Posts Tagged ‘ Dara-Lynn Weiss ’

Scale Down: Are We Overreacting to Dara-Lynn Weiss and Her Book, The Heavy?

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

I knew very little about author Dara-Lynn Weiss before attending the moderated discussion about her controversial book, The Heavy, this past week at The Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. I knew Weiss was the cause of mommy-blog explosions, some in defense of her choice to put her overweight 7-year-old daughter on a diet, many more filled with vitriol and contempt.

But I decided to walk in without having read the infamously provoking Vogue article, published in April 2012, or her book, which came out in January of this year.

Based on her talk, I couldn’t understand why there was such a venomous outcry from the parenting community. Did her choice to restrict her daughter’s diet sound controversial? Yes. But worthy of such hate? Not to me. And then I read the Vogue essay. And then I understood the problem. The woman who sat and spoke before me did not seem to be the same woman who wrote for the fashion mag one year ago.

From the moment Weiss sat down, she emphasized that there are just some things in life parents have to do because they are the parent. Sometimes a mom as to be “the heavy”—pun intended. The fact was that Weiss’s daughter, Bea, weighed 93 pounds at a height of four feet four inches, which had Bea’s BMI clocking in at the 98th percentile for her age group. The obesity marker sits at the 95th percentile. Obese people, whether 7 or 47, are medically advised to lose weight. Bea’s pediatrician told Weiss “the trend”—meaning Bea’s overweight status—“was not correcting itself.” Bea was not going to simply grow out of this, as so many of Weiss’s peers believed. Weiss admits that she clung to this diagnosis and removed her own thoughts about whether it was right or not to consciously adjust her daughter’s eating. “I did not accept that decision-making moment. It was nice to cling to the fact that it’s a health issue,” Weiss said.

Yet even with medical evidence to back up her need to take action, Weiss explained she experienced a paralysis about how to handle a child’s weight problem when indeed there is a problem to deal with. Weiss had no clue where to start. Bea wasn’t loading up on soda and junk food. Weiss faced a difficult challenge. If your child is eating healthfully, but is still obese, what do you do?

“So much of the response to childhood obesity is: ‘Don’t talk about weight. Don’t ever use the word diet. Focus on health.’ But that doesn’t work for me. I wanted to know how many calories a 7-year-old should eat. People always say eat different, but it really is about eating less sometimes. And that’s not an answer people want to give you,” Weiss said as she expressed her frustration. Weiss’s dilemma illustrates a widespread problem: Parents don’t know how much their children should be eating to keep them growing, but keep them healthy.

While the Weiss in Vogue appeared to fixate on her daughter’s appearance, the Weiss I saw truly seemed to have her daughter’s health at top of mind, not some compulsion to uphold a standard of thinness or beauty in her 7-year-old. In fact, Weiss directly stated that she had no desire for her daughter to be thin. “ ‘Thin’ should be used in the same way as ‘fat,’ as a deviation from the norm,” Weiss said. Her goal was to get Bea to the healthy weight marker, not below it.

And here is where I wonder if it all comes down to semantics. If Dara-Lynn Weiss had said “I’m putting my obese daughter on an ‘eating plan,’” and put that article in, say, Women’s Health, rather than “Bea had grown fat. … We put Bea on a diet,’” in Vogue would things have transpired differently? Is the real problem not the calorie-counting, but the language Weiss used with regard to Bea, whose self-image may be developing and fragile? Are we just hung up on the word “fat” coming from an adult, aimed at a child?

While critics argue that her primary concern was not Bea’s health but a number on the scale, in Weiss’ defense, the number on the scale is one way we measure health. So, the question becomes: Do we need to adjust the measurements? Is it a systemic problem that weight is such a significant marker?

We know we have a weight problem in this country and childhood obesity is on the rise. Yet, the majority of the general public verbally flogged Weiss for trying to do something about it. To this day, Weiss maintains that with The Heavy she just wanted to be an example of a strong mom who did a tough thing, “Maybe if I say that it’s okay to limit our children, other mothers will feel ok to limit their children when it is for their own good.”

