Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Smug Mummy Evaluates: That "My Kid is Fat" Book Deal

It was the book deal heard 'round the parenting world - Dara-Lynn Weiss, the parent who described in this month's Vogue her efforts to put her "fat" (her words, not mine) 7-year-old daughter, Bea, on a Weight Watchers-style diet, just inked a book deal. And here we thought "French parenting" was controversial:

The lead photo accompanying the Vogue article (via New York Magazine)

After seeing the online explosion about this yesterday - nothing like a little Mama Drama to drive book sales - this Vogue subscriber actually picked up the magazine and . . . read the article. Shocking, I know.

What I come away with is a . . . jumble of feelings. Weiss is a parent who thinks she's doing well by her daughter but one who is also deeply torn about her own eating issues, who acknowledges the deep unpopularity of her & her doctor's choice to implement this diet.

She admits to denying Bea food when she was hungry. She admits to publicly berating Bea, other family, and wait staff over food choices. She states about her own daughter, in an international fashion magazine, ". . . that fat girl is a thing of the past."

*pauses to hit head on keyboard*

The little girl in me - the slightly chubby one who started middle school on a diet mandated by a coach*, the anorexic one who graduated high school with a scholarship and an eating disorder, both hard-earned - she grieves. Grieves for the daughter and the mother - yes, both - though of course it's the daughter who is the ultimate victim, the one who will have to live with that article & eventual book forever.  Are we to expect anything different, though, in a society so deeply torn about which messages we send about women's sizes - "Fight obesity!" "Love yourself for who you are!" "Beauty comes in all sizes!" "But you'll only see size 0 represented in a magazine!"

(*Thankfully, my family quickly figured out this wasn't ok - I quickly dropped the diet and the sport.)

The adult in me acknowledges that obesity, childhood obesity included, is a very real health concern, particularly here in the US. We won't solve it by not talking about it.

The writer in me believes, however, that there has to have been a better way to talk about this issue. All of us who blog about our families struggle to toe that line between honoring our people and over-exposing them. We write in part to connect with others, and I can understand Weiss writing that to reach out to others dealing with similar issues. What I cannot understand is the forum in which she chose to do so, and the language by which she chose to do it; it crosses that indelible overexposure line. "Fat" is forever, so to speak.

The parent in me realizes I'll have to make some unpopular decisions that others might not understand, and that someone else not understanding doesn't necessarily make those decisions wrong.

The parent in me is also ashamed to admit these things make me glad to be raising a boy instead of a girl . . . show of hands, who was surprised this article was about a mother getting her daughter, not her son, to diet? Me neither.

Perhaps most importantly, the parent in me will not be buying this book, nor any of the other recent "Freak-o-Momics" (thank you, Carolyn Hax, for that turn of phrase) literature publishing houses are pushing at us. I have enough to worry about with raising my wee boy CEO; respecting women of all sizes - no, people of all sizes - is a lesson he'll have to learn elsewhere, clearly.

Did anyone else read this? Whaddaya think?


AEOT said...

Not a chance would I read this. Yes, there is a HUGE problem with childhood obesity in America, and I guarantee her daughter was not obese when she wrote this. Chubby, a litt overweight, maybe. But truly obese? Not with a mom like that, she wasn't.

We just went to a lecture today on obesity in kids and it did not make me worried about my own child because I know the household I am raising him in and I know the food options I offer. This is a wealthy, white mom who obviously focuses herself on nutrition and eating well, so there is no way her daughter was ever going to be truly obese. Most of the children with childhood obesity have parents who are overweight/obese as well and who don't understand nutrition and who are poor and don't have money for fresh fruits/veggies and weren't brought up learning how to utilize them anyway. Just like abuse, obesity is very often handed down throughout families.

I am glad I have a boy to raise too (not that little boys can't also have weight problems, but I completely understand where you are going with this one). Eating disorders are not pleasant and they make for very stressful family situations that I'm happy to not currently have as a worry. I do feel bad for women in America, though if you ask my husband, it's all women putting pressure on women- very little of it comes from men. It comes from fashion mags (not men), wanting to "look the part" (not for men but for other groups of women), and other social outlets (I constantly am reading about bloggers who want/need/have to lose weight- when they are a size 4 or 6). I definitely agree with him on that. We put way too much weight on weight in the Western world instead of on health, healthy/clean eating, cooking and eating as a family, and appropriate activity time.

Long enough ramble!! Sorry!

Sarah @ Bend it Like Becker said...

YIKES Freak Mom is right! This is terrible!

I'd be concerned too if my kiddie was overweight so early in life, but holy god there is a right way and a SO WRONG way to address the situation!

This poor girl will have a book deal of her own in a few years! : (

Sorry for your own crappy experience with crazy coaches : ( I was a gymnast and had some pretty crazy things told to me too in my formative years. Scary.

Samma said...

Even though my daughter is 2 months old today, it is something that I have already thought about- how to teach healthy eating and exercise without pushing my child into obsession. How I will need to monitor my own words and actions when she gets old enough to mimic and understand. Lordy! What trouble us females go through with body image!

Kimmie Schiffel said...

Have not read this, however in an elevator in our medical office yesterday I overheard a mother tell her similar aged daughter that "her blood test was to determine how much damage she has done to her body by being 'fat'." I have to admit that I was taken aback by such a harsh word being thrown so carelessly at such a small child. I don't have the answers, but I so appreciate people like you willing to speak an honest opinion and to raise awareness.

