Children’s diet book sends wrong message

By Lauren Vincent

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Courtesy of Amazon.com

An upcoming children’s book caused controversy recently after being advertised on Amazon.com prior to its release. The book, “Maggie Goes on a Diet,” is aimed at ages four to eight, according to Amazon.

Amazon.com describes the book like this, “This book is about a 14-year-old girl who goes on a diet and is transformed from being extremely overweight and insecure to a normal sized girl who becomes the school soccer star. Through time, exercise and hard work, Maggie becomes more and more confident and develops a positive self-image.”

Sure, being overweight can make kids unhappy and have low self-esteem, and that’s a problem. But the book places the blame on the overweight kid, when the problem is that society teaches us to ostracize overweight people. Instead of a diet book for kids, I’d like to see a book against bullying. Maggie’s weight is not what is wrong here, but those who made her feel bad about it are.

People have urged Amazon to remove the book but they have not done so, which makes sense in the interest of free speech. One can only hope that no parent buys it for their child in the hope that it will help them and not exacerbate his or her insecurities, which is more likely. Let’s also pray that the age group given as the targeted demographic is a mistake, because I’m pretty sure 4-year-olds aren’t supposed to be on South Beach or Weight Watchers. Children ages four to eight usually eat what their parents give them, so giving them a book that says “you’re fat” while controlling what they eat anyway seems like bullying to me.

Sometimes a child really does need to lose weight due to health reasons. But the girl in this story decides to lose weight because she is made fun of. After she gets thin, everyone likes her and everything’s better. Teaching kids that in order to fit in they have to change things about themselves is an upsetting message. Children are awesome in how unafraid they are to be themselves, why take that away from them?

Also, some kids have health issues that make them gain weight. This isn’t their fault. This book puts all responsibility on a kid’s shoulders to lose weight. Many kids need help to develop healthier habits and feel better about themselves, and that’s okay because they’re kids. As a kid, this kind of advice would have made me feel alone in the battle and not encouraging.

If the book is actually aimed at 14-year-olds, the age of the main character, there is a whole other set of concerns. This is an age where kids already feel pretty awkward and unattractive as it is, and a book telling them that they’re fat is not going to make things much better.

We don’t need further perpetuation that a person’s self-worth is determined by her appearance, and we certainly don’t need that message aimed at children. It’s almost as if they’re saying she didn’t deserve a positive self-image when she was overweight – actually, they’re pretty much saying that outright.

When I was growing up there was a book about puberty that was extremely popular in my elementary school. It was aimed at girls and had illustrated pictures of pre-teens of all different sizes, and preached that everybody is different and supposed to be that way. More messages like this are what a kid needs, not one that tells her to go on a diet so she can be normal like everybody else and no one will make fun of her anymore. It is body shaming, even crueler than usual because it’s aimed at kids.

Linking her positive new self-image to her weight is messed up. Perhaps she feels better because she’s part of a team and excelling at a sport, not because she weighs less.

If the author truly wrote this book in order to help kids become healthier, why call it a diet? Call it “Maggie Eats Healthy Food and Joins a Soccer Team” or something. Not catchy enough? Then don’t write the book. Leave it up to health experts and educators.

The book is set to be released in October. For the sake of kids of all sizes, everywhere, I hope it will not sell a single copy. Being a kid should be carefree, and not one child should have to stress about their size without the help of their parents.

Lauren Vincent is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]