An unhealthy view of health

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By John Pawlak

Maggie walks down the sidewalk and pretends not to notice the disapproving glares or to hear the snickering.
She sits in the back row of the classroom in the hopes of not being seen.
When asked to go to the board to work out a problem, she declines and pretends not to know the answer. Better to be considered stupid than to be considered at all.
Maggie’s a fat girl and in the world of discrimination she is a constant target of ridicule, abuse and disdain. She’s a fatty, a chubby, a porko, a thunder-thighs. She’s a big fat disgusting pig! With increased social awareness centered around sexual and racial discrimination, it astonishes me how cruel some people can be to the overweight.
Even your worst bigot will usually pretend to ignore a minority and keep racist comments and jokes to a whisper and only after the other person is out of earshot.
But overweight people don’t need superhero abilities to hear the hurtful comments thrown at them. Discrimination against fat people ranks as one of the most rank practices in our society. And women are targets of this abuse far more than men.
And so like many others, I was outraged to see a news story about a book being published next month, “Maggie goes on a diet,” the tale of a 14-year-old girl who goes on a diet, loses lots of weight, and becomes the school’s soccer star. After being bullied by classmates, humiliated and ostracized, Maggie realizes that she and she alone is the cause of this problem. Yes, it’s all her fault and if she wants people to treat her decently, she needs to shed 30 or 40 pounds.
The author, Paul Kramer (who himself is overweight) feels that it’s important to teach our young girls that unlike the egos of men like himself, popularity does not come in large sizes.
Amazon designates this book as written for reading levels of “4 to 8 years old.”
Yes Paul, the problems of society can be averted if we can convince 4-year old girls to diet. We need to educate kindergarten girls that acceptance and self-worth comes not from what you do or how you treat others, but rather the size of your dress.
The book cover shows a very overweight young teenager looking in a mirror, holding up a Cinderella-style pink dress.  She sees herself as a thin smiling confident girl, poised and ready to live a harmonious life, one in which she gets invited to parties, asked out on dates by great looking guys, and of course in which she gets to sit with other thin kids and enjoy a happy and productive life.
Put away that Twinkie and become one of the beautiful people! Spit out that pizza and the boys will come running! Don’t scream for ice cream and we’ll scream your name as we vote you in as this year’s prom queen!
The sad fact is, child obesity is a very real problem. Lots of people with fancy letters after their names profess to know the cause of this national epidemic.
Kids eating too much. Kids eating the wrong foods. Too many processed, sugared, hormone-laced foods in convenient packages. Too little physical activity. Genetic and hormonal factors. Socio-economic factors.
I’m certainly not an expert in nutrition (and neither is Kramer) and I could stand to lose a few pounds (well, more than a few), but the real issue here should be health. Whether or not little Maggie suddenly finds herself the center of attention, suddenly invited to parties by her new girlfriends, enjoying the fame as a star soccer player, a line of boys begging for her favor, the issue should be her health.
Kramer would have kids in kindergarten believing that your waist size, and not your character, determines your value. Even sadder, many people will support Kramer and buy his book, reaping him profits for his distorted view on what makes for a happy child.
Personally, I’m looking forward to the sequel, which we will find on bookshelves by early summer. “Maggie Develops an Eating Disorder.”

John Pawlak
Los Alamos columnist