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New Parenting Lows: Shaming Little Girls Into Losing Weight

New Parenting Lows: Shaming Little Girls Into Losing Weight

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.”

And…

“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?

Read more: Blogs, Body Image, Caregiving, Children, Diet & Nutrition, Family, Fitness, Healthy Schools, Parenting at the Crossroads, Teens, , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

104 comments

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6:01AM PDT on Apr 12, 2012

Mums and dads control their kids eating patterns long before they have a real say in their diets. So if a child absolutely will eat unhealthy foods, it is because they have been allowed to form the habit!

4:40PM PDT on Apr 9, 2012

ugh that is ridiculous. YES, a lot of kids are overweight. YES, some of them need to lose weight (not all because the younger ones will most likely lose the weight as they get older and more active), but that is not the way to do it! you should never treat your child like that.

1:53PM PDT on Apr 9, 2012

thanks :)

11:05PM PDT on Apr 8, 2012

Good one Janna, this women definitely has a weight issue but it is hers not her daughters she should be dealing with. At 4'4" I don't think this child was overweight at 93lbs, now that she is 77 I think for her height she maybe underweight. I do hope nobody buys this book, or even better that the book deal falls through.

1:24PM PDT on Apr 8, 2012

it really upsets me that someone is paying this woman to write a book about her insecurities and child abuse

1:23PM PDT on Apr 8, 2012

so what i got from this is that she is taking her eating disorder out on her daughter.

10:59AM PDT on Apr 8, 2012

The mother in the above article should undergo psychological testing. She clearly is not a fit parent. Shame is never a good way to get kids to do anything. The mother was transferring her bad feelings of her own weight struggles onto her child. Perhaps she's like to donate the money for the book deal to an anorexia society?

3:52AM PDT on Apr 8, 2012

Shame is not a good technique for improving behavior EVER.

12:11AM PDT on Apr 8, 2012

Tania S. don't worry about your tummy bulging a little because of scoliosis, were looser tops and it won't be so obvious. You are a beautiful woman, I see that in your picture. If people only look at your body and look for faults than they are missing the real You. As for that mother, she sounds like a physco, there are nicer ways to handle that situation. If the child is a little overweight, get her to be more active, serve better food suited to that situation, don't shoot her down with your nasty remarks. Doesn't she know that most obese people use food as a soother when their feelings get hurt. Most kids are hungry all the time. Give them small healthy snacks in between meals. Unless she is a diabetic or something, back off a little. she will outgrow the baby fat.

8:37PM PDT on Apr 7, 2012

Oh dear....

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