Bitch Radio: Following Up on Maggie Goes on a Diet

For this week’s episode of Bitch Radio, I spoke with Bitch Media’s Library Director, Ashley McAllister, about her blog post last week on the forthcoming children’s book Maggie Goes on a Diet. Ashley and I discuss fat positive kids’ books, some reactions to the book, and share some recommended reading. You can read Ashley’s From the Library posts every week!

a screenshot of an ABC news video of the book Maggie Goes on a Diet. The spread features Maggie, a chubby white teen, happily eating a bowl of cereal while imagining a pair of jeans. The news caption accompanying it reads Controversial Diet Book: Sending the wrong message to girls?
A still from ABC’s coverage of Paul Kramer and Maggie Goes on a Diet

Stream the interview above, subscribe to the podcast from iTunes or RSS, or download it from Download a .doc file of the podcast transcript here.

In this podcast:
From the Library: Maggie Goes on a Diet [Bitch Media]
Fat-Positive Children’s Books, Part One [Shapely Prose]
Children’s Diet Book Criticized for Hurting Body Image [The Frisky]
Size Matters: Your Big Fat Reading List [Bitch Media]
And read more by Tasha Fierce at Bitch, Sex and the Fat Girl, and Red Vinyl Shoes
Bitch Media Book Clubs

Got more recommended reading? Leave it in the comments!

Previously: From the Library: Book Club Podcast // Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy, Bitch Radio: Talking with Rebecca Yee About Hollywood and Diversity

by Kjerstin Johnson
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Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

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3 Comments Have Been Posted

I just read the transcript of

I just read the transcript of this, and it's pretty creepy. I've also read the other article about this book just now, but I'm posting here. I started having body image issues at about 12 or 13, and a book like this would have devastated me. Confounding the fat issue is the bullying issue. This book seems to be suggesting that if you are bullied, the solution is to change yourself to fit the bullies' standards. Promoting self-esteem indeed.

Marge Gets An Eating Disorder response to children's diet book "

