As a mom who has carried her own tantruming daughter football-style out of a playground for screaming at other kids, I really try not to judge other parents. I know that from one moment to the next, my kids bounce from angelic to devilish depending upon an algorithmic array of factors, many of which are unknown even to the child. And let's face it, what parent hasn't projected some of his or her own issues onto their kids? But when I read an essay like the one Dara-Lynn Weiss recently penned for the April issue of Vogue, I simply can't help it. The judgment comes oozing out of my pores.
Here's the summary: Weiss is confronted with a complicated and frightening situation when her pediatrician tells her that her daughter is clinically obese. That's tough to hear and I'm sure would send any parent scrambling for answers. But the year-long cruel and often irrational dieting strategies Weiss subsequently imposes upon her 7-year-old daughter over the course of the next year are equal parts frightening and saddening.
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. I stopped letting her enjoy Pizza Fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week. 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 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.
Moreover, she admits to vacillating between enabling her daughter's food issues and humiliating her for them:
Sometimes Bea's after-school snack was a slice of pizza or a gyro from the snack vendor. Other days I forced her to choose a low fat vegetable soup or a single hard-boiled egg. Occasionally I'd give in to her pleas for a square of coffee cake, mainly because I wanted to eat half of it. When she was given access to cupcakes at a party, I alternated between saying, 'Let's not eat that, it's not good for you'; 'Okay, fine, go ahead, but just one'; and 'Bea, you have to stop eating crap like that, you're getting too heavy,' depending on my mood. Then I'd secretly eat two when she wasn't looking.
To say that the elder Weiss has her own food issues is an understatement. And to read how she is projecting these issues and her obvious disgust of her own body onto her daughter is heartbreaking. The only ray of light in the whole sad, tragic story is that the daughter seems to have a stronger sense of self than her mother.
Weiss wrote of her daughter:
"That's still me," she says of her former self. "I'm not a different person just because I lost 16 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."
My heart aches for this little girl. I can only hope she survives her childhood with her psyche intact. Unfortunately, her public humiliation in the Vogue article was just the tip of the iceberg. Alas, controversy sparks interest, and Dara-Lynn Weiss has scored a book deal with Random House’s Ballantine imprint to delve even more deeply into this sad, sordid saga.
The new book, tentatively titled "The Heavy," is described as “an experience that epitomizes the modern parenting ‘damned if you do/damned if you don’t’ predicament.” by the publisher.