The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Girls, diets, books, authors, and responsibility.


Let me preface this by saying that I am a writer myself, and I don't believe in censorship, but in the freedom to write what you wish.  Writers write for many reasons: because we're obsessed with it, because we want fame and notoriety, because we need a paycheck.  Every writer has their own reason.  And in this age of blogs and other forms of self-publishing, it's not that difficult to get your work out there (and even make some money or a name for yourself), even if none of the big publishing houses choose to pick up your work.  But Paul Kramer did get picked up by a publishing house, and it's caused quite a stir.

Kramer wrote Maggie Goes on a Diet, which is about a 14 year old "chubby" girl who is constantly being teased and bullied by her classmates for being overweight.  To try and make herself feel better, she raids the refrigerator, but ultimately goes on a diet and starts exercising.  As she becomes thin, she also becomes popular, and the star of the soccer team.  Maggie Goes on a Diet will be released in mid-October.

I believe that writers--as well as anyone else--have the right to say what they want.  However--to quote from Aaron Sorkin's screenplay, The American President
You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.
In short, true freedom of speech means that not only do you have the right to say what you wish, but you also must allow others the right to say what they wish.  This includes their right to criticise your work.

When I write these blog posts, I try very hard to present a balanced viewpoint.  I try to see all sides of the argument, and present multiple sides; I know that very few issues are actually black and white.  To use the previous post (written by Junior Girl Miriam Musco), "Poledancing for fitness" as an example, I can absolutely see why people are outraged.  For better or for worse, pole dancing has become linked with strippers and sex, and we don't want to associate that with young girls.  On the other hand, though, it doesn't have to be associated with stripping/sex, but if I think that it is, I assume you think it is, and so  I assume everyone associates it, and everyone does.  Now they think that a girl who pole dances is a slut/stripper/tease/prostitute/daughter of irresponsible parents, because of the bandwagon effect that society has.  I think pole dancing can be an excellent fitness routine, and fun.  I think it's completely fine that girls be allowed to try it, but I also think that perhaps a) the studio shouldn't have posted pictures of the girls and b) maybe now is the time for the parents of those girls to explain why society thinks girls learning to pole dance is inappropriate.  And hey, maybe some minds can even be changed in the process.

I don't think controversy that surrounds Maggie Goes on a Diet is any different.  There is a good message in the book: eating healthy and getting exercise helps build self-esteem.  But it seems to be lost behind the message that if you're a girl,  being fat is bad because it makes you unpopular, while being thin makes you popular.  I think that girls should be encouraged to eat healthy and get exercise--I think all of society should be encouraged to do that!  But I can't sit back and watch a middle-aged man (who's a little "chubby" himself) essentially tell girls that fatties aren't cool.  Girls are so prone to eating disorders at his targeted reading age (grade and middle school), and it doesn't take much to push them over the edge, potentially causing life-long self-esteem, health, and body issues.  Additionally, there are some thoughts that restrictive pre-pubescent dieting can restrict normal growth.  But parents are responsible for teaching and setting healthy diets and activities for overall well-being, not for popularity's sake.

I won't argue that writers have a responsibility to society.  At best it's a disingenuous argument, and at worst, censorship gets involved.  While those in the limelight, be they politicians, actors, writers, or the generic "celebrity," are scrutinized, and often held to a higher standard simply because they're famous, I don't think it's fair.  I'd like to see everyone set a better example, and I'd love it if those in the limelight did adhere to the highest possible standards, but it's not going to happen.  Part of the peril of fame is that people scrutinize and criticize your actions.  And when unhealthy messages are being sent to the most vulnerable among us, I think we have every right to stand up and say something.

For a video about Paul Kramer's Maggie Goes on a Diet, which includes some of the text (which, as a writer, I think is hokey and not very good, but that's a different issue), click here.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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