Mom Who Forced Her 7-Year-Old to Diet Should Be Arrested

I was horrified when I heard that a mother put her seven-year-old daughter on a diet.  Then I found out that Vogue paid Dara-Lynn Weiss to write an essay for its current issue about the Weight Watchers-style diet that she forced upon her child, and I was absolutely appalled, flabbergasted, disgusted. Honestly, there are no words to adequately express my horror.

In her essay, the Manhattan socialite writes about the unconscionable actions that she took to slim down her daughter Bea once she noticed she “had grown fat,” including depriving her little girl of dinner and berating her when she ate junk food. There are also images of her and Bea modeling in the magazine–just one of the “rewards” that Bea got after spending a year on the diet and losing 16 pounds. (She also received new dresses and a feather hair extension.) The warped message: Thin equals beauty and privilege, fat equals ugly and unworthy. I don’t know about you, but that’s definitely not a message I’d ever want to give to my kid.

Not surprisingly, Weiss writes that she has a history of struggling with her own body image, and I agree with this assertion by Katie J.M. Baker of Jezebel: “Weiss was projecting her hatred of her own body onto her child throughout her year-long diet.” Only that kind of self-loathing could motivate you to treat your daughter this way–and then fail to recognize (or care) how devastating it would be for her to have to relive it through an article in a very popular national magazine. Imagine having your peers read this kind of thing about you; Bea’s classmates might be too young to really get it now, but this story will haunt Bea through high school.

The editors who commissioned this manuscript, as well as the people who gave Weiss a book deal because of it–that’s right, a book deal–should be fired. And this “mom” needs to be arrested.

I’m not making light of childhood obesity; it’s an epidemic in this country that afflicts 17 percent of our children, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and we can’t ignore it. But this mother’s horrific actions are not an appropriate solution. Starving your child and therefore depriving her of the nutrients that she needs to grow is child abuse. Why not teach her how to eat healthfully instead? And to be active as part of a healthy lifestyle?

In fact, I don’t believe Weiss’ motivations had anything to do with Bea’s health. Instead she strikes me as one of those appalling parents who view their children as accessories that can enhance their own image, sort of like the latest Birkin bag. In this case, Weiss molded Bea into a shiny accessory that was fit for the pages of Vogue, and I’m afraid Bea will pay for her mother’s selfishness for the rest of her life.

Weiss met her own goals, but at what cost to Bea’s mental health, self-confidence, and general perception of right and wrong? As Weiss writes in her essay: “When I ask her if she likes how she looks now, if she’s proud of what she’s accomplished, she says yes. Even so, the person she used to be still weighs on her. Tears of pain fill her eyes as she reflects on her yearlong journey. “That’s still me,” she says of her former self. “I’m not a different person just because I lost sixteen pounds.”

I wish I could hold Bea and rock her. I’d tell her that being a good person is so much more important than modeling a skirt in Vogue, and then I’d pray that she believed me despite her toxic upbringing.

Photo: Girl on a scale via Tyurina Elena/Shutterstock

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  1. by Chelsea

    On March 27, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    That’s a recipe for future drug use and eating disorders. That should definitely be considered Child Abuse.

  2. by Mary

    On March 27, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Wow. Way to go Mommy have your child be anorexic at 7! Seriously all children need to do is have their parents give them healthy foods not starve them to death!

  3. by Colleen Schroeder

    On March 27, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    Did Vogue seek this mother out and ask her to put her daughter on a diet? This is absolutely appalling. I’m never reading Vogue again.

  4. by Anonymous

    On March 27, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Would you also say that Mothers whose children are OBESE should be arrested?! I think if your child is an unhealthy weight you should do something to stop it before it becomes a life-taking problem. I do not agree with belittling your child, but there is nothing wrong with lowering her intake so that she can be healthy. That’s something that little will appreciate her Mother for doing for the rest of her life. She helped her to get the right start in life, she didn’t have any sort of condition that caused her obesity. Her Mother did right by her, being overweight isn’t healthy.

