Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Maggie Goes on a Diet: A Book Review

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!


E. Peterman said...

This is a great post, Heather. I haven't read the book, but I couldn't agree more about the danger of implying that weight and popularity are intertwined. Yeah, we do live in a society that is extremely hard on overweight people (I should know), especially girls. But even in high school, I knew several people who were heavy AND popular. Focusing on health is definitely the way to go.

Amaris said...

Heather, this subject has been on my mind a lot lately, because my niece (age 9) is working very hard to lose weight. She is dangerously obese and needs to lose the weight, but I've been trying to emphasize to her that she needs to do this to be healthy, not to be accepted by her peers. That losing weight will not make her a better Brianna - she's already wonderful - but a healthier Brianna who's able to run, play, and have lots of energy to do fun stuff. It's hard though, because honestly, if you're too big, nobody wants to play with you at recess - and she naturally sees losing weight as a way to get approval. :(

Anonymous said...

It’s a nice post! Thanks a lot for sharing your ideas with us! I hope to read your future post as they help me a lot through the knowledge and ideas that you impart to us readers! More power to your site.

Chest Chiseling Workout

Anonymous said...

It’s a nice post! Thanks a lot for sharing your ideas with us! I hope to read your future post as they help me a lot through the knowledge and ideas that you impart to us readers! More power to your site.

Chest Chiseling Workout

David said...

Heather --- very good points. And right now, working with our middle school girl's volleyball team, I'm fighting the exact opposite. I have so many girls who have decided that the best way to 'look great' is to not eat at all! We have daily conversations about the importance of providing the correct fuel to your body, especially when you're playing a high energy sport like volleyball. Weight is such a problem with so many of our young people and it's time we start addressing it!

Healthy Heather said...

Thanks y'all. I know the reality a lot of time is that kids find greater peer acceptance when they are thinner, and that's frustrating. I wish that we could put the focus on the longer-lasting benefits of health. One blog at a time! :)

steena said...

Wow, I totally forgot about the book Blubber! I did read that when I was a kid!
That's too bad Maggie goes on a Diet turned out to be a dud. I agree with you that it's sending the wrong message. I used to think stupid things like that, "If I was skinny people would like me". That's bad. Especially bad when a child gets that message.

Healthy Heather said...

I'm going to be actively seeking out programs and resources that send the RIGHT message about weight loss. We do have an obesity problem with kids, so pretending like it's okay to be overweight is not the solution. It's not okay. But,the reasons to lose weight don't have to make you feel worse about yourself! Imagine the power that kids could have if they experienced the value of good health early in life!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post! Thanks a lot for sharing your ideas with us!

angeles pampanga hotel