<P>@Copyright September 2011, Size Of My Life Inc.</P>
<P>By: Karen Cigna</P>
<P>Marge’s mom called to her that it was time to get up and get ready for school. Marge wondered “How come her mom did not know, although Marge always told her, that Marge woke up every day at 5:30 a.m., a half hour before her parents’ alarm clock went off every morning?” Marge answered her own question “Because my mom never hears anything I say.”</P>
<P>In fact, not only did Marge wake up every day at 5:30 a.m., she had the same conversation inside her own head every day. It went something like this: “Today, I do not want to wear the jeans and shirt hanging on the handle of my closet, which I settled on after two hours of trying on all of my clothes last night, and deciding, that I looked fat and ugly in everything I own! Why do I have to take after my dad’s family? Mom says the fact that I have a small waist and that I have bigger thighs and a bigger butt than most of my friends (which she also describes as my being “bottom heavy” or “pear shaped”) is, unfortunately, something I will always have to worry about, being short at five feet and three inches. BTW, which means by the way, whenever she says this, which is at least once a day, it makes me want to scream !</P>
<P>Yesterday, I asked Mom to please, please, please take me shopping for some new sweaters, because the boys in school, had been saying “Large Marge, we love your tight sweaters, the tighter the better for those boobs on the move”. Really, what is their problem, I am only a thirty-four “B” cup, is it my fault my boobs popped out before most of the girls my age. Besides I know I do not wear my sweaters too tight, because I pass mom’s and my dad’s inspection every morning, and they are the first to tell me that my boobs look too big, if they do in a particular sweater. In fact, dad will usually say something like this, if he thinks something makes my boobs look too big “Ellen (my mom), does Marge need a better support bra, because that sweater is doing nothing for her upper body.” Mom, tells dad and I she is not taking me shopping until I lose at least five pounds , because she refuses to buy me a bigger size in clothing.</P>
<P>This is so annoying, when did everyone become obsessed with the size of my body , including me? It seems like all my parents used to talk about was my school grades, what number grade I received on a test, and whether or not I was going to make Honor Roll, now all they talk about is “Marge that outfit makes you look like you have a stomach roll, and what do the numbers on the scale say you weigh?” My mom loves to remind me “Marge, remember you can never be thin enough or smart enough.”</P>
<P>The girls in gym class say that I am so lucky to be one of the first to have boobs and need a real bra, not just a pretend, training bra. My soccer coach overheard them saying this when we were in the locker room changing for practice, and yelled at all of us, that she “ Would rather hear us talking about the size of our soccer skills, instead of the size of our bodies, to finish changing, and hustle our butts to the field.”</P>
<P>Coach also says that I am the best forward on the team, I have a strong and powerful kick, and that if I spent some time running, on my own, every day to get my stamina up, I would be the strongest player on the team. She says I need more focus. I guess I know what she is talking about, as to the focus thing, I spend too much time on the field comparing my body to every other girls’ on the team, that I miss too many chances to make a goal. It is almost as if I am moving down the field in a fog, until I hear everyone screaming “Marge you got this one, let’s score!”</P>
<P>That’s it my mother, my father, the boys at school who call me “Large Marge” (whether it is because of my boobs or not) the girls in school, who are so skinny and have no thighs, butt, or boobs, and always talk about how fat they are (they must really think I am “Large Marge”) and my soccer coach are all soooo right I am soooo fat, and I am starting a new diet today. I am making a list of what foods I can’t eat on my new diet. I will not eat any carbohydrates, or as mom says “carbs”. Especially bread or pasta (mom always talks about how much weight those foods make her gain whenever we eat them, although I never see a change in her body after she eats them). Definetly, positively, no chips or candy, even right before soccer practice, when most of the girls are having one of these snacks. No French fries, hamburgers, pizza, cookies, cake or ice cream. No peanut butter and jelly on a bagel for breakfast, no pancakes, French toast or eggs and bacon on Sunday mornings. No milk, especially chocolate milk, no bananas, nuts, cheese or anything else fatty.</P>
<P>“Marge, hurry up your breakfast is getting cold”, mom calls, as I finish brushing my hair. “I am not very hungry this morning mom”, I say, because if I skip breakfast, think of all the calories I can skip as I start my day, I will be so ahead on my diet!</P>
