The mother-daughter diet story freaking people out

In their annual “The Body Issue,” Vogue US ran a piece by “Manhattan Socialite” Dara-Lynn Weiss, on how she “encouraged” her 7 year-old daughter to lose 16lbs in one year after being told by a paediatrician that she was clinically obese.

The piece has caused controversy all over the net with hundreds of blog posts springing up to condemn the mother and protest her actions (and her words)

So what did she write, that caused so much of a stir? Here’s an extract:

”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.”

How awful.

For Mama Dearest, particularly.

“”It is grating to have someone constantly complain of being hungry, or refuse to eat what she’s supposed to, month after month,” Weiss writes. It was also “exhausting managing someone’s diet, especially when her brother has completely different nutritional needs.” And then you have the embarrassment, as “no one likes to see a child or her mother humiliated over something as trivial as a few dozen calories.”

Of course, it turns out that Mama has issues of her own:

“Who was I to teach a little girl how to maintain a healthy weight and body image?” she asks, given that she’s spent the past three decades “[hating] how my body looked and [devoting] an inordinate amount of time trying to change it.” Among other destructive habits, Weiss took laxatives as a teen and “begged” a doctor friend to score her appetite suppressants that had been proven to cause heart-valve defects. “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,” she admits.

All of which might go some way to explain why poor Bea took to eating “too much,” in the first place.

But a year passes and Bea loses the weight.  In the style of all future Vogue readers, she is rewarded by “many pretty dresses.”

“For Bea, the achievement is bittersweet. 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 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.”

Poor, poor Bea.

I don’t know which is worse. Carrying the heavy weight of childhood obesity and it’s many dangerous burdens into adulthood, or carrying the shame and humiliation her mother appears to have heaped on her little shoulders, along with her for the rest of her life.

First in real life, then through the pages of Vogue Magazine, and now amplified across the net.

I wonder what the mood was like, around the Weiss dinner table,  this weekend?

My instinct tells me that I should be careful about judging a mother who I don’t know and who obviously (in her own way,) wants what she believes  is best for her child.

Obesity is an epidemic and one which we need to find solutions for, that is for sure.


But education about balanced eating, love, exercise and peace are surely more crucial to any rehabilitation of dangerous eating habits, than screaming at your child about a side dish of corn salad?

I do believe, as a parent, that our role is to prepare our children for life, not protect them from it – but this article turned me off my food.

A child who is probably already eating for comfort, surely needs comfort from her mother, and not abuse?

How long, I wonder will it will be, before these kind of bullying, judgmental tactics  just cause Bea to reach for a secret, warm, comforting hot chocolate, when chilly, Police Officer Mommy next shoots icicles in her direction?

And disapproval and anger will surely happen, because this does not appear to be a woman who is at peace with her child’s space in the world.

Or, and most importantly, her own.

Will the next slip result in an equal eruption from Mama?

Equal pressure, hysteria and judgment?


I wonder how Bea will react then?

Will she deprive herself to make her Mommy happy? Or comfort herself with that warm, non-judgmental mouthful of processed calories?

I would guess it could go … either way. But neither of those options makes children feel happy, confident and relaxed around the issues of their body, their mother and their eating habits.

I think we all know the way the story ends.

Vanessa Raphaely is Editor of South African Cosmopolitan and Editorial Director of Associated Magazines, publishers of Marie Claire, O, The Oprah Magazine and House and Leisure. Visit her website here and follow her on Twitter here.

This post was originally published on her blog and has been reproduced with her permission

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