Recently I read an article about a mother who, after being told by her doctor that her 7 year old daughter was obese, put her child on a Weight Watchers inspired diet. Mother Dara-Lynn Weiss wrote about the experience in Vogue. I tried to find the article by her online, but could not. However, there have been plenty of other articles written about her methods of ‘helping’ her daughter to lose weight, and I found two in particular that present very opposing viewpoints.
The Jezebel article critiques Weiss’ choices in Bea’s weight loss process. The Yahoo parenting article presents the story as one of a mother faced with the difficult task of getting a child to lose weight and sympathizes with Weiss.
It is difficult for me to fully critique the original article since it was not published online and I have no interest in going and purchasing Vogue, but Jezebel’s article pulls a lot more quotes in that show the damaging effects a forcefully imposed, unrealistic-for-any-young-child diet can have on them. Weiss manages to make the issue more about her than Bea, saying:
“I cringe when I recall the many times I had it out with Bea over a snack given to her by a friend’s parent or caregiver … rather than direct my irritation at the grown-up, I often derided Bea for not refusing the inappropriate snack. And there have been many awkward moments at parties, when Bea has wanted to eat, say, both cookies and cake, and I’ve engaged in a heated public discussion about why she can’t.”
The doctor who founded the program Weiss followed (which mimics Weight Watchers) expressed distaste for the ways in which Weiss embarrassed her daughter publicly for wanting to eat the treats other children were eating and emphasized that the program has to be run by the children. It cannot be forced on them.
Weiss also used the article space in Vogue to complain about how difficult HER body issues have been and how she has tried countless diets, etc. This excerpt from the Yahoo article discusses that in sympathy with Weiss:
With the help of a childhood-obesity specialist, Weiss put her on a diet. Other parents were shocked at the idea of restricting a child’s eating and even her daughter’s grand parents (who eventually came around) begged to give her larger servings of pasta and junk food. Weiss writes, “Everyone supports the mission but no one seems to approve of my methods.” Not to mention her daughter, who balked and whined about taking her lunch to school and missing out on the processed treats that other children were allowed to eat.
Weiss recounts that as part of the process, she had address her own issues around food. She admits to having tried every kind of diet including raw food and juice fasting and once “begging a doctor friend to score me a prescription of fen-phen”-after it had been found to have serious side effects. She also acknowledges her approach to her child’s nutrition before she went on a supervised eating plan had been haphazard and inconsistent.
The Yahoo article makes 7 year old Bea sound like a bratty child by using verbs like “balked and whined” to describe her reaction to her mother’s mania. It also makes the ‘supervised eating plan’ sound like a Bandaid for Weiss’ own ‘approach to her child’s nutrition.’
I find the differences between these two articles interesting and vast. Jezebel is not a perfect website, nor do they always report in a manner I find fair, but their article on this mother and daughter relies much more heavily on facts, contacting of professionals, and includes many more direct quotes, including one from Bea (who has, in the last year, grown 2 inches and lost 16 pounds). Bea is now 8 and has likely barely begun to scratch the surface of puberty. My opinion on this issue is likely clear– and I think that Bea’s mother (and father!) should have engaged her in more fun physical activity and healthy eating as a family.
Also– take note of the picture Yahoo uses. It is of a toddler on a scale. The caption is “how healthy is baby fat?” The poor three year old in the picture. Being overweight is difficult. In a society that has no problem fat-shaming, especially for women, parents facing terms like ‘clinically obese’ need education, and more engagement with their children, not a plan designed to make their kids feel like shit. If we live in a world where Kate Winslet, Adele, and Jennifer Hudson are derided for their beautiful bodies, I am quickly losing interesting in that ‘ideal’ we are supposed to be working towards.