<P>On the bus I sit next to my best friend Lizzie. She weighs the same as me but is five feet seven inches, which just because of her height makes her so much thinner than me. I tell Lizzie about my new diet, the list of foods I will no longer be eating and my plan to only eat a salad and diet soda for lunch. “Marge are you kidding me?” she says, “What are you going to eat, you basically just made all the foods served in the school cafeteria at lunch, off limits. You will be starving by the time we have soccer practice!” I say “That’s the point! Think of all the calories I will burn from starving all day and then during soccer I will burn even more calories, not having eaten more than a salad today.”</P>
<P>Lizzie, goes on to say “Marge I think you are making a big mistake, my mom always talks about eating everything, but listening to your body, eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full.” I say “We’ll see, all I need to do is lose five pounds and then my mom will buy me some new sweaters”. I say that as I think “Lizzie and her mother do not know what they are talking about , after all, they are tall, but my mom is always dieting and is always hungry. In fact, she says if she ate what she was hungry for she would be as big as a house.”</P>
<P>At lunch I and Lizzie and a few other friends of ours from the soccer team eat together. I buy a salad without any dressing and a diet soda. Lizzie has a chicken cutlet sandwich, with mayo on a roll, that her mom made for her, a snack bag of ruffles chips, a water and an apple. I eat every drop of my salad, and Lizzie is right I am starving. I watch Lizzie eat, and amazingly she seems to eat half of everything her mother packed for her. “Marge you want some of my lunch?” Lizzie asks. I say “No, You eat it.” She says “Are you sure, I am full, I do not want any more, I am going to throw it away, if you do not want it”. All of these words seem like a foreign language to me. In my house there is never talk about being full or not wanting any more food. The talk is always about how much we should or should not be eating, and what we should or should not be eating. I have noticed that not only does Lizzie talk like this, but so does her three year old brother, her mother, her father and her older sister. I wish I could be like Lizzie and her family when it comes to food, but I have the curse of the “pear shaped” family.</P>
<P>It is time to change for soccer practice, I look around at the girls in the locker room, to see who is the fattest and I am sure it is me. I look at how flat everyone’s stomach looks, and I think , a few more weeks of salad and that is how my stomach will look. I keep this thought in my head as I watch the girls all share their pre-practice snacks. There are so many different choices, granola bars, raisins, chips, grapes, starbursts, but I am not having anything. We hustle onto the field. I am really trying to keep my focus on the game, but half way through practice my stomach is grumbling, and it is starting to hurt. I tell myself, that this is good, my diet is working. I am also so much more tired than I usually am at practice, and I miss a possible goal. The coach makes me do an extra lap around the field at the end of practice. She says it is “So I can focus on my “lack of focus” during the game”. Lizzie is waiting for me in the locker room, she offers me some Gatorade, no thanks I say. “Wow”, she says, “You are really sticking to this diet of yours.”</P>
<P>I feel so proud of myself, it makes it easier to watch all the girls drinking Gatorade and eating snacks after practice. We get on the school bus to go home, and my stomach feels so empty, I love this new feeling. I start trying to figure out how I can eat as little food as possible for the rest of the day, and especially at dinner. Even with soccer practice, I will still be home before my parents, and it is my job to start getting dinner ready. I will make a deal with myself to not eat anything before my parents get home, instead I will make a list of things I can do instead of eat. I will: start dinner; set the table; do my homework; pick out clothes for tomorrow; pack my backpack; and clean my room, and then and only when my parents come home, I can eat one serving of that part of dinner that has no carbs, or fat. It is three weeks and I have been doing everything I started doing on the first day of my diet, three weeks ago. I have lost ten pounds. Mom said we could definetly go shopping for new sweaters this weekend. I am so happy, I wanted to lose five pounds but now I have lost ten pounds! Mom and dad say I should keep up the good work, which is a little confusing because I thought I looked good at this weight, but maybe they are right maybe I should lose more weight. All my extra running is helping also. I now get up at 5:00am and run until 6:00am so I am home just in time to hear mom’s alarm go off. Everyone seems really happy for me, except for my best friend Lizzie. She wants me to stop losing weight. What is up with that? Is she jealous?</P>
<P>Lizzie says “Marge, I know losing weight was important to you, I thought you looked great before you went on this diet, but if you wanted to lose weight I understand, but now that you have, please eat something other than salad for lunch, and please eat something, even if it is fruit, before and after soccer practice. I tell Lizzie “You are so dramatic, I am fine”. It is two months since I started my diet and I have lost seventeen pounds. My mom is so excited she can’t wait to take me shopping. My dad is calling me “Skinny Minnie”.</P>
