“Maggie Goes On A Diet” New Low In Books For Girls
You can wail and gnash your teeth over Twilight all you want.
“The book advocates co-dependency and being a Mormon and is also poorly written!”
Agreed – these are valid arguments. But say what you will about Meyer’s inexplicable run away smash hit – she’s created a perfect cipher physically in Bella Swan. Reading the books it is hard to glean anything other than an outline of a woman’s appearance (dark-haired, light skin) , and that’s part of what makes the book so strong – with minimal details it is easier for everyone reading it to put themselves in Bella’s shoes (unless you are ANYTHING OTHER THAN WHITE, but, you know, that’s an article for another day.) That’s what makes for, like it or not, binge-worthy fantasy writing.
To be able to transplant yourself completely into a book is a really rare and wonderful thing, to me it is a touchstone of childhood, this temporary but immediate escape into the realm of the other. It is a sacred relationship, and its foundation exists in large part due to a silent agreement of trust between author and reader – I will lead you into this world different from your own, and while things may get scary, and the worldview may be different, I will never do you harm.
That’s why Paul Kramer’s book, “Maggie Goes On A Diet“, directed towards girls ages 6 – 12 is such an atrocity. A cursory glance of the plot is all one needs – a 14 year old girl begins as a fat victim of bullying, but decides to lose weight, and in the end becomes friends with those who reviled her.
In my time as a young-adult reader, books that were scandalous or titillating were absolutely the norm. I can’t even begin to number the stories about sex with older guys I read. Even more innumerable, the books I read about girls with eating disorders. These books, for all their ‘edgy’ content, were also the literary equivalent of afterschool specials – inevitably the girl who slept with the boy when she didn’t want to got an STD or a baby, while the girl who waited until it “felt right”, was happy and successful. The pudgy girl who won her battle with bulimia was typically rewarded with a renewed love for her own body and probably a boyfriend who loves her just the way she is. While the endings I can now view as eye-rollingly simplistic, at the time they were an escape and a style of moralizing as engaging as any of the other adventures in fiction I inhaled during that time.
I cannot imagine a time more difficult in the life of a girl as the ages of 9 through 15. It is a time when everything about yourself is something to be loathed, or at the positive end of the spectrum, examined and found to be wanting.
That a book like this one can be written and then published and distributed to girls of this age is a crime.
Girls get more than enough reinforcement for the incorrect notion that they aren’t good enough in every other sphere of their lives – from television, from magazine, from movies, from clothing, and from the aforementioned bullies. To imply that losing weight will solve all your problems demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the complexities of what it is to be alive on this planet.
There should be a follow up to this called “Maggie Is Desperately Alone”, wherein the ramifications of changing who she is to hang out with people who are cruel to her becomes monumentally clear. Because that’s what happens.
Because no one is teasing Maggie just for being fat. They are teasing her because they sense her all consuming need to be loved. A sudden surcease of bread and cheese consumption will not heal up this vulnerable spot in her suddenly glossy veneer.
Kramer could – and is – arguing that the book is a helpful guide, that it is positive reinforcement for living a healthy life starting young! But this is wrong. If he wanted to do that, he’d have written a quietly non-controversial book encouraging kids to play outside. Instead, he’s advocating his own idea of a healthy life, one defined by a soupcon of misogyny. Kramer’s perfect world is one where the girls are thin and emotionally weak.
I think Kramer’s choice to make this a book directed towards girls is particularly nefarious, though I would be still be reeling if it were called “Timmy Goes On A Diet.” I also think to illustrate this book with a read-headed girl is final strike because it demonstrates an awareness of how insecure a child feels in their physical differences. By putting a redhead on the cover, they are essentially saying “Being fat is just as bad as being red-headed.” and that’s pretty fucking deplorable.
Whoops. I promised myself I’d make it through this whole thing without swearing, but fuck (twice) man – how am I ever supposed to seriously considering procreating in a world where books like this are made? How does anyone raise a strong, happy girl child? Give me my warrior princesses! Give me my fat acceptance books for kids! Give me a flying and also talking chinchilla except for maybe don’t because that shit sound terrifying now that I’ve really had the time to sit with it and visualize.
The forest of childhood is ominous enough without one more adult promoting their bullshit, harmful, agenda.