ve seen thus far. Like you said, it’s unfortunate they couldn’t have just written a book about making healthy choices and learning to love your body.

  • Ashley @ at 11:03 pm, August 29th, 2011

    Does the plot show her as joining a soccer team and losing the weight that way? From the reviews I read, the actual story doesn’t sound as bad as the title. The only thing bad about the story is that it focuses on her trying to fit into a dress. The rest of the story seems to be more about making the healthy choices. But the title of the book would have people to believe otherwise.

  • My Problem With “Maggie Goes On A Diet” | fbomb | losingweightwomen.com @ at 1:56 am, August 30th, 2011

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  • Danielle B. @ at 10:24 am, August 30th, 2011

    Miriam – Thank you!

    Ashley – I agree that the book doesn’t show Maggie losing weight in an unhealthy way (if she is, in fact, just eating better foods and exercising). What I don’t like is the difference in how the book portrays Maggie when she’s fat and when she’s skinny.

    By casting her in a negative light when she’s heavy (i.e. unpopular, unattractive, a victim of bullying), I’m afraid that’s going to gives kids the wrong message. Heavy kids may feel bad about themselves; other kids may feel that it’s socially acceptable to make fun of bigger kids.

    But yeah, I think people who are saying the new title of this book should be “Maggie Develops An Eating Disorder” are dramatizing a bit. As far as I can tell she’s losing weight in a healthy way, it’s just the social circumstances that tick me off.

  • Danielle B. @ at 10:26 am, August 30th, 2011

    *I’m afraid that’s going to “give” kids…

    Sorry for the typo!

  • Miriam @ at 11:06 am, August 30th, 2011

    Yeah see, the thing is, there are plenty of heavier kids and teens who aren’t all that miserable about their bodies. They’ve accepted it (or, if not, they’re taking steps to lose weight). Being reminded via this book that fat people are unpopular losers won’t exactly be pleasant.

  • Anna @ at 1:04 pm, August 30th, 2011

    Also, this book is based on the victim blaming ideal. According to the book’s message, it is Maggie’s fault she is being teased. When she does become thin, those same kids are almost put into a hero light as they become Maggie’s friend, saving her from the bullying (or just ignoring her because of her size) that those same kids initiated in the first place.

  • Allie @ at 3:21 pm, August 30th, 2011

    I’m all for helping kids get healthier! As a former fat girl who is losing weight, I was tormented my whole life growing up, even from my own family, and wish I had the self esteem to eat right and exercise; because being big is not an excuse to eat nothing but junk food and not move around. I think they should change the title from diet( a really bad word in my book) to Tina get’s healthy and finds out who she truly is! When you are positive, you will automatically attract other people. It isn’t so much that she was unpopular because she was fat, it was because she was negative about herself, which let others be negative towards her as well! I didn’t learn this till I was 21 when I started losing my weight starting at 380 and I’m now 270! I can feel my bodies difference and I feel way more alive and positive then I was before!

  • Allie @ at 3:28 pm, August 30th, 2011

    I also want to add, I understand the pressure for girls (and boys) to be thing and I’m not advocating thin=beautiful and popular! I’m talking about if you want to be loved, you must love yourself first. When you are positive, at any size, you will attract people. I don’t think this book will cause kids to have an eating disorder, but the title is really what I have a problem with. The girl is eating her feelings from what I saw in the video, and that is not healthy either! Been there done that! From what I saw she was changing that eating habit and disorder, or at least that’s how I perceived it, but I could be wrong.

  • Allie @ at 3:28 pm, August 30th, 2011

    * to be thin, sorry about that!

  • Alexa @ at 6:57 pm, August 30th, 2011

    That last sentence is marvelous, Danielle.

  • Kevin @ at 4:33 pm, September 7th, 2011

    I would suggest another book for children. “Bradley The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Eating” is a fun way to teach young children the importance of a healthy life style and how to make a positive change in their life though healthy food choices, productive play and exercise with an “I can do it” attitude. The more positive information and awareness that is out there will all serve to help in the fight against childhood obesity!

  • Plop @ at 5:23 pm, September 23rd, 2011

    Popularity and Fame. It’s what women are supposed to want, right ?
    They could do the same with a black girl in a white world, or with an intellectual girl in today’s society, for what it matters !
    If fatness of a kid is a problem, it should be solved by the parents without making the kid guilty (e.g. eating more vegetables in family dinners, finding the kid a sport to do…)
    I really don’t think the word ‘diet’ is appropriate in such a case !

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