<P>All I know is, I need to buy some really warm clothing, because although it is May, I am cold all the time. I have a chill I cannot get rid of. I am not sleeping well at night. I dream of eating candy and ice cream, I am so afraid if I let myself taste candy, chips or ice cream I will not be able to stop eating. However, I seem to be tired all the time and fall asleep in class. I was dizzy the other day at soccer practice and fell down . Lizzie is convinced I fell because I am dizzy from not eating, she could be right, but I will never tell her that .</P>
<P>I have to get changed for soccer practice we have a big game tomorrow against our biggest rival so everyone is pumped up for a good practice. I take my place as a center forward, at the center front line, and I have the ball, I am passing it to Lizzie who is immediately to my right, and then everything goes black. I wake up on the side of the field, with all these faces looming over me, and coach holding something in front of my nose, which I later find out is smelling salts. I try to sit up too fast and I get dizzy and start to throw up, but nothing is coming up, which I guess makes sense because I did not even eat a salad today. The coach tells me to take it easy and just rest, an ambulance is on its way, and I say “No. Coach I am fine, really.” Coach says “Marge, I am telling you do not move, this is the second time you fell at practice in the same week, Lizzie told me you were dizzy the other day, and today you passed out cold. You will go in an ambulance to be checked out .”</P>
<P>I am so mad at Lizzie right now, what a snitch. Lizzie mouths sorry, as the ambulance attendants take my blood pressure, which they tell coach is extremely low for my age. Coach rides with me in the ambulance to the hospital. I feel really scared, but I am not sure why. Then I realize, I am afraid that at the hospital they are going to examine me and they will know about the fact that I have been taking laxatives, because I stopped going to the bathroom, and my stomach felt so bloated. Will they be able to tell that two weeks ago, I could not take the starving anymore, because I am so weak and have no will-power and that I binged on boxes of cookies and bags of chips and then made myself puke. What are they going to see, figure out, know? What will they tell my parents, who coach called to meet us at the hospital? I am sitting on a hospital bed and wearing one of those backless hospital gowns. The emergency room doctor finished his examination of me, and said “Marge, I see you have lost seventeen pounds in s short amount of time”. All I can think is “Oh no, he knows”.</P>
<P>All of a sudden I hear the emergency room doctor is telling my parents that my electrolytes are extremely low, which is most likely caused from anorexic behavior or starving , as well as bulimic behavior , binging and puking. He picks up my hand and points to the knuckles of my pointer and middle fingers, where he shows them the evidence of the skin scraped away by my teeth , which is caused when I stick my fingers down my throat to gag myself until I puke. He examines my teeth and explains that he is checking for signs of the tooth enamel being worn away by the stomach acid that comes up with regurgitated food. He says since there does not appear to be much, if any, enamel worn away on my teeth, I am probably only in the early stages of bulimia. My dad says that’s good then isn’t it?”. The doctor says there is nothing good about bulimia, it is like being pregnant, you can’t be a little pregnant or a little bulimic, you either are or you aren‘t. He indicates that although my weight is not so low as to require hospitalization he recommends immediate counseling with an eating disorder specialist. He talks about the fact that he has seen too many girls start out on a diet and die. He points out that the word DIE-t, actually contains the word DIE. The nurse give us all types of pamphlet s on “eating disorder awareness”, including a pamphlet about exercise bulimia. My mother is crying, my father keeps saying don’t worry “Skinny Minnie” we will get you help. The nurse who is giving us the pamphlets says sir, “I hate to intrude, but calling your daughter “Skinny Minnie” and putting an emphasis on her body size is not in her best interest”. My father , of course, tells the nurse to mind her own business.</P>
<P>Coach is in the waiting room, and my parents tell her what the doctor and nurse said, they also tell her they can’t believe any of this is true, after all, what is wrong with a little dieting. Coach says that she has had some concern for me, she has been noticing the weight loss, the refusal to eat or drink anything before or after practice, as well as that I am less focused than I have ever been. She explains she was hesitant to define what was going on as an eating disorder because she knows from experience that if a student has an eating disorder, a coach or teacher “ labeling” it as such, usually makes the student reinforce the disordered eating patterns, as they refuse to admit anything is wrong. She further explains that not only does the student revert into denial, the parents usually follow suit. She goes on to say she agrees with the doctor and the nurse and is suspending me from the team until I get a doctor’s note that says I am receiving treatment for my eating disorder and I am both physically and mentally, healthy enough to engage in the sport. Specifically, coach informs us that she is sending me to Ms. Lively, the school guidance counselor, who will help me coordinate my treatment plan. My parents are furious at coach and so am I. Mostly, I am furious at Lizzie, she is the one who snitched to coach on me.</P>