  5. by Brenda

    On March 27, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    What is wrong with this lady? She is setting up her daughter for a lifelong struggle with her self image and self-esteem. Good going, Mom! I have met some pretty bad mothers in my life but you, lady, take the no frosting, reduced calorie, sugar free cake!

  6. by Brittney

    On March 27, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    She just didn’t want here daughter to be a fat ass what’s wrong with putting our child on a diet ?

  7. by Kaina

    On March 27, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    While I’m not sure how I feel about a young girl on a “diet,” there’s no denying that a Weight Watchers meal is MUCH healthier than what a lot of parents feed their childredn ….

  8. by Melanie

    On March 27, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Makes me soo mad!! I had a 6 year old and I can not understand what kind of mother could do this!! Take her to the park, run around the yard, give her grapes instead of chips!! Do it the right way and be a mother/parent!! Vogue should be ashamed of themselves for asking this of a 7 year old!! Im absolutely disgusted!!!

  9. by Melanie

    On March 27, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    Makes me soo mad!! I have a 6 year old and I can not understand what kind of mother could do this!! Take her to the park, run around the yard, give her grapes instead of chips!! Do it the right way and be a mother/parent!! Vogue should be ashamed of themselves for asking this of a 7 year old!! Im absolutely disgusted!!!

  10. by Momma to 4

    On March 27, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    I personally feel people who let their kids get obese at a young age should be charged with abuse. I like the idea of her gettin her child healthy but the application of this was not a healthy. So sad that she made her child fat and then was cruel to her for it. if you don’t buy junk food kids don’t get fat

  11. by christin

    On March 27, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    for those of you who care to read the actual article this was not a parental forced decision. It was supervised by her Dr and suggested by the Dr that the kid go on a diet, for the issue of health affects her weight was having and could potentially have on her being so over weight.

  12. by Omg

    On March 27, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    she states in the article that she wasn’t giving her daughter dinner. A healthy “diet” is fine but a child should never be hungry just to lose a few pounds! If the mother had cared as much before she “had grown fat” the diet would have never been necessary. I’m curious if the child’s doctor ever expressed concern about her weight our if this was all in the mother’s mind!

  13. by Jeremy

    On March 27, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    @Brittney – There is a right way to control your childrens weight. Witholding dinner is NOT a diet, that’s called starving, you know like they do in places like Guantanamo bay. I dont want my kids to be overweight either so we feed them healthy food. Diet is about the type of foods and size of portions. I think you’re missing the point… And I hope you dont call your child(ren)”Fat Ass(es)”.

  14. by Concerned

    On March 27, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    @Kaina- the statement that W.W. meal plans are much healthier is imply not true. They only assign points to various foods which includes junk foods. The point that everyone else is trying to make is that body image when it comes to girls is a severely underestimated issue. The pressure to be thin to be accepted is getting worse as time goes by. Girls have committed suicide because they feel like no one will love them for who they are as a person instead of what they look like.

    Besides, she is a child for heavens sake! She needs the calories to have enough energy to run around and grow and develop properly. My son eats like a race horse and is still a stick, but the emphasis is that he eats healthy foods to fuel his body. But even so, I would never dream of ridiculing him for eating junk food. There is abuse that everyone thinks of (physical) and abuse that few understand unless they themselves have been victim to it… emotional. When that mom ridicules her daughter for gaining a pound, eating the wrong thing or not losing enough… she is creating scars deep within that little girl for which could very well end up needing years of therapy for later on in life and could even eventually turn into just the opposite lifestyle that she is being forced to live now. And in my experience, as a victim of emotional abuse, the comments will start to expand from the weight issue as the power that the abuser feels over the victim will start to grow as they see the control that they have. I truly feel for that little girl.

  15. by Meredith

    On March 27, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    is all this outrage going this summer to protest outside of the hundreds of diet camps as well?
    because every year kids get shipped off at the ripe old age of 7 and 8 to fat camps all over the country. and they aren’t all fat- some have crazy parents….

