To get us back in the swing of things after a holiday weekend (here in the States it was Memorial Day, a long weekend), Rebecca offers up this excellent take down of a new children’s book. I love children’s fiction, as a general rule, but this is pretty much awful.
I’m a children’s book reviewer, so I read new children’s books seven days a week. It’s no surprise that many children’s books contain fatphobia. But a new picture book just came out that deserves a blog post all its own.
I Get So Hungry, by Bebe Moore Campbell, illustrated by Amy Bates. Published by G.P. Putnam, a division of Penguin (major publisher). The cover shows a happy girl surrounded by images of french fries, ice cream, cake, chicken, candy, cheeseburger. The girl’s smile is pleased and peaceful. Her eyes look a little dreamy.
This book could win Fat Hate Bingo singlehandedly.
Nikki, the school-age protagonist, is fat. Nikki’s vibrant teacher, Mrs. Patterson, is also fat. Nikki sneaks food during class because “Potato chips always make me feel better when I’m sad.” At lunch, she gobbles all the items in her lunch bag “so fast, I can barely taste them.” Mrs. Patterson also sneaks food in class, surreptitiously “shov[ing] a cookie in her mouth.” At home, Nikki’s mom serves “fried fish, french fries and soda for dinner. Every time I think about Arnold [the bully who teases her] and skinny princesses, I eat some more.”
When Nikki and mom go to the doctor, he tells them to cut out junk food. Mom lies to him and immediately buys doughnuts. (NO, SRSLY. DOUGHNUTS.)
Now the real drama arc begins. At school, Mrs. Patterson is absent. The children aren’t told why, but other teachers whisper “’Close call’” and “’Too heavy.’”
Frightened, Nikki asks her mother if they can go on a diet. Her mother laughs and says, “’We come from a long line of big-boned women. We’ll never be Skinny Minnies.’”
Then Mrs. Patterson returns to school — thinner. Too thin to fit her old clothing. She sips water all day and no longer sneaks food. She tells Nikki that her New Year’s resolution is to “’eat less and exercise more.’” Nikki receives permission from mom to walk with Mrs. Patterson each morning. While walking, Mrs. Patterson explains, “’I don’t get as hungry because I eat lots of good food…. the right things…. No sodas, no fried food, and fruits and vegetables instead of cakes and doughnuts.’” Nikki begins to cry because her mother refuses to buy her healthy food. Mrs. Patterson suggests, “what if you try to eat a little less…. And only eat when you’re hungry, not when you’re sad or angry or bored?’”
The closing page boasts a supposed triumph. The bully yells “’Nikki Thicky’” and Nikki’s friends defend her by retorting, “‘Hey, Arnold, open your eyes. The only thing fat around here is your mouth!’…. Even Arnold Inksley laughs. The sound fills me up better than potato chips.”
Let’s discuss that last page. Most obviously, happiness and social support = not needing your previous food crutch (potato chips = food crutch, OF COURSE). But on a deeper level, the way Nikki’s friends defend her is yet another slam at fatness. The actual defense — “’The only thing fat around here is your mouth!’” – argues that the bully’s mouth is fat but Nikki isn’t. The most potent way to defend your fat friend is by saying she’s not fat.
Anyone wanna play Bingo?
Fat people eat emotionally!
Fat people eat sneakily!
Fat people eat fast, without tasting!
Fat people are sad!
Fat people are unhealthy!
Fat people eat only junk food!
Fat people lie to their doctors!
Fat people don’t exercise!
Fat people could lose weight if they exercised and stopped eating junk food!
Emotional eating can be stopped on a dime!
Anyone can be thin through diet and exercise!
The old genetics excuse (remember Nikki’s mom saying “’We come from a long line of big-boned women. We’ll never be Skinny Minnies’’?) is an excuse for laziness and junk food! Supposed genetics can be overridden and were behavioral all along!
AND: Nikki, her mother, and Mrs. Patterson are all African-American.
Yes. All three of these fat females, all three of the main characters in this Fat Is Bad lesson, are African-American.
I Get So Hungry is unapologetically didactic and unapologetically anti-fat. It perpetuates the most hateful and heinous stereotypes. By conflating so many stereotypes, Campbell does all readers an egregious disservice. Fat people are cheated; black people are cheated; women are cheated; emotional eaters are cheated; HAES is cheated.
Amy Bates’ watercolors are lovely. They’re not unfriendly or otherizing. But they support the overall package, which is wrong and dangerous. Putnam and Penguin should be ashamed.
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