• Tue, Jan 15 2013

Notorious Fat-Shaming Mom Dara-Lynn Weiss Says You And Vogue Got Her All Wrong

Dara-Lynn WeissIf you weren’t on the Internet the day that Dara-Lynn Weiss’s now infamous Vogue article “The Weight Watcher” dropped, you missed out on the Internet equivalent of an 8.5 earthquake. The first person essay chronicled Dara’s rather questionable parenting of her then 7-year-old daughter Bea (not her real name), in which she deprived her child of dinner and publicly humiliated her over her calorie consumption — all in the name of keeping her weight down. But now that Dara’s article turned memoir The Heavy is on the bookshelves, she’s talking a lot more thoughtfully about child obesity.

Dara tells New York Magazine that you got her all wrong. She’s no Manhattan socialite. She’s not that woman who wants her tween to have waxed eyebrows and a tiny waist and be sexy. Her daughter Bea has a medical issue — one that she takes very seriously, so she says. She attests that because of her own “discomfort” surrounding body issues and diet, she was absolutely “underparenting” her daughter on maintaining a healthful diet:

“It’s so awkward to talk to a child about food and weight, that’s why so many parents don’t do it….I was very careful, in determining what was our goal was, to take the guidance of doctors and to choose a weight that was healthy but that was totally separate from any aesthetic value. I would not characterize that weight as “thin” and the fact that our goal came from a medical perspective reflected on my own fear of putting my own aesthetic judgments into this.”

Dara’s time away from the controversy apparently has given her the time to reflect on why the parenting world — among other outlets — exploded in response to her original Vogue article. Context is everything. The mother-of-two considers the packaging, the photos that were ultimately chosen, and the fact that she chose Vogue of all publications to discuss weight issues, with remorse:

First, I want to say this with total respect to Vogue — it’s a certain kind of magazine. It’s a fashion magazine. It has for years made me feel fat and ugly. But when you show up in the pages of Vogue and you look like this woman, I think readers have this idea of who you are, and why you might want to make your child thin. That was not my intention — or the result.

But the mother isn’t all regrets. Dara highlights one of the most fraught intersections of child obesity. The complex space between body acceptance and simply not parenting:

I stand by the assertion that obesity is bad, but not because it makes you look bad. Someone can be heavy and healthy and that’s great and that’s fine. In some ways, I don’t think that we should extend body acceptance to situations where the child is unhealthy. For Bea, her blood pressure was high. She went from a normal to a high blood pressure in a year and gained twenty pounds. It was something that was very immediately affecting her health.

Hindsight is 20/20. Looks like Dara has been making amends across multiple outlets, like “Today,” and has developed quite the insight on such an important issue in our country. Or hired a really good publicist.

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  • bumbler

    Sounds like she did right by her daughter, although made some mistakes of course. She also likely dramatized things and situations for the article, that’s how articles sell. We just kind of shrug at parents who let their kids relentlessly gorge themselves, but are so quick to cut this lady to the quick when she tries to get things back on track? An easy target (especially if you can project your own weight issues here) but from what I see here, I support her.

    • Sara

      Why does it have to be one extreme or the other? Why does the alternate to this woman’s extreme and ill-informed approach have to be letting your kids “relentlessly gorge themselves”? How about just taking a common-sense, middle-of-the-road approach of feeding your kid healthy foods, making sure she gets lots of physical activity and modeling healthy habits yourself? I read the original article, and it sounds like those (particularly the modeling of the healthy habits; it sounds like the mother herself has awful eating habits and is far from an authority on nutrition) were absent. She says that a strict diet was necessary because her daughter already WAS eating a healthy diet with barely any junk food beforehand. But I simply don’t believe this.

      If the daughter was eating as healthy a diet as her mother says and getting an age-appropriate level of physical activity and was still obese with high blood pressure at the age of seven, that signals a health problem that should have been looked into with more than simply a strict diet.

      It’s not that childhood obesity is okay or that parents should enable unhealthy habits in their children; I believe firmly that parents have the responsibility to model healthy eating and exercise habits and limit the amount of junk their kids eat. But this woman’s approach and her motivation as reflected in the original article are totally off-base. And frankly, I don’t buy her sudden insistence that she was motivated by concerns for her daughter’s health. I think that’s a cover after she saw the reaction to the extreme level of shallowness reflected in the article.

  • K.

    I read this woman’s article when it first came out in “Vogue” and this woman is atrocious. While she may not be one of “those” women–those socialites who want perfect thin, groomed daughters–she IS the woman who wrote about her own daughter’s very personal struggle with weight and appearance AND splashed her daughter’s photos all over the pages of Vogue! And THEN wants to continue talking about how hard it is to be mommy–first how hard it is to be mommy when it comes to handling your child’s body and then how hard it is to be mommy when everyone is judging you–Um, waitaminute–judging YOU, Dara-Lynn? How about your DAUGHTER, dummy? How do you think SHE feels in all of this media circus?