  16. by Julie

    On March 27, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    If her child is massively obese like those children you see on Maury or other shows that try to exploit people, then I understand the diet. Even then, the diet should be moderated by a dietician and it should handled through the process of not overwhelming the body with a sudden decrease in food intake. Those are the exceptions! To just put your child on a diet because you’re a selfish human being who wants them to look good in a dress is both repulsive and mind-boggling. It should absolutely be treated as a form of child abuse. No ‘good’ mother would allow this to happen. :::vomit:::

  17. by Mandy

    On March 27, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    I actually liked the humanity of the article. She did write those statements, but in the larger context she was acknowledging that she didn’t handle it well. She talked about the daily struggles and how hard it is to be consistent. Of course belittling is bad, but she is not endorsing it. In my opinion, she was showing both sides of a story…what she knew she needed to do to help her daughter, and what she was able to actually carry out daily. I struggle all the time with my son between what I know I should do that’s best in the log run and what I do in the pressure of the moment. I think by writing this she showed that no parent is perfect, and that one good thing for children can also usher in new bad things (in this case the healthy diet leads to more emotional issues for both and strained relationships). To suggest someone be arrested because she fesses up to the fact that she’s snapped at her daughter and made bad parenting decisions under pressure is ridiculous. We all have those lose-it moments. Does it make them right? No. But we are human and we make mistakes, live and learn.
    Oh and by the way, the not letting her have supper was one MISTAKE, one night, not how she did the whole diet; if you read the article, you see that she says that when she’s saying how much she messed up.

  18. by Amanda

    On March 28, 2012 at 12:35 am

    I didn’t get to read the original article, but I can say I have had my little one on a diet. I hate doing it but my daughters doctor has told me if I don’t she will have many risks to face. Diabetis premature on set on of puberty (ob odor, breast buds, hair), poor immune system, low self esteem, etc… If you have never struggled with a young child and having to say no over and over to not just the child but aunts uncles grand parents friends and other kids about food on the do not eat list, them you have no idea what a heart ache this can be. But I do it so she can be healthy and a health size for her age. Don’t judge!

  19. by Katie G.

    On March 28, 2012 at 1:11 am

    Wow: the hatred, the negative energy, the dark passion..!!

    I need help: how exactly are a few months of dieting (or an aappearance on the pages of Vogue) going to “damage” this girl’s future?!

  20. by Junia

    On March 28, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    You could go on a diet together, I guess. I think the best way to do it would be to cook healthy, then go outside and play a favorite action game with your child every evening or whenever for an hour or more. Then give yourselves a treat(a dessert) for being such good girls today.

  21. by Tracey

    On March 28, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    I agree with those supporting this mother. She made some mistakes, but was not malicious, not consciously or constantly making bad decisions. I have three sons, all raised the same, but my oldest has quite the appetite. While my 3 year old is considered underweight and my 6 year old is perfectly “where he should be” and still looks thin and frail to me — my 7 year old is “husky.” Though he doesn’t appear large, he is considered obese and “at risk” and the pediatrician has looked at me like I was some terrible parent for allowing this to happen. My son is active and thins out quite a bit once spring and summer hit and he is more concerned with his bike than anything else. I have had him on diets in the past where I must limit him and keep tabs on his food intake. I completely disagree with the “food nazi’s” who say just don’t feed them junk or buy them junk food. Good habits begin with active lifestyles, supporting healthful eating — but above all — teaching moderation. When my son was “dieting” I would tell him, “you can have that piece of X now, but that means you can’t have Y later. It is your choice.” Kids who are never allowed to have certain indulgences will be given stuff from family, friends, at school — somewhere. Then the effects can be worse because they were never taught correctly.

