Many of you are aware of a book that is in the process of being published called “Maggie Goes on a Diet”. TEPF Advocacy Group decided to contact the author to express the many concerns we and others have about the book. The group was disturbed by the book’s content, illustrations and overall message. TEPF volunteer, Hallie, took on the project with the help of TEPF Advocacy Group members. We hoped for, but did not really expect, a personal reply. To our surprise, the author did reply with what seemed like a canned response that was unsatisfying and unacceptable which included these words; “I am the author of, “Maggie Goes On A Diet”, … It is a children’s book written in rhyme intended to entertain. One of my major goals was and is to inspire children of all ages to exercise and eat healthy nutritious foods.”
However, in addition to the canned reply the author asked Hallie and the group to review the book, which he had attached, and to send him our comments. We were thrilled when the author responded to the letter we sent with the news that he has changed the title of the book and addressed some of our concerns by making changes in the content of the book.
This is advocacy at it’s best!
The back and forth with the author went like this (from beginning to end):
Dear Mr. Kramer,
As someone whose life has been directly impacted by dieting and eating disorders, I am writing to express my concerns of your soon-to-be-released book “Maggie Goes on a Diet”.
According to the plot-summary of your book, the main character Maggie “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.” The plotline, title and cover illustration (“Maggie” gazing into a mirror while holding up a dress smaller than her body, viewing a thinner version of
herself) of your book stand to perpetuate these harmful myths: when a girl loses weight she becomes happier; there is a ‘normal’ size; dieting transforms a person; people of various shapes, weights and sizes can’t be a star soccer player; and wearing a smaller dress is a laudable goal for a young girl. I find it especially concerning that you define the “Maggie” on the cover of your book as “extremely overweight”. You cannot tell if someone is overweight or normal, let alone “extremely overweight”, just by looking at them. By defining “Maggie” as “extremely overweight”, your book serves to increase stigmatization and discrimination based on body-size. Since you also published a book on bullying, I call your attention to be more aware of the harm in judging someone on their outward appearance. A teenager from Michigan recently took her own life after being teased about her size. She was not overweight, but kids teased her for being “not skinny”. It is important to teach children, and adults, that what is a normal size for one is not necessarily normal for someone else. Healthy bodies come in varying shapes and sizes.
While childhood obesity is an issue in our country, bullying based on body-size, dieting and eating disorders also wreak havoc on millions of Americans. According to the FREED Act, the Federal Response to Eliminate Eating Disorders, between 4 and 20 percent of young women practice unhealthy patterns of dieting, purging, and binge eating; eating disorders usually appear in adolescence and are associated with substantial psychological problems, including depression, substance abuse, and suicide; for children 12 years of age and younger, hospitalizations for eating disorders increased by 119% between 1999 and 2006; and body dissatisfaction in young girls has been shown in White, African-American, Hispanic, and Asian girls. It has also been shown that dieting is one of the leading pre-cursors to developing an eating disorder. With Eating Disorders being the deadliest of all mental illnesses, I hope you see why I feel your book’s implied messages are dangerous at best, lethal at worst.
I encourage you to reconsider publishing this book. I also encourage you to speak with experts in the field of eating disorders to create a new book that teaches kids a non-diet approach to healthy living, as well as size-acceptance. In doing so, you can still accomplish what seems to be your intended goal – helping the nation’s most vulnerable population: our youth; and you can do it without causing them harm.
I look forward to your response.
It is very obvious that you are a very caring person and that you have spent a lot of time and energy putting together the email you have sent to me.
In the book, it does not say nor do I profess that If a girl or a boy loses weight they will automatically be happy.
However, it is my personal opinion they should be happy and pleased with themselves for shedding unwanted extra pounds which would definitely make them healthier and better able to physically function.
In this book I also do not profess that if one goes on a diet and loses weight they will become a soccer star or a hero or that all their problems will disappear.
If you would like me to send you a High Resolution PDF File of both the front cover, back cover, and interior of the book, will you then critique the book objectively with an open mind and then share your feelings with me after you have read the book? Please do share any positive thoughts if any and any negative ones that you might have after reading the book.
What are your thoughts on my proposal?
Dear Mr. Kramer,
Thank you for your thoughtful response to my email. I would be happy to look over the book, and to share my knowledge on alternatives to “dieting” that could also improve health and overall wellbeing. I believe we certainly have the same goal in mind, which is to encourage children to make decisions in the best interest of their health and wellness. I hope that my looking over the PDF and giving both positive and negative feedback will be helpful in some way.
Please review attachments.
Please be aware this book is not a diet book. It is a make believe story to entertain.
I look forward to your non biased views.
At this point the EPF Advocacy Group combed through the book to offer their suggestions to Mr. Kramer. After a couple of weeks they combined all their edits and Hallie sent them to Mr. Kramer.
Hello Mr. Kramer,
I apologize for how long it took me to get back to you, but I wanted to be sure to address your book in a very thoughtful and thorough way. I discussed the issue with a group of advocates for eating disorders and obesity prevention, and I have attached the letter we composed. I also attached a copy of international professional guidelines for childhood obesity prevention for your information.
I look forward to hearing from you regarding your reaction to our feedback. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Thank you once again for taking so much time and effort to get together with a bunch of people to discuss this matter in depth. I appreciate the response letter that you have attached. It is obvious to me that there was much time and effort spent into putting the letter together and as a result of your letter and other previous recommendations I have decided to make a number of changes in the book.
The first is that I will offer a new title for those who are offended by the word diet. This title will be called “Maggie Eats Healthier”. After the first week of her positive lifestyle change Maggie was able shed a few pounds. There is no number given. From the beginning of Maggie eating healthier to the end of the book, Maggie lost way under the maximum amount of weight recommended to be both realistic and to sustain that weight loss. Maggie is only sometimes sad about the thought of giving up most junk foods but is happy and surprised that she discovered that many healthier foods actually were quite tasty and that made Maggie glad.
The word diet does not appear in this book, the word thin or skinny or slim does not appear in this book.
I wish to challenge you on one part of the statement you made in you response to the book and that is that I used the word fat repeatedly in the book. Other than the first page. There is no other reference to the word fat throughout the rest of the book. On the fourth page, first line it is stated that, “Maggie was teased and made fun of just about every day at school”. Next sentence, “She was called fatty and chubby and other names that were very cruel”. I believe her response was clever and appropriate. After that every line on every page was used in a positive, encouraging, and deserving manner.
I do believe there will be many who were against this book previously who would now endorse this book as it is now written.
I would be happy to send you a copy of this newest version of the book but would like to talk with you on the telephone first to share some other things that would be more difficult and time consuming through the email process.
My telephone number is XXX-XXX-XXXX. I am 6 hours earlier than EST and 3 hours earlier than West Coast Time.
If you pefer you can email me back with your telephone number and a good time to talk.
And that is how brilliantly advocacy can work!
A BIG congratulations to TEPF Advocacy Group and THANK YOU to Mr. Kramer for listening and responding in a positive manner!
Everyone can make a difference. And it all begins by using our voice.