If only parents realized how deeply their pressures and comments affect children. While parental concern attempts to avoid future problems for many good reasons, their nagging and insistence can create life-long anxieties and obsessions. What child hasnt at some time felt inadequate in their parents eyes? What parent hasnt been tempted to criticize their childs appearance? Doing so once or twice is understandable, but multiple years of loving nagging can create insecurities and emotional conflicts.
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things deals with eating disorders, self-doubt, family issues, self-mutilation, sexual situations and date rape while telling the story of an overweight teenage girl grappling with self-esteem issues and a growing sexual awareness. Some profanity and sexually explicit references and descriptions further encourage controversy and attract challenges. But, if we could listen into our childrens thoughts, we might hear some of these concerns bouncing around. I've been known to accidentally eavesdrop on granddaughters and young employees--they understand more than we expect.
My parents, as I remember, were overly concerned about my not looking feminine and that my tomboyish habits would never attract male attention. (I know, today thats no big deal but it was for my mother and possibly her generation.) At the same time I knew a young girl who was always overweight as a child and her mother was constantly on her case about dieting and exercising to drop pounds. She criticized everything about her and now as a mature woman she is still working hard to please her parents and win their approval. Some children develop excellent coping skills and eventually see these comments for what they really are intended for, but some dont and it affects their entire lives.
Carolyn Macklers book, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, portrays a plus-sized 15-year old girl facing multiple issues that can occur in an adolescents life. Virginias considerably overweight and feels discriminated against by classmates and teachers as well as her perfect-looking parents and siblings. Shes struggling to develop a romantic relationship with a classmate. Her best friend just moved all the way across the country. A family tragedy further upsets the dysfunctional family sending her into an additional crisis and dramatic end to a diet. (I can relate to an emotional crisis and a loving relationship with a bag of potato chips.)
Carolyn Macklers book has been challenged for a variety of reasons that includes Virginias strange ideas on how to develop a sexual relationship with a boyfriend (although she is heavy). Virginia has a collection of rules, "The Fat Girls Code of Conduct." These rules provide her guidelines that prevent her from standing out in a crowd and from being noticed or embarrassing a potential boyfriend. For example: any sexual activity with a boy is a secret and there are never, ever any public displays of affection; its important to go further than skinny girls as a way of overcompensating for appearance; never push the relationship; and never talk about weight. Weight issues are obvious, but dont encourage him to focus on it. Virginia becomes slightly interested in working through a preliminary sexual relationship, but by the time they get to second base her very handsome, perfect older brother gets kicked out of school for committing date rape. She is now convinced she never wants to have a relationship with a boy.
During this her mother, the queen of denial, the counselor who specializes in adolescent girls issues, fails miserably with Virginia. She constantly pushes her daughter to drop weight and wear mature plus-sized clothes. She acts ashamed and never invites her to social engagements. There is a lot going on in this book that many girls (with weight problems or other self-confidence issues) will understand from personal experiences.
Virginia tells this multi-layered story through first person narrative including email messages and journal entries. Her rules of conduct expand through the story and while humorous, you realize these outline her coping strategies. This should be read by parents of adolescents (or pre-adolescent). Carolyn Mackler presents a book with realistic issues and allows Virginia to be frank in her journal, her thoughts and with friends. Virginia isnt the only one with eating disorders at school. We learn reasons why her mother is overly concerned and why her mother is unable to communicate with her daughter. Readers will honestly cheer (and laugh) with Virginia's epiphany about body image and as she progresses through a coming-of-age moment.
While challenged for multiple reasons, Virginia addresses each with strength and positive solutions. She learns how to come to grips with her brothers actions. Her inner-resolve guides the queen of denial toward a healthier mother/daughter relationship. There is concern that this is too mature for teens, but there is nothing new for them in this book. Virginia becomes distressed and kicks a door and burns herself once, but learns control and develops healthier outlets. Naturally she rebels, but its always mild and the worse that she does is an eyebrow pierce and secretly buying airline tickets to see her best friend. But even with her secret trip she gets final approval from her parents. She makes valuable decisions and in some instances appears more adult than her parents.
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things provides an in-depth character study of a maturing, coming-of-age, overweight, adolescent girl and is written with a realistic plot, humor, beautiful language and in my opinion, this really is an excellent book for both teens and parents. I further recommend allowing your child to read this after you read it and then openly discuss the story. It is quite possible that we dont realize what were doing is unintentionally undermining their confidenceoften it doesnt take much. One child in this book appeared to have everything, but everything also included a serious eating disorder. Dont challenge this book, read it with an open mind to your child and your own adolescent memories and see what happens. I doubt that your children will disappoint you and you may be surprised by how articulate they can be about the issues Carolyn Mackler exposes. As someone recently said to me, this is not going to incite anyone to inappropriate behavior, but it may encourage constructive conversations.
This is a contribution to my Banned Books Week Write Off. I find wisdom and knowledge about life, in part, through perspectives provided in authors and as both a reader and parent, I feel book banning and censorship inhibit critical thinking. This is dangerous for a healthy society. Instead language and arts should be used to stimulate critical thinking and learning. While I've been known to throw poorly written and violent books across the room, I feel that most children will self-censor. I'm grateful to my book and Epinions friends for encouraging me to offer this write-off a second year and encouraging all of us to read outside our comfort zones. It's not too late to join us with your own contribution.