<P>The next day I go to school and everyone is talking about the ambulance, and my passing out. The boys are actually saying it was “Large Marge’s boobs on the move that tipped her over and made her pass out” Yes, even with my weight loss, my boobs, are big as far as the boys are concerned. I am told to report to the guidance counselor instead of going to gym. I have seen her around, she is beautiful, I would not say she is thin or fat, she seems just the right size for her. Some girls say she should lose weight, and others say she has a hot curvy body that men love. All I know is she always has a great smile, wears such nice clothes and looks so comfortable in her own skin. When I walk into Ms. Lively’s office, she says please take a seat Marge. She asks me if I want some bottled water, I take one and say thanks. She asks me if I like being called Marge or do I prefer Margie. The funny thing was I never thought about it before, but the truth was I felt like Marge sounded too old for me, I liked Margie. She said Margie, I would like to help you work though your eating disorder. I said “Thanks but I do not have an eating disorder”. She said I understand you do not want to admit you have an eating disorder because first of all you do not want to acknowledge you have a problem and secondly, you do not want to give up the behaviors of starving, then eventually binging and vomiting. She gave me a test to take home , a test about an eating disorder! She asked me to read through a list and see how many of the things on the list I related to. All I could think was “Are you kidding me, as if I do not have enough to do between school and soccer practice, now I have a take-home test?” Then I realized ,right now, I did not have soccer practice I was indefinetly benched.</P>
<P>The next day on the bus Lizzie asked me if I was still mad at her, and I said yes. I did not talk to her on the bus, and instead did my “take-home eating disorder test. I was surprised to see how many things on the list applied to me. I still did not believe I had an eating disorder, but I was starting to think I wanted to know more about this eating disorder thing. At school Miss Lively asked for my test, and we talked about how many things on the list applied to me. Then we talked about eating disorders being deadly. At first I thought she was just trying to scare me, but the more I heard the statistics, I started to believe maybe this is really a big problem, for a lot of other people, not me, but for a lot of other people, especially young girls. I met with Miss Lively like this twice a week. During the times we met we talked about a lot of different things. First we talked about the fact that before I dieted I may not have been considered “skinny”, but my body size was within a healthy range for my height. We talked about the fact that I often felt uncomfortable about my sexuality and the changes my body was undergoing as a result of puberty, especially, since the boys made fun of my breasts, and my parents seemed to always be scrutinizing the way my breasts and body were changing.</P>
<P>We talked about my mother’s preoccupation with her own weight, as well as mine, and Ms. Lively suggested that just because my mother valued appearance above all else maybe, just maybe, I did not want to believe my value as a person was solely based on my appearance. We talked about my trying to love myself and be my own friend and I came to realize just how mean, violent and self-destructive bulimia was . I told Ms. Lively how I envied Lizzie and her family, because they seemed to have such a “normal” relationship with food, in that they ate when they were hungry and stopped when they were full, and were not overweight. Ms. Lively explained, that this is how she, herself eats, and that there was a time when she, also, did not believe it was possible. She continued to explain that if I choose to see food as just food and not as comfort, fun, a reward, a way to deal with boredom, being sad, being mad, or being happy, it would be easier to start noticing when my body was physically hungry and when it was physically full. During one of these two weekly meeting we would eat lunch together, and she taught me how to take time to taste my food, and decide if I really like what I was eating. She taught me I did not have to treat my body like a garbage pail, and that I could stop eating if I did not like something or was full. That it was more of a waste to eat something I was not hungry for than to throw it away. She taught me to trust my body and my hunger, and to know that I was not going to be this out-of-control person stuffing and gorging myself if I truly listened to my body and it’s physical hunger. As I started to eat again, without puking, and as I included a nutritious food plan, I noticed that I was no longer freezing all the time, nor was I dreaming of food. All of a sudden it was the end of June, and the school year was coming to an end.</P>
