No child should be reading a book that has the word “diet” in the title, especially when that book conflates weight loss with attractiveness and personal happiness—hell, no adult should be reading that book, but I can’t tell you what to do with your life.
But alas, this world is full of things that shouldn’t be. Maggie Goes on a Diet is a new book for 6-12 year olds about a 14-year-old girl who—you guessed it!—goes on a diet, loses a bunch of weight, and thus finds happiness. This book has been raising a lot of ire (check out the tags on Amazon.com), and for good reason.
The book’s description says that Maggie starts to eat healthily and becomes a soccer star (both of which are great things for kids to do). So does the cover show her eating fruit, preparing food, exercising, or playing soccer? Nope!
That’d be putting way too much focus on activities rather than bodies, so instead the cover shows a fat little girl staring into a mirror holding up a dress that doesn’t fit her, dreaming about her thinner reflection. (Side note: I used to do that all the time at the height of my disordered eating. Coincidence? Doubt it.)
And check out this line: “More and more people were beginning to know Maggie by name. Playing soccer gave Maggie popularity and fame.” Besides a super awkward rhyme (sorry bro who wrote this, but no wonder you’re self-published), I’m horrified by the message here. You’re nothing til you’re popular, right? And what better way to popularity than to lose a whole bunch of weight?
Alright, that last thought might be a stretch. After all, it’s playing soccer that gives Maggie her popularity, not her new “normal-sized” (whatever that means) physique. But when you’re 6 (or 12, or 14, or hell, even 16 or 18 or 25) and the book is about dieting instead of, you know, playing soccer, it’s pretty hard to differentiate what really made you popular: Is it because you scored a goal, or is it because you’re not fat anymore? Would kids still like you if you were a fat soccer star? If you weren’t “normal”?
And this, for me, is the crux of this issue: I wish that there were children’s books that focused on how awesome exercise is, how delicious vegetables are, how much fun it is to run around and climb trees, and how good your body can feel when you eat a lot of whole foods. I pine for that book. Maggie Goes on a Diet is not that book.
Maggie Goes on a Diet is a book about all the things you can do once you’re not fat anymore—make friends, wear a dress, play a sport. It takes the emphasis off of what kids do—how they play, what they eat—and puts it instead on how much they weigh. It makes eating and exercising not about health, but about fitting into particular clothing. In a country where at least seven million women have eating disorders, which often start in adolescence, that’s not just harmful, it’s violent.
[Ed. note: About-Face Executive Director Jennifer Berger was interviewed about the potential harm of Maggie. Check out what she had to say over at Healthline.]