Maggie kicks some ass

Young girls are now more likely to become weight-obsessed robots completely withdrawn from their own feelings because a well-known (and fictional) child dieter has inspired them to do so. Not everyone, however, is happy with this development.

At one time in my life I didn’t eat for nearly six months.

It was a medically-supervised fast offered by a local hospital for a mere $1,200 dollars a month, which at the time was equal to of my rent. My parents, having seen me struggle with fat my entire life, offered to sponsor me in my effort to get healthy. They had no idea that my recent significant weight gain was due to the fact that I was coming out of an eating disorder and my metabolism and emotions were all screwy. Yeah, I didn’t mention that.

Anyway, the fast was an intense program that not only included a diet of seven “shakes” (I’m looking at you, hospital. You can call them shakes until you’re blue in the face, but they are ‘the Devil’s spit’ and we all know it) per day, but mandatory group therapy, as well. Once a week, you arrived at the hospital, sat in group for two hours, and took home a week’s worth of shakes. No therapy? No shakes. Miss more than one session and you were out of the program.

My experiences on the program could fill a book (hint, hint) but, for today’s purposes, let’s talk about something interesting that I learned in therapy.

Everyone in our group of twelve women lost weight at a different rate. While we were free to talk about anything in group (and, boy howdy, did we!), we were gently discouraged from comparing weight loss. We all had different goals, different bodies, different challenges, and our journey would unfold differently (therapy talk!) from the person sitting next to us.

That was all well and good, but how much goshdarn weight did you lose this week people?!?

But back to the “something interesting.”

Week after week, as each of us became less of ourselves, one subject, inevitably, kept popping up in group: we all still had problems.

“Of course,” you might say, “We all have problems.” Yes, but here’s the (chub)rub…many overweight people think that their problems are because they are fat.

Bad boyfriend? Fat.

Treated poorly at work? Fat.

Parents don’t love you enough? Fat.

For some reason, we’ve been taught to believe that the world would be a magical place, if we only looked different. Exes would lament breakups. Middle school bullies would Facebook friend us just to apologize for ‘oinking’ in our general direction during math class. Construction workers would catcall, doubly, to make up for all of the times they suddenly fell silent upon seeing us. Wrongs would be righted.

But none of that happened. In fact, everything was pretty much the same, but we were smaller. Those of us who were plagued by bigger issues still had all of the emotional baggage, but without the familiar, comfy blanket of fat that we felt kept us safe from the world.

And each and every one of us, in our own time, were genuinely surprised.

Self-published children’s author, Paul M. Kramer, has written a new book, scheduled to be released in October. Joining his body of work, which includes such iconic titles as Divorce Stinks, Do Not Dread Wetting the Bed, and Louie the Lobster Mobster, will be Maggie Goes on a Diet. Through and an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America, I learned that “Maggie” is about a fourteen-year-old girl (though Amazon lists the reading level as “Ages 4-8” and according to Barnes and Noble it’s “Age Range: 6 to 12.”) who is overweight and mocked by her classmates, but dreams of achieving popularity, wearing cuter clothes, and becoming a soccer star. Through a series of smart choices regarding diet and exercise, Maggie slims down and all of those dreams come true.

Empowering isn’t it? The possibility that someone could change everything, including a bully’s perception of her, through determination and willpower? Or is it, instead, problematic to imply that the unkindness is somehow the victim’s fault?

Sample pages from the book show the bigger Maggie, with her head in the refrigerator at night (we all know this is how fatties get fat), and healthy-eating (but still overweight) Maggie, enjoying a healthy breakfast, while dreaming of a pair of cute jeans. Even the cover is an illustration of chubby Maggie holding up a pretty pink dress, clearly too small for her, while looking in the mirror and seeing a slimmer Maggie for whom the dress is just the right size.

The author says he wants children to learn to eat healthy and “do exercise,” but I think the “Goes on a Diet” part of the title is flawed. Even “Changes Her Diet” would be more effective and less controversial, in my opinion. Little (presumably) girls don’t need to “go on” diets. They need to learn to make smart decisions about their bodies in every way. Yes, that includes what they eat and how they move but also hygiene, sexuality, and exercising a very important part of their body: the brain.

Maybe the childhood obesity epidemic would be better combated with a whole body wellness message. Teaching children (and adults, frankly) to respect themselves enough to treat themselves well rather than to feel ashamed of who they are seems a heck of a lot healthier, doesn’t it?

As for the message that an attractive body is the key to happiness? I, and at least eleven other women, can tell you that is not the case. I lost 75 pounds before my boyfriend left me for another woman, my job went down the toilet, and I had a huge falling out with my parents. Being thin didn’t prevent these things, because being thick was not the problem.

As someone who is overweight, I suggest that if your child is struggling with self-esteem issues you spend lots of time with them telling them how proud you are of everything they do. And take them for a walk. And feed them good foods. And, just perhaps, pick up a copy of my self-published children’s book Maggie Challenges Chubby Old Author To Wrestling Match…and Wins.

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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. ugh. being a fattie is difficult on many, many levels. being a fatty while thinner people, who do not gain 10 pounds at the *thought* of a milkshake, encourage you to lose weight is just depressing. i don’t know what maggie’s deal is, but i know mine is my mother. her words of “encouragement” make me want to eat every double cheeseburger in a 5 mile radius. this reaction is, of course, not healthy. maybe homedude should write a book about maggie what happens when maggie regains all that weight she lost and is struggling to lose weight, yet again. it never ends for some of us and something tells me that little miss maggie will spend just as many years shopping at lane bryant as she will the gap.

    off to eat a carton of ice cream, because, you know, that’s how fatties get fat.

  2. Judi Crenshaw on said:

    If only Barnes and Noble and Amazon would have some standards and not carry what seems to be a truly irresponsible book. It goes against what thinking moms try to teach their kids – on so many levels.

    I take straight-to-heart Jen’s and the commenter’s remarks about how very complicated and difficult a path it is for those struggling with weight. Jennifer’s last paragraph is the BEST ADVICE EVER!

  3. I read this four days ago and I’m still thinking about it. How very true. Great article here.

  4. awesome piece – my parents put me on a diet when I was 12, after some pointed sniping about “June is busting out all over”. Puberty weight-gain became the albatross that I *still* carry around my neck to this day.

    I was so thin in my mid-20s (living on cigarettes, Stoli, and brie will do that for a girl) that my skin was sagging … and I thought I was fat. I thought I was fat at 30. Looking at pictures of myself taken then make me wonder what kind of fun-house mirror I was looking in all those years.

    Now that I *am* fat, for realz, thanks to middle age and menopause, I’m still struggling to figure out how to change what I see in the mirror.

    You nailed it with the suggestion that kids – EVERYONE – would be better served by messages that encourage wellness and playfulness around food and exercise. But that’s not a product you can package and sell in a consumer society. It’s ever so much easier to create fear, and then sell the silver bullet.

    That bullet usually turns out to be really made of tin … hammered out in China.

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