As a middle grade author, I believe books for kids have the power to instigate meaningful and immediate change. That’s the reason I wrote TAKING UP SPACE—the story of a seventh grade basketball player struggling to feel good about her body and herself. This book is based on my experience overcoming struggles with self-worth, body image, food, and disordered eating—or compulsive dieting, restricting, binging, and a preoccupation with food and body.
Although disordered eating is rarely talked about, since it isn’t a medical diagnosis, it’s very common. About half of kids over 8 years old want to be thinner, and they feel better about themselves when they’re on a diet. My hope is that TAKING UP SPACE will give everyone who is struggling the chance to recognize they matter and their pain is real and they deserve to get the help they need. Also, I believe TAKING UP SPACE can help put an end to diet culture. We live in a society that prioritizes weight, shape, and size over actual well-being. And we have for almost a hundred years. These values are so deeply ingrained in our everyday lives that it can be hard to recognize them. We’ve been made to feel, and also taught to believe, that people are more or less healthy (and thus worthy) based on the way their body appears. When in reality, you can be healthy and also unhealthy at any size. And you can’t necessarily know if someone is healthy just by looking at them.
In the middle of the pandemic, our societal struggle with food, body image, worth, disordered eating, and diet culture has become clear. The priority has shifted to “helping” kids drop the “Covid-19,” over actually helping kids process what they’ve been through over the past year mentally and physically. This means creating space for kids to express how they are really feeling, validating those feelings without dismissing, diminishing, or trying to talk them out of their pain, asking what might help them to feel supported moving forward, and exploring the possibility of professional mental health support. TAKING UP SPACE is a chance to unpack all the mixed messages about bodies and food and worth that we are fed every day. If you let it, TAKING UP SPACE will help stop the cycle of diet culture for the next generation. Gatekeepers—teachers, librarians, educators, parents, and adults—please share TAKING UP SPACE far and wide. Please read it for yourselves. Please help to end diet culture. Our health depends on it.
Alyson Gerber is the author of the critically acclaimed, own-voices novels BRACED and FOCUSED published by Scholastic. Her third novel TAKING UP SPACE is in stores now. She has an MFA from The New School in Writing for Children and lives in New York City with her family.
Visit her at www.alysongerber.com. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alysongerber and on Facebook @alysongerberbooks.