    Dara-Lynn imposed expectations on her daughter that involved refusing food and achievement according to numbers on the scale, she made her daughter feel guilty about eating, she restricted certain foods and had power-struggles of portion control. In other words, at no point in her weight-loss crusade (or ‘health-oriented anti-high-blood-pressure’ crusade as she’s claiming now) did Dara-Lynn do anything that considered her daughter’s joy and pride in her own body as a concern. And the proof is in the pudding–at the end of the ‘journey,’ her daughter gets to wear brand-new clothes that look great on her new body, which mom thinks will make her feel proud. Except that in a rare moment of self-depreciating wisdom, Weiss reports that this is how Bea felt, and I’m quoting here because it’s so painfully heartbreaking it doesn’t work to paraphrase:

    “For Bea, the achievement is bittersweet. When I ask her if she likes how
    she looks now, if she’s proud of what she’s accomplished, she says
    yes…Even so, the person she used to be still weighs on her. Tears of
    pain fill her eyes as she reflects on her yearlong journey. ‘That’s
    still me,’ she 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.’”

    Note that it’s Weiss who is married to the concept of ‘before and after’ identity–the daughter can’t process it that way. She needs to be able to own both versions of herself and her mother won’t let her. In turn, her mother is teaching her that love and pride are conditional and based on the mirror. It’s a pretty sad moment, I think.

    So frankly, yes, we need a new way of talking to children about weight and health, but this woman is far from that authority. And what’s more is she’s STILL mortgaging her daughter’s health and appears to have learned nothing from the backlash to her first article. Weiss may be a gifted writer, but she’s also a publicity whore and this is first and foremost a publicity stunt to simultaneously dredge up controversy while attempting to distance herself from it in order to sell books.

    • bumbler

      whoa, even though I don’t agree with you on all the points, I had to up-vote this because it’s a thorough and interesting comment! Maybe I just love a good rant, haha

    • Guest

      Ha! Yeah, I probably shouldn’t visit this site late at night while chained to a breastmilk machine.

      But, I do remember this article from Vogue and it struck a chord with me then because every point of Weiss’ story I experienced in my own life as an overweight child and I know how damaging her ‘methods’ are. So yes, you are right in that I might not be the most objective responder; however, I’m pretty careful about projection and in this case, I don’t think that the damaging effects I experienced have to do with my individual personality vs. “Bea”s–which is what Weiss is trying to claim by trotting out the ‘ol “every child is different” argument–I think that the experience was damaging because I was a child. In other words, I think Weiss is deluded if she thinks that her way of handling her daughter’s weight and health are defensible because “she knows her daughter”–most are not defensible for any parent to do for any child.

      Did you read her original article in Vogue? Because trust me, this is not a case of a mother stepping up for her daughter, it’s the opposite. Her way of handling things involved publicly shaming her daughter for drinking hot chocolate and eating birthday cake, withholding entire meals from her, and making it about calories and the scale, rather than say, nutrition and nurturing.

      Her daughter was 7 at the time. 7-year-olds do not buy and prepare their own foods and while I have *some* sympathy for her observation that there really is an awful lot of temptation out there for kids involving unhealthy food (the constant birthday parties, the friendly guy a the deli who offers a free cookie, snacks at Girl Scouts etc.), children eat 21 meals in a week and the majority of these, if you are as privileged as Weiss, should be at home or home-cooked. If a child is obese, it’s not because they drank a wayward cup of 200-calorie hot chocolate or had some cake at a friend’s birthday or the brie offered at “French heritage day” at school; it’s because of whatever you are feeding them at home and whatever habits you are passing on. So if you want the child to lose the weight, it’s very simple: change your–the entire family’s–habits. If you want the kid to eat healthy, cook healthy, serve smaller portions, eat dinner courses in which the first course is a salad or vegetable soup. Don’t give your kids $20 for cafeteria lunch; make it with them at home. If you want the kid to exercise, sign them up for soccer. On the morning of the day of a birthday party, go for a family walk to offset the extra calories–that’s better than humiliating your child amongst their friends by saying they’re the one kid that can’t eat the cake because they have “problems.” And I’d go so far as to say that if your child is obese and has high-blood pressure then I’d avoid places like Starbucks full-stop if I were you–I would NOT take them into Starbucks, offer them a hot chocolate, and then get frustrated that the drink *might* be 200 calories, and then throw out the cup.

      But what I really find disturbing about Weiss in the interview is that she’s saying things like, “Well, you have to do unpopular things for the sake of your child.” This might be true, but lady, your methods are ‘unpopular’ for the same reasons that spanking is ‘unpopular’–it’s violent, abusive, and it doesn’t work. Swatting away hot chocolate and refusing a child’s dinner are also violent, abusive, and they don’t work in establishing healthy habits. They only work in establishing a nervous relationship to food.

      Now maybe *maybe* it’ll end up that Weiss’ book is a memoir about her parenting struggles in which she admits to her deeply flawed issues (a la Amy Chua, who can’t quite ever admit to being wrong but at least she admitted she needed to reassess herself with her second daughter). But I doubt that. I think this woman is convinced that she’s done something revolutionary and fought for the health of her daughter but it’s neither new or harmless–I had it twenty-five years ago and it was completely harmful.

  • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Guerrilla Mom

    I wonder if this woman has any idea that mothers like her are the reason many young girls struggle with eating disorders? Probably not. It’s great that she can be so reflective in hindsight, but the damage is probably already done.

  • Justme

    I get the feeling that she falls into the category of “I’m sorry that I’m not sorry.”

  • http://twitter.com/alisse_marie Alisse Marie

    I can’t take her seriously because regardless of why she put her daughter on such a restrictive diet, she put this highly personal, probably humiliating information in a VERY widely-read publication. That’s a good way to set your daughter up for a lifetime of low self-esteem and needing the approval of others.

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