August 18th, 2011

A diet book for six-year-old girls: the worst idea ever?

The Guardian

Next month, Maggie Goes on a Diet hits our bookshelves. Is there anybody who thinks this is wise?

Fancy putting your daughter off her food? Then buy her Maggie Goes on a Diet, a children’s book aimed – according to Barnes & Noble, one of the many booksellers on whose website it is currently listed – at six- to 12-year-olds. It has been written and self-published by Hawaii-based author Paul Kramer, whose previous titles include Do Not Dread Wetting the Bed, in which little Cynthia “chases away the pee-pee monster”; and Louie the Lobster Mobster, in which a criminal crustacean gets his comeuppance.

The book tells the story of 14-year-old Maggie, who according to its blurb “is transformed from being overweight and insecure to a normal-sized teen who becomes the school soccer star”. It’s not out until October, but so disquieting is the cover image that perhaps we may, in this case, allow ourselves to judge the book by it. Maggie is depicted as dumpy, pigtailed, wearing an unflattering jumper (has nobody told her that wide lateral stripes aren’t a good look when you’re carrying a few extra pounds?), staring into the mirror, presumably dreaming of a thinner self who will one day wear the tiny pink prom dress she’s holding wistfully to her chest.

We tried contacting Kramer but he was not available to comment. On children’s book blog TreasuryIslands one commenter said: “It’s not even slightly appropriate for the age group they’re aiming it at,” and tags such as “body fascism” and “give your children neuroses” have been added to the book’s Amazon listing.

Perhaps in Hawaii it’s perfectly OK to read a book to your highly impressionable six-year-old daughter about a teenage girl, at the prime age for developing anorexia. Presumably Kramer has written the book with the best of intentions – as a means of addressing America’s childhood obesity crisis. But a week after the Advertising Standards Authority banned the children’s clothing website from stocking girls’ T-shirts carrying the slogan, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” to hear that this book will be hitting the shelves seems bizarre.

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