  22. by Maryann @ Raise Healthy Eaters

    On March 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    I think what is missing is that dieting doesn’t work for most people, especially children. Research is pretty clear that over time, dieting increases weight not decreases it. It’s also the only behavior that is linked to eating disorders that have increased just as much as obesity. So while I understand that this women did the best she could, this is not the best way to go about it. No doubt her own weight/eating issues rubbed off on her child and this could’ve been an opportunity for her to turn things around for herself and her child.

  23. by Kindra

    On April 9, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    My mother put me on slim fast as early as 4th grade, yogurt only in 5th grade, salad in 6th grade, back to slim fast in 7th and 8th. I was on LA Weightloss in 9th and prescrition diet pills in 10th. The most I ever lost in all those years was 60 lbs at once. Of course it didn’t help that 3 of my friends moms made me lunch everyday, and I ate all 3 of them. I don’t blame my mom, but I have no will to diet now.

  24. [...] Mother who forced her child on a diet should be arrested (Parents.com) [...]

  25. by Cee

    On April 10, 2012 at 12:22 am

    I wish people would stop twisting the facts in this story. And some of you commenters seriously need to read the article before you spew your outraged fury.

    The woman was told by her doctor that her daughter was heading towards obesity so she took steps to prevent that. Now I actually think that calorie counting is a terrible way to teach your child about nutrition but I don’t think that this woman should be arrested or have her children taken away from her, nor do I think her daughter is guarenteed to have an eating disorder or be psychologically damaged. This woman did what she thought was best. Her method may not have been perfect but parents make these sort of judgement calls all the time and they don’t always get it right.

    And she didn’t keep dinner from her daughter to be mean or malicious – she withheld dinner because her daughter had eaten chocolate, fatty cheeses and baguettes all day. Again, not something with which I necessarily agree but also not something she did with the express intention of giving her fatty boomsticks daughter an eating disorder.

  26. by Laura

    On April 13, 2012 at 12:17 am

    My own mother started that type of thing when I was about 7, reminding me daily that the butter I’d put on a piece of toast or the ranch I dipped my carrot sticks in was going to make me fat. Or telling me that if I didn’t like what was for supper “that’s fine…you’re getting fat, anyway.” This happens to lots of girls and I can say that it truly does have life-long implications. Although I was extremely active and ate a pretty healthy diet, I still became overweight and she always takes the time to remind me about it.

    As a mother of daughters, I will NEVER treat them that way. Why not just offer an array of healthy foods and encourage activity? That’s what I’m doing, anyway. Kids naturally like to play and be active, so why not just let them do that, instead of giving them a DS to use as a babysitter? Positive reinforcement of healthy eating habits works, plain and simple. Ridicule and snarky remarks do not, and create an emotional connection to food that should never have been there to begin with. Our daughters need us to be their advocate, not their overlord and I just don’t see enough of that anymore. How about nurturing our girl’s self-esteem rather than tearing it down? A child that feels appreciated will find their own value in themselves and feel motivated to take control of their own health as they become adults.

  27. by Hutchie

    On November 18, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    My oldest son began to become overweight when he was eight. He was going to people’s houses and eating all of their junk food. We created a system of “buying” calories with protein and green vegetables. He was permitted to eat as much as he wanted of certain foods, and none of things like French fries, fried chicken, etc, and I put him in sports. This worked a little, until I realized he was still eating crap at other kid’s houses. Solution: No more eating without a parent, until he could learn to self-regulate. This has been progressing for several years now. I would like to say that the process has remained entirely uplifting and positive, but it hasn’t. At some point peer pressure and tough truths about how being overweight will limit his selection of desireable jobs and choices for peer groups and mates. Plus, gluttony is a character disorder, and is as undesirable in my family as uncontrolled temper fits. He is growing nicely and is within the normal range now – his doctor is pleased, and my son seems to be gaining “mastery of self”, which is part of healthy maturation. It is a system of pruning and sowing, this whole parenthood project. I have had friends who struggled with their weight attack me for taking this stand with my child, and all I could do is be kind and not really respond, because they were feeling bad about their own lack of success in this area: Misery loves company, and protests when everyone else wants to leave the pity-party.