Last week, the Internet was all abuzz over the “Weight Watcher” article penned by a Dara-Lynn Weiss, who wrote about the story of making her seven year old daughter – lovingly referred to as Bea – lose 16lbs (going from 93lbs at 4’4″ down to 77lbs) through a pretty heinous diet. There was moderate exercise involved – the child apparently had taken a liking to karate and swimming – but, as it should’ve been, the focus was on her eating habits.
I don’t think anyone finds it irrational for a parent to be mindful of their child’s weight, especially when this happens:
One day Bea came home from school in tears, confessing that a boy at school had called her fat. The incident crushed me, but it was a wake-up call. Being overweight is not a private struggle. Everyone can see it.
Far too many of us know what it’s like to be called that horrid word, or disparaged because of our weight. We don’t want those kinds of pains for our children. No, I genuinely don’t think there’s anything wrong with considering this a call to action.
It’s the kinds of actions taken that are the damn problem, here:
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.
But why wouldn’t she? Why wouldn’t she feel justified in her fight against her daughter’s impending
doom… er, fatness? Every message she’s gotten about being fat, being overweight, being unhealthy has been so convoluted and conflated with industry-promoting pitches that it’s a wonder how any women are not treating their children so poorly.
Weiss weaves a tale of bystanders noticing little Bea’s weight increasing, and showering Dara with unsolicited advice on how to manage it, a pediatrician who suggests that Weiss put her daughter on a diet – ostensibly with no suggestion of which diet, no explanation of healthy or safe parameters for said diet for a seven-year-old – and loved ones insisting that Bea eat food while Weiss leaps over tables and slides under bannisters to head the plate off at the pass. I mean, this joint is wild:
I stepped between my daughter and a bowl of salad niçoise my friend was handing her, raising my palm like a traffic cop. “Thanks, I said, “but she already ate dinner.”
“But she said she’s still hungry,” my friend replied, bewildered.
I forced a smile. “Yeah, but it’s got a lot of dressing on it, and we’re trying–”
“Just olive oil!” my friend interrupted. “It’s superhealthy!”
My smile faded and my voice grew tense. “I know. She can’t.”
My friend’s eyes moved to my daughter, whose gaze held the dish in the crosshairs: A Frisbee-sized bowl bursting with oil, tuna, eggs, potatoes, olives.
“But it’s salad!” she ventured.
“Sorry,” I said, my voice rising.
“Oh, just a little!” my friend insisted, and pushed the bowl into my daughter’s eager hands, to my undisguised frustration.
I didn’t originally write on this story at first, because I wanted to wait, sit back and see what everyone else had to say first. I watched outlet after outlet after outlet question this woman’s parenting ability, call her names, mock her for caring about her child’s weight at all… but the most peculiar of these was Jezebel. Arguably one of the most fat-acceptance spouting, anti media-imagery, presumptuously pro-woman venues on the Internet, Jezebel managed to avoid laying the blame where [at least I think] it should’ve been laid (at the feet of a culture hyper-obsessed with thinness of women right down to their adolescence), but instead curled over and took a dump on this woman! Not once, not twice, but multiple times! With the announcement that Weiss has actually potentially scored a book deal for her story, Jezebel announced it – leaving me to assume they were planning on making Weiss their personal whipping girl – with a post dripping with so much sarcasm, it left me in need of a tissue to wipe my screen after I’d finished with it.
Every day, women are beaten over the head with the “reality” that it’s not important to be smart, successful, or even a go-getter – that “go-getterism” is instantaneously stunted by use of the word “b-tch;” as in, we love hard nosed bosses, so long as they’re not women… because then, we have to call her that beloved b-word. No, no.. it’s most important for a woman’s body to look the way society thinks it should look, lest we deny her favors like… I don’t know, the same wage as her thinner counterparts?
Every message in society tells us that being fat is wrong and bad. Having a body that doesn’t look like what we think is ideal… is bad. Wrong. Unacceptable. What mother, hyper-aware of the consequences that have befallen heftier women in her community, wouldn’t fight that for her child? Especially if she knows being overweight is a struggle, considering her own body image issues:
Growing up in an affluent, achievement-driven suburb, I had suffered through my own issues with food, eating, and weight. Though the rest of my family had a seemingly healthy relationship with food, I was constantly battling weight gain and asking my mother to lock up the peanut butter jar and the omnipresent box of Entenmann’s Pecan Danish Ring. Whether I weighed in at 105 pounds or 145 pounds hardly mattered – I hated how my body looked and devoted an inordinate amount of time to trying to change it.