<P>Ms. Lively, gave me some assignments to do over the summer including seeing an eating disorder specialist. She said she was hoping to be able to help me get back to active status on the soccer team in September. On the last day of classes before the summer vacation Ms. Lively called me into the office and asked me to eat lunch with her one last time. After we ate she gave me a box, wrapped in paisley paper. When I opened it here was a box and the box had writing o nit that said “The size of my life is not defined by the size of my body. The key to the size of my life is knowing and voicing what is in my own heart .” Honestly, it sounded a little corny and sappy to me, but the box was pretty, it had stickers all over it that said things like courage, dream, love, adventure, breathe, laugh, dance, sing. Ms. Lively said I should open the box. Inside there was another box, a smaller one , the size of a jewelry box, and when I opened it there was a silver key on a chain with the words “Size Of My Life” inscribed on it. It was very pretty. I said thank you, although I was not sure what all of this meant. Then Ms. Lively said, Margie, I know you have had a hard year, and you came here and confided in me about your secrets and I want to share a secret with you, when I was your age, fourteen, I also started out to DIE-t , and I ended up with an eating disorder similar to yours, and it took me a very long time before I realized that no matter how small the size of my body was, and no matter how small the size of my clothing was, after I starved and whittled my body away, I was never happy in my own skin, until I learned to love myself from the inside-out. Ms. Lively continued on to say “Maggie I am so proud of all of the hard work you have done, and will do this summer, so I wanted you to have the, very, key I had made for myself, when I first recovered from bulimia, to always remind myself that I would no longer define the size of my liife by the size of my body". I gave Ms. Lively a hug, I could not believe she trusted this secret and this key to me, but I felt very special.</P>
<P>Ms. Lively will always have a special place in my heart because she helped me to learn how to eat all over again. She helped me to learn to look at myself as being more than just the size of my body. In fact, over that summer, with my eating disorder specialist, I learned that my body size was just one part of me. I decided that I would not define myself by the size of my body but by the size of my life, which included everything I loved, my friends, my family, school, soccer, my ability to laugh and make silly jokes. My eating disorder specialist, also helped me to realize part of my extreme behaviors with starving , binging and puking were because I did not know how to communicate what I really needed and wanted from my parents, when I did not want them to be talking about my body and judging it as if I was not even in the room, and that controlling food was the only way I felt any sense of control over all the changes around me, my body and my life. I also learned that my starving caused my metabolism to slow down and made it difficult for my body to digest and release the normal waste products, and that is why I found myself needing laxatives to go to the bathroom. I was also warned that abuse of laxatives could literally cuase my sphincter muscles to lose the ability to work. OMG (Oh My God)! that may have been TMI (Too Much Information)!, but I guess I needed to know it, so I would no longer hurt myself I stopped comparing my body size to the size of other girls, including my best friend Lizzie, and I saw people as being more than the size of their body, I thought of them by their smile, laugh, ability to fake-out an opponent on the soccer field and make a goal.</P>
<P>The following September, when I saw Ms. Lively in the hall way I finally, understood why she looked so comfortable in her own skin, because she valued herself from the inside-out, and you could see it in the way she walked and smiled. My soccer game was never better, because I ate in a healthy way that allowed me to have all the energy I needed for soccer!!! Lastly, when the boys called me Large Marge, I just focused my anger on dribbling that soccer ball straight down the field, and scoring a goal, instead of focusing my anger on myself and my body.</P>
<P>NOTE TO PARENTS: Our children are at a higher risk than ever for eating disorders. DIE-ting is often the road to DIE-ing. We have an important responsibility to our children, each other and the world at large, to teach and encourage a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and body image , which is life-giving. If your child is gaining weight consider the fact that their brains and bodies are not fully formed yet, and that any food choices you may be encouraging should provide for proper nutrition and balance. Look at your own relationship with food and your body, and consider just what you are teaching your children about how you feel about your body, yourself, their body and them. By Karen Cigna @Copyright Septmeber 2011, Size Of My Life Inc</P>

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