The media has been rife with sentiments of castigation and full blown disgust over an article published in the April edition of Vogue. The article in question entitled Weight Watcher, recounts Dara-Lynn Weiss’ year long chronicles of putting her then seven year old daughter, Bea, on a rigidly strict diet because she “had grown fat”. While some pooh-pooh Vogue magazine for many seemingly insensitive pieces (who could forget the backlash that ensued after an article last year glorified Syrian First Lady Asma Assad with fantasy like composition??), I commend the magazine for their attempts at providing women with multifaceted views on issues that extend the boundaries of fashion and style. This particular article however, is an exception. It is not the fact that this mother decided to transfer draconian like principles when dieting her seven year old that irks the most, rather it’s the implications that the abrasive and extreme behavior will have on her daughter’s relationship with her body and with food, and how this extreme behavior reflects on our society as a whole.
Let me acknowledge a self-known bias first and foremost. I have never been on a single diet in my entire life. You realize the word diet is just die with a t at the end, right? Diet was a yucky and bad word in our house growing up. The word diet was frowned upon not unlike piercings and bad language. My mother believed and still believes in a passionate love affair with her own body, where she as the occupier of her skin has the responsibility to put healthy foods into her body and stay active and fit with a mandatory daily dose of exercise. That mentality has transferred and stuck with my sister and me. Here are two things I know based on my own experiences: 1. My sister and I are just about the only girls I knew growing up who were raised to view our bodies, exercise and food in this way, and 2. My sister and I are just about the only women I know who do not diet and who have absolutely no complaints about our body images. Coincidence? You be the judge. I guess you have a hunch of where I am going with this.
Weiss, also known as Mom of the Year, does not attempt to conceal her own life long struggles with food and weight. In her own words, Weiss summarizes extreme measures to controlling her body size by confessing, “Over the last 30 years, I’ve been on and off Weight Watchers, Atkins, Slim-Fast, LA Weight Loss, Jenny Craig, juice diets, and raw-food diets”. She is not quite finished, “In my teenage years, I dabbled in the occasional laxative or emetic, and once fainted at a summer program in Vermont after three days of near fasting”. Wait, she’s still not done, “In my 20s, I begged a doctor friend to score me the prescription appetite suppressant fen-phen even after it was found to cause heart-valve defects and pulmonary hypertension”. She’s still not done by the way, but I decided to spare you the exhaustive additions. With these admissions, it becomes clear that Weiss’ adamant efforts to control her daughter’s weight are fueled by her own issues with body image and food. But does this not coincide with the accords of too many women we know in this society? How is it that American society hosts such a confused binary when it comes to body image and food? On the one hand we are obsessed with diet fads to help us achieve an unattainable body image, and on the other hand we are simultaneously bombarded with temptations to consume large amounts of dangerously unhealthy foods. It’s no wonder we are the most obese nation in the world, we are confused!!
Although Weiss’ tactics are indubitably intense, we must not ignore the fact that her seven year old daughter Bea was declared by her pediatrician as fitting the medical qualifications for an obese child. And therein lies the quandary. While waiting for Weiss to describe how she upped the level of fitness and exercise in Bea’s daily activities in order to help stabilize her weight, I read and read and didn’t come across such a revelation. Until alas on the third page a whopping total of two sentences were devoted to Bea’s occasional karate classes and her summer swimming excursions that took place once a week. That’s it? So it seems, keeping fit and staying active is not as high on the priority list as say depriving Bea of dinners because she exceeded her calorie intake before supper. Other strategies to help Bea lose weight? “I once reproachfully deprived Bea of her dinner after learning that her observation of French Heritage Day at school involved nearly 800 calories of Brie, filet mignon, baguette, and chocolate. I stopped letting her enjoy Pizza Fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week. I dressed down a Starbucks barista when he professed ignorance of the nutrition content of the kids’ hot chocolate whose calories are listed as “120-210″ on the menu board: Well, which is it? When he couldn’t provide an answer, I dramatically grabbed the drink out of my daughter’s hands, poured it into the garbage, and stormed out”. Classy.
While I don’t doubt that Weiss’ intentions come from a good place, I can’t help but feel a sense of misery for this young girl who will now live the rest of her life having a dysfunctional relationship with her body and food. Hell, her chances of having a functional relationship with her body and food were already shot living in this society, but her mother has now damn right made sure of it! But Weiss assures us Bea is doing just great by confirming, “Incredibly, she has not yet exhibited symptoms of intense psychological damage”. Indeed, Weiss continues to note that, “that fat girl is a thing of the past,” and “we’ve celebrated with the purchase of many new dresses and a trip to the salon to get her feather hair extensions”. Lovely. And just as you begin to feel any sense of empathy for Bea, Weiss swiftly manages to revert your attention back to herself by expressing that this whole experience has been emotionally difficult for her as well. “It is exhausting managing someone’s diet, especially when her brother has completely different nutritional needs, resulting in multiple dishes at every meal. It is grating to have someone constantly complain of being hungry, or refuse to eat what she’s supposed to”.
I will always be one of the first to acknowledge that obesity in America and especially amongst the youth is a real epidemic. But in my opinion, this epidemic rises from a seriously dysfunctional psychology within the culture in terms of how we relate to food and our bodies. Instead of obsessing over the foods we eat and feeling guilty for eating them after we have done so, we should be working towards a new understanding of a healthy lifestyle. This article exacerbates the issue by introducing such dysfunctional behaviors for girls as young as Bea who are not yet developed enough emotionally or physically to understand the implications of extreme dieting and the harm it could have on their psyches.
In case you haven’t grown as sick to your stomach as I have reading about Weiss’ extreme diet parenting, you will get the chance to read an extensive review thanks to her…wait for it….landed book deal! (Barf).