Having lost ten pounds after my first successful diet at age eleven, I happily paraded my thinner self in front of my mom and grandpa in the family kitchen and announced my success.
“Good for you,” my grandpa told me at the time. “You were getting a little heavy.”
I was . . . wha? He had noticed? Crushed, my pre-teen brain quickly forgot the countless things he had ever said or done to express how much he loved me up to that point. He had thought of me as fat? This kind of comment, especially from a loved one, doesn’t exactly have a positive effect on a child’s psychology.
Girls remember these things.
So when I heard about Dara-Lynn Weiss and the diet she put her seven-year-old daughter on, I was pissed off. That a mother would subject her daughter to the D-word at that age seemed so severe – and so potentially damaging.
But Weiss’s daughter, Bea, was diagnosed as obese. Warned that her daughter could develop Type 2 Diabetes, high blood-pressure or high cholesterol, Weiss became the girl’s Food Nazi, her personal trainer, her karate partner, her biggest fan, and her worst enemy for a year. In the end, Bea lost sixteen pounds.
Then Weiss wrote about it in this month’s Vogue and became Tiger Mom of the Month. She now stands accused of the high crime of bad mothering. Additional charges include giving her daughter a weight complex and depriving her daughter of sugars and carbs.
I hate diets and the diet industry so much that I wrote a novel railing against them. Still, after reading Weiss’s article, I surprisingly don’t feel the need to fly to New York to cram Weiss’s food scale down her uptown throat; nor do I wish to take her mother card away.
Sure, some of her methods for keeping her daughter’s calorie-count down seem a little bit Toddlers and Tiaras, but she wasn’t entering her daughter into a beauty pageant, she was fighting for her health. And while Weiss was fixing low-fat fajitas and working out with Bea, her husband just got frustrated and stopped participating altogether. Too much work, too slow in the results department. Welcome to the female metabolism, pal.
Never at any point does Weiss talk about shaming or punishing her daughter. Rather, she flogs herself repeatedly over times when she was inconsistent or times when her own food battles made things hard for Bea.
Bea was a healthy girl with a normal metabolism who had somehow developed enough bad eating habits to put herself in a dangerous weight category at a very young age. If Weiss had done nothing to change that trajectory, how long before she had her mother card yanked for neglect?
As for giving her daughter a weight complex? I challenge you to find a woman or girl without one. Then I further challenge you to point to the one thing responsible for it. Any girl found to be clinically obese at age seven has a lifetime of food issues ahead of her whether her mother is Oprah Winfrey or Jillian Michaels.
I used to wonder who was to blame for planting the idea of a diet into my 11-year-old head. Was it my dad, who sincerely meant “big-boned” as a compliment? Was it my mom, who stowed away so much chocolate during my childhood that she’s still finding stale Hershey’s kisses all over the house? Was it Richard Simmons? Was it Heather Locklear and that TJ Hooker bikini? Does it matter?
I don’t remember what my mother’s reaction to my weight loss was that day with my grandpa, but I imagine it was a mixture of pride and sadness. Pride that I had set a goