Dieting has become the great American pastime. Ladies Who Lunch have been replaced by Ladies Who Do Pilates. And it’s nearly impossible to run into another woman and not hear some permutation of “You look great! Have you lost weight?” So I wasn’t surprised to see Dara-Lynn Weiss’ essay in Vogue this month (text not online) about how she put her “obese” 7-year-old daughter Bea on a strict diet. Just when you thought the mother-daughter dynamic couldn’t get more complicated now we have mommy-and-me (or in this case, just “me”) dieting. Weight Watchers, in this case, was the precursor to the age-old mommy-daughter fashion show.
I also wasn’t surprised to see the backlash against the socialite Weiss. While I think she was going for “honest” she came off as entitled, narcissistic and stunningly oblivious to Bea’s plight. After Bea loses 16 pounds – just in time for her Vogue close-up shot! – Weiss writes, “Only time will tell whether my early intervention saved her from a life of preoccupation with her weight, or drove her to it.”
I don’t know that she needs time to tell that actually, as demonstrated by this mother-daughter pep talk:
” “That’s still me,” [Bea] says of her former self. “I’m not a different person just because I lost sixteen pounds.” I protest that indeed she is different. At this moment, that fat girl is a thing of the past. A tear rolls down her beautiful cheek, past the glued-in feather. “Just because it’s in the past,” she says, “doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.” “
And yet I appreciated the essay because Weiss is a perfect example of our modern mixed-up relationship with food. What she wrote gets enacted in countless households and we can’t challenge it if nobody talks about. I think this shows that so often parents are every bit as confused, scared and misinformed about health as the kids they are supposed to be teaching.
Here’s my big question: Why did nobody ask little Bea why she was overeating so much in the first place? Barring the rare illness or disorder, 7-year-olds usually overeat for a reason like loneliness, boredom, lack of education or not knowing how to deal with difficult feelings. Considering Weiss writes about how Bea was taunted for her weight at school, I’m guessing she did (and still does probably) need someone to talk to more than she needs someone holding her nose to the dietary grindstone. And why did Bea’s pediatrician simply tell Weiss to “do something” about the girl’s weight when it’s clear most adults don’t know what to do themselves? Lastly, it’s been my experience that kids generally grow out before they grow up. Girls especially are known to put on weight right before a growth spurt. It’s just biology.
However, the question raised by the essay can’t be ignored and is one a lot of parents face. What do you do with a child with eating issues (whether it’s over eating or under eating or anything in between)? I don’t have all the answers but I’m pretty sure it starts with spending more time with them, setting a good example yourself (Weiss writes about denying her daughter a cupcake at the party and then hiding and eating two herself or “letting” Bea have a piece of cake so that she would have permission to eat one too), and letting them know that your love is not conditional upon what they look like or weigh. (No fat shaming! Especially with kids!!)
And probably not writing about it in Vogue. But considering Weiss just got offered a book deal to write about her daughter-diet dilemma, as one NY Mag writer put it: “There’s only one possible bright side to this maternal travesty: Years from now, when Bea is in therapy, she won’t have to waste those early sessions explaining herself because she’ll just be able to hand over that article [and book] and say, “SEE WHAT I HAD TO DEAL WITH?””
What do you think about this essay? Is this just a case of good intentions gone awry or is Weiss our generation’s Mommy Dearest? Do you have any advice for helping children with eating issues?