Friday, 19 August 2011

Maggie, aged 14, goes on a diet

Gretel Hallet, is a
Trained Chocolate Fairy and is running the Getting Started half day workshop in Norwich - perfect for beginners to experience the core principles of Beyond Chocolate and equally great as a refresher for any Beyond Chocolater. If you live in East Anglia and want to know more about Beyond Chocolate or her workshops, get in touch with Gretel.

A book encouraging young children to lose weight will be released in the US later this year.

‘Maggie Goes on a Diet’, by Paul Kramer, tells a story of a 14-year-old overweight girl who - according to the blurb - “is transformed from being extremely overweight and insecure to a normal sized girl who becomes the school soccer star”.

Maggie is shown as a chubby girl looking into the mirror. Staring back is a slimmer version of herself, holding up a tiny pink dress.

Aloha Publishers LLC, pitch the book on their website as an inspirational tale for children.

They add: “Through time, exercise and hard work, Maggie becomes more and more confident and develops a positive self image.”

There is so much wrong with this book that I hardly know where to start.

The eponymous heroine of this book is not apparently celebrated for anything that she is or does before she goes on the diet – losing weight is credited with making her more confident and giving her a more ‘positive self-image’. Not only that, but she becomes the star of her school soccer team. I know of no earthly reason why a chubbier child can’t have confidence in him/herself and/or be a star on a soccer team. Dieting isn’t guaranteed to suddenly change a diffident, shy, un-sporty person into a self-confident, successful sporty one. What it is guaranteed to do is set poor Maggie up for a lifetime of self-loathing, yo-yo weight gain and loss and associated health problems in the future. Maggie may well be a thoroughly delightful young lady who loves her family, is good with smaller children, has a reading age higher than her own age, enjoys cycling round her neighbourhood, has a wonderful singing voice – you name it, but Maggie isn’t praised for any of the things that are truly praise-worthy in her character. The only focus this book has is on the fat that Maggie has on her body and how that isn’t acceptable and how she must get rid of it.

And who decides what's overweight anyway? We are all different body shapes and sizes and what may be too much on one person is just right on another. Also as we grow up, the distribution of fat on our bodies changes and that's a natural process that shouldn't been messed up by dieting.

Maggie is FOURTEEN YEARS OLD. 14 years old. Still two years away from even the earliest age she can be considered an adult in England. At her age I was a slightly feral rather tomboyish girl who enjoyed competing with boys at climbing trees and never wore dresses, particularly NOT tiny pink ones ... I know we can all look back at our childhoods with rose tinted spectacles, but really a child of 14 shouldn’t be put on a diet – I don’t often use imperatives, but this is one I’d use very happily. A 14 year old girl should NOT be put on a diet or be made to be worry about what she looks like either – if I had my way, no woman would worry about it either. If Maggie wants to play soccer, then let her play soccer, regardless of her size or gender. Encourage her to play and enjoy playing – and don’t whatever you do mention her shape, size or weight because it really doesn’t matter.

This book is aimed at teenage girls. As any eating disorders organisation would tell you, concerns about weight start younger and younger with children barely out of nursery school worrying about being fat. I support books for teenage girls that explain puberty, sexual relationships of all sorts and how to cope with the stresses of exams – but under no circumstances would I support a book aimed at getting girls of 14 to go on diets. I really think that the current obsession with obesity has gone much too far when it causes publishers to think that books like this will be successful.

I hope for Maggie and all the other Maggies out there that this book will be a massive flop and that they can enjoy their childhoods unencumbered by worries about the fat on their bodies – and by how they look in general. I hope that teenage girls can learn how to become women without the attendant obsession with body shape and size and current belief that we all need to be on diets and re-shaping our bodies with frequent exercise. I hope that girls of all ages can learn how to enjoy moving in whatever way suits them best without linking it to weight loss. I hope that girls can enjoy their food without worrying about calories, fat etc.

I am very glad that I never encountered a book like this when I was 14 years old.


  1. What i did encounter was a 1000 calorie a day diet I made my life a misery with it when I was 13!It was in 'Jackie' and I learnt the calorific value of everything..I still cant look at Heinz Tomato soup without thinking 300, have something else!This set me on a course of yo- yo ing for decades...

  2. My five year old niece was weighed and measured at school and her BMI was over weight so the school sent a letter home. Many parents would laugh it off or complain but my sister-in-law has her own issues, including eating disorders, and now my niece is on a "no treats" diet. Not very good

  3. It's very sad and just shows how much damage people can do even if they think they have the best intentions - the road to hell is paved with good intentions ...

  4. Paul Kramer's intentions might have been good, but conveyed the wrong way. Children are visually captivated by images. Healthy eating can be taught more positively in a fun storybook such as, Frujunga Gets Spiced.

    For example, I didn't know what an eggplant or head of spinach was until I was 17---- because mom never cooked it. With a book like Frujunga Gets Spiced, children learn to question various fruits and veggies their parent may have never introduced. As parents prepare more healthy meals, children will learn to be healthy by parental example.

    Out of a child's curiosity for taste, their parent may begin to add more healthy varieties to the table. The book, Frujunga Gets Spiced, educates children using positive characters like Applelue, Banana Anna an so on. The book is sold on Amazon.


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