LPC said...

Wow. I hadn't heard about this. That poor little girl. How, we wonder, did she get "fat" to begin with? Wow. Wow. It's hard to be female in America, and not be fat. I just hate to hear anyone who fails to protect their daughter from all this, and fails to enable her to cope with it too.

Lilly said...

I think we have matured little girls faster than their bodies can keep up with. It is very natural for a pre-teen to put on weight because she needs those extra pounds and she goes through her biggest growth spurt. Instead of admiring the sweet, rounder face and body of a child we compare them to adult women. Not only could this mom have taken a toll on her daughter emotionally but there is no telling the physical effects of this girl not having enough body mass for puberty and growth as well.

Legally Fabulous said...

Omg. This just absolutely horrifies me. That poor poor girl. This will haunt her for the rest of her life.

I am still haunted by my mom telling me it would be easier to find a dress for 8th grade graduation if i lost 5 or 10 pounds. And that sure as hell wasn't in a magazine.

And you're right - between the eating disorder shit and teen pregnancy, I would like my future children to be only boys please. Ha.

Annabel Manners said...

What a daunting debate. I think your take on it is balanced and benign. I have yet to read the article, but I'm appalled on behalf of the little girl.

1)She's about two years away from Google prowess. All will be illuminated.

2)Her mother sounds like an incorrigible narcissist. What's the point of acknowledging you're projecting if you don't do anything about it?

And yes: mothers of sons have it easier in this respect. Bring on the XY chromosomes!

Europafox said...

Without knowing if the child needed to lose weight it's hard to comment. I think if mine was overweight I'd just put him on healthy eating without him realising, and do some extra exercise. The problem is, I drive past McDonalds (and never stop) and see it full of parents taking often very small children in there. I see the mountains of crap food and buckets of haribo at parties - junk inflicted on kids most adults would never eat. I like my husband's theory that some parents use their children as excuses to eat junk. Children end up victims of their parents relationship with food and it can have really sad consequences, at both ends of the scale.

Adrienne said...

I love
A. your position on this
B. You neglected to take said position on this until you actually read the article, a novel concept I say!
C. Your blog (unrelated)
Without actually having the experience of being a parent, I'd have to say I agree with you. I am mixed as well. How often do parents deny sweets and other things that are bad for the child, knowing it's better? But how much was this done in consideration of the child's needs/well-being rather than the mother's insecurity.

Without being the parent/child/family member, I don't think it's fair to judge either way. Ever.

Thanks for sharing!

Kwana said...

First I was annoyed by her, then annoyed by Vogue, but not surprised by them and this is from a subscriber since the age of 12, then a was out and out mad over the book deal. I am so over this fat shaming. How small do we have to be? I know from life as a women as a mother of a teen girl that there always is a back lash rather from weigh gain or acting out there will be something. The whole thing makes me so mad. No, I will not buy the book. Thanks for the post. I may be posting on this too. I don't know. I'm too mad right now.

Belle on Heels said...

A lot of my issue with this is her motivations for putting Bea on a diet. She said she realized Bea was overweight and that a doctor told her Bea was at risk for health issues, but what motivated her to start the diet was because a boy called her fat. I can only imagine how crushing it is for a parent to see their child being treated that way, but the fact that it was an external stimulus, not a personal concern for her child's heath, that motivated the diet...I just can't abide by that. If upon discovering her child was at risk for diabetes, etc., she decided OK I need to take a more active involvement in education my child on healthful eating, that's fantastic. I wish all parents were actively involved in healthy eating. But there is a HUGE HUGE difference in teaching a child healthy habits and teaching a child calorie-counting. One lesson gives the child the tools they need to grow into a healthy adult. One give the child the tools they need to develop low self-esteem and an eating disorder.
A lot of the above is generalization, I realize. I could honestly believe that a mother put her child on a diet because she wanted to give her child an early foundation of healthy eating habits, to paraphrase. But my belief in that as the underlying motivation totally goes out the window when she proceeds to pimp her daughter out to Vogue and a publishing company. If the diet didn't set her up for a lifetime of issues, the magazine article and book certainly might.

OK, end rant. I grew up surrounded by eating disorders (mother, sister, grandmother) and articles like this Vogue one contribute to so much of the misinformation out there. So frustrating.

Amy @ Forever 29 said...

It's taken me a few days to get my thoughts together about this and I'm still not sure what to say. No doubt her "using" their story for a book deal is setting this poor girl up for years of therapy. Even sadder is that this mother could have used this experience as a way to teach her daughter about making good choices, what to do when you fall into temptation (which shouldn't turn to shame) and really take her daughter's side instead of trying to "fix" her.

Thanks for sharing the article. The closest I get to reading Vogue these days is when N is asking me to name the person on each cover in the checkout line.

Wiz said...

Man oh man! This is a tough one. I am a mom of a six month old little girl and I just dont know how I would handle the situation! Granted its also hard to give my opinion of this mother because i dont know what her daughter looked like before. I cant imagine letting my child go hungry but I know that girls are MEAN and it starts early. What is worse? Having your child possibly bullied and teased about their weight or working on it together. I cant imagine what I would do if in the same situation. As much as people are judging this mother, there are also people judging moms with chunky little girls. I have heard it on the soccer field. "I want to to see that big brute's birth certificate" was said by a parent about a little girl I know. Tough call. I am sure the mother was trying to do what she thought was best.

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