If you're a woman who was in middle school in the 1970s and 80s, you may remember a book by Judy Blume called Blubber. It's actually a book about bullying, but what I remember from reading it as a child was that Linda, the character being bullied, was bullied because she was fat. It was horrific to me; I felt I could relate to her because I had my own insecurities about my body. I wasn't morbidly obese, but I felt like I was, and it was miserable. Now I wish I could go back in time and alternate between giving myself a hug and smacking some sense into myself because I wasted soooo much time and energy on that.
Our society is now even more hyper-focused on our weight, and children as young as five years old reference needing to go on a diet. I am constantly making the distinction with my own son between being healthy for lifelong function, not society's approval. While I want children to have an appreication for the value and importance of weight control, I want to be very, very clear in the motivation for it: a long, energetic, functional life free from poor health and injury. Not popularity, self-worth, or peer acceptance.
That's why when a friend forwarded me this book, Maggie Goes on a Diet, by author Paul Kramer, I found myself on a fence of mixed emotions. The story follows Maggie, an overweight 14 year old girl who goes on a diet, loses weight, and becomes a soccer star as a result. The thinner she becomes, the more the other kids like her, and the more she begins to like herself.
Here's what I like about the book: Maggie does need to stop her destructive eating behavior, and she does it in a healthy way, by exercising and eating healthier foods. That's a great message, and if it had stopped there, I think it would be a glowing example of a child taking control of her health in a way that can be sustained over her lifetime.
But why does Maggie's popularity have to be connected to her size? Why does her self-worth have to increase as her size decreases? From the perspective of someone who has battled self-image for a long time, it's a potentially destructive message that could do more harm than good. If you read this book with your child, please take time to discuss these attributes, and make the point that Maggie's life is better because her body is healthier, not because she finally earned the affection of a bunch of kids who wouldn't have been her friend otherwise.
There are overweight kids all over America, and I applaud this author for addressing the subject in a way that promotes healthy lifestyles. I just wish that he also promoted healthy relationships and attitudes; let's focus the celebration on the unique rewards that come from healthy decisions alone. They are immense!
Get out there and get healthy today for YOU!