Every once in a while a story flashes over the low-watt flicker of the daily news static that sizably lowers my faith in humanity. I am not speaking of mob assaults in the Ukraine, nor am I talking about the daily body count in Libya (although I probably should be). No, I am talking about something I skimmed in the April issue of Vogue. It was a mother’s personal essay about putting her 7-year-old daughter on a “Weight Watchers-style” diet to derail, what she saw as, her daughter’s descent into obesity. The piece, appropriately titled “Weight Watchers” by NYC mom Dara Lynn Weiss, is an indulgent chronicle of what it took to get her 4-foot-4 and 93 pound child to drop 16 lbs from her seemingly robust frame. But instead of the piece reading like one individual’s struggle against the upward trending of obesity in her children, it largely plays out like an unrepentant vanity piece, with overtones of the Tiger Mom phenomenon of last year, using a singular child’s relationship to food as a means to elevate the media profile of an opportunist parent.
Granted the obesity problem in this country is beyond dismissal. With an average of 17 percent of American children clinically obese (and this is an average, with certain parts of the country averaging more than 40 percent) rapid weight gain and a lifestyle that promotes unhealthy eating and exercise habits (or lack thereof) is nothing to take lightly. There are plenty of parents coming to terms with the declining health of their own children and seeing very clearly the challenges that lay ahead for their children who now struggle with weight and/or body image issues. Trying to provide guidance and discipline for your child can be a tremendously tricky balance to achieve – a balance that, for a parent, is full of difficult choices, self-reflection, and tremendous patience. We all feel for these parents, and wish them the best.
Then there is this “weight watcher” mom who elected to take a less subtle tact, ceaselessly riding and shaming her daughter, while securing this nice little editorial soap box in Vogue and following the endeavor with the securing of a generous book deal. But hey, the kid did loose the 16 pounds, right?
Predictably Mother Weiss has gotten quite the browbeating from bloggers, columnists, and concerned parents since she went very public with her personal regimen against child obesity. Critics have lobbed all sorts curses her way, with Jezebel most notably claiming that the author mother “has to go down in history as the one of the most [bleeped] up, selfish women to ever grace the magazine’s pages.” Here are a few quotes from the article to give you a taste of what has riled so many:
“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.”
“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.”
“It is grating to have someone constantly complain of being hungry, or refuse to eat what she’s supposed to, month after month.”
Plainly the mother comes off as…not so nice, or at all compassionate. Considering in the article Weiss admits to struggling with 3-plus decades of her own weight/body image battles as she admits, “I have not ingested any food, looked at a restaurant menu, or been sick to the point of vomiting without silently launching a complicated mental algorithm about how it will affect my weight.” After getting the whole gestalt of the piece, it is too easy to hold Weiss in disdain, but kind of difficult to not see the underlying pathos and tragedy of the piece. I judge with a heavy heart and a glimmer of compassion.
Admittedly this issue is a complicated one and, looking past the spectacle of Weiss and her Vogue article (and upcoming book release), finding a place of gentile guidance can be enormously tricky for parents of children who struggle with their weight and/or body image. How have you managed in this department? Do you believe the parent should gently guide their children toward healthy choices, or aggressively and unequivocally move them toward a healthier tomorrow, no matter what the costs might be?