Read more about Dara-Lynn Weiss on Parents.com:

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In Defense of the Mom Who Put Her 7-Year-Old Daughter on a Diet

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

What is it like to have the whole world call you a bad mother?

Mom Dara-Lynn Weiss would know. Last year Weiss wrote about putting her obese 7-year-old daughter Bea on a strict diet, and posed with her, post-diet success, for the pages of Vogue. Weiss has now authored a slim memoir called The Heavy, out yesterday, about the experience. (The heavy is Weiss, who was the one to monitor Bea’s diet, and get tough when necessary.)

I’d read the Vogue article before I read the howling on the Internet over Weiss’s piece—she was called “abrasive,” “irrational,” “truly disgusting,” and a “monster,” among other things—and I was always sympathetic. Weiss’s story didn’t fit the profile of your “typical” overweight American family’s. She had served well-rounded dinners with healthy vegetables. She kept no junk food in her cupboards (which is more than I can say). And she reserved fast food for a semi-annual treat (ditto).

But the darling Bea, who was never content with the serving sizes that would satisfy her younger brother or other kids her age, gained weight at an alarming rate anyway. Weiss, who like many of her peers had had her own up-down relationship with weight and fad diets, freely admitted she was unprepared and ill-equipped to handle Bea’s obesity. Feeling discomfort about her daughter’s growing size but reluctant to say anything about it, Weiss chose silence instead, even after Bea’s pediatrician said it was time to get the 7-year-old’s 93 pounds under control.

The problem didn’t disappear, and sadly, Bea was starting to notice it, too, and began referring to herself as “fat,” in spite of reassurances from her parents that she was beautiful. Eventually Weiss chose a child-friendly, calorie-restricting plan that would give Bea the lifelong skills necessary to make judgment calls about which foods were indulgences, and which were healthier choices, without depriving Bea of treats altogether. It wasn’t always easy, and there are examples of interventions by Weiss that her (many) critics saw as excessive, even psychologically damaging, but Weiss was taking on a daunting task: helping a child lose weight in a world of doorstopper-size cupcakes.

Perhaps I felt for Weiss, and for Bea, in part because I recently struggled with weight myself. (Not surprisingly, Weiss writes that others who had been overweight as children confided that they wished their parents had done more to help them.) I’d read moving stories written by plus-size women about loving their bodies the way they are, and while I admired their self-acceptance, I’d never been able to feel that for myself. Besides the obvious worries about my health, being fat sucked. I felt uncomfortable, embarrassed, even sad about my weight. I wouldn’t want my daughters or my son to go through it, and Weiss’s book says what I and most parents I know would feel squeamish saying aloud: No one wants her child to have to struggle with being fat.

Like Weiss had done, I watch my language around my kids, having banished “fat” and “bad” from my vocabulary when we’re talking about food, doing whatever I can to help my daughters, now 7 and 1, in particular sidestep a painful path towards self-loathing or an eating disorder. But I admit I also don’t want my kids going down the road to obesity, and its social ostracism and disease. So I felt drawn to Weiss’s candor about childhood obesity, and I just plain old liked her for her admissions about having made some mistakes along the way. (Who hasn’t?) I winced for her after reading about the surprising amount of pain she felt from the (international!) criticism of her Vogue article, and her genuine regret about having allowed Bea to pose with her.

I know some will accuse Weiss of trying to profit from her daughter’s battle. But I found it eye-opening to read an honest, firsthand account from a parent willing to speak difficult truths about her family’s experience with childhood obesity.

It takes a lot of courage to bare your failures and frailties as a parent. Perhaps a few moms and dads who read Weiss’s memoir will walk away from it, as I did, with a more intimate understanding of what it’s like to raise a kid who struggles with weight.

And maybe we can all be a little less judgmental of the friend or neighbor we know whose kid is coping with one of the last taboos: the public, painful experience of childhood obesity.

For a different view, read why one writer and mother strongly disliked The Heavy: Mother Puts Daughter on Crazy Diet in “The Heavy’

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