Over the last 30 years, I’ve been on and off weight watchers, Atkins, Slim Fast, LA Weight Loss, Jenny Craig, juice diets and raw food diets. In my teenage years, I dabbled in the occasional laxative or emetic, and once fainted at a summer program in Vermont after three days of fasting. In my 20s, I begged a doctor friend to score me the prescription appetite suppressant fen-phen even after it was found to cause heart-valve defects and pulmonary hypertension. I have not ingested any food, looked at a restaurant menu, or been sick to the point of vomiting without silently launching a complicated mental algorithm about how it will affect my weight.
Who was I to teach a little girl how to maintain a healthy weight and body image?
If this lifestyle is all you know – if thinking and living like this is all you see in terms of how people handle weight issues… do you truly think there is any other way to handle [what your pediatrician describes as] your daughter’s weight problem? If all you know is to “secretly make fun of moms who were overly concerned with the organic lineage of their kids’ meals,” while also presuming that parents with “fat kids? Well, clearly, something about their child-rearing was deficient — a form of neglect, or a failure to set limits.” I mean, really – how many options do you see?
And, before we start to talk about how relevant this is to Black girls, I’d caution anyone to remember that as more Blacks move up in social class, more of us will face these issues and will, ostensibly, be forced to address their children’s weight and eating habits. If your friend’s don’t say anything (like Weiss’ did), then your doctor will (like Weiss’ did.)
There are so many questions to ask, but so, so little time. Let me get to the point.
We create, cultivate and perpetuate the culture in America that not only says this is the way to handle your weight; not only that this is an acceptable way to manage a child’s weight and pass down sensible and healthy body image to a young girl who was called fat by her peer, but also that this woman and her methods should be cheered and given a platform in the form of a book deal. We do this. Media does this. We consume this. We perpetuate this. Weiss is not acting alone in this.
I’m not willing to crap on this woman for her response to a problem. No one bothered to tell her how dire Bea’s situation truly was (or if it was dire at all.) No one bothered to explain to her how to handle the situation without traumatizing her child. No one even bothered to help Weiss, herself, develop sensible self-image… her child was a long shot before the game even started.
Alas, there is pride in this story:
As a result of her amazing efforts over the past year, Bea showed up at her doctor’s office for her eight-year checkup sixteen pounds lighter and almost two inches taller. She is now at a healthy weight. She looks great, and she seems to take enormous pride in her appearance. Incredibly, she has not yet exhibited symptoms of intense psychological damage.”
…but what happens when the next little boy who becomes angry with Bea decides to call her fat? You’ve already taught her that one little boy calling her fat was grounds for her to go on a year-long diet… what is she going to do when the next happens? She refers to the words “fat” and “diet” as being painful, but still puts her daughter on a diet and reacts to her being called “fat” like it was World War III.
But really, what is Weiss doing that isn’t “expected?” She was praised for what she did. It’s acceptable. Rewarded with a book that will, without question, be the Tiger Mom of the diet book industry.
Gross, yes. Her fault? Not entirely.We question her parenting, but don’t dare question ourselves and what, in us as a country, makes this something worth celebrating. They sit in their Vogue portrait like proud lionesses, satisfied with themselves. It’s not a story of a young girl losing weight and fighting her environment to survive – it’s the story of a young girl who got put through the ringer because of puberty. We don’t get to find out whether, had her mother switched up her meals a bit, the young girl would’ve simply evened out – two inches makes a big difference – as she grew. We don’t find out whether or not she’s scarred because of this. As Weiss wrote, “Only time will tell whether my early intervention saved her from a life of preoccupation with her weight, or drove her to it.”
Like, wow. She’s certainly more susceptible to society’s constant bashing of women, instead of prepared for her to come out on top, that’s for sure.
Until we take a long, hard look at the messages we send to women across this country about what kinds of bodies are acceptable in certain kinds of space, we will continue to read stories and essays of how women put their children through torturous regimens and pass their ludicrous self-esteem and self-image issues onto them, and we’ll continue to point the blame elsewhere… to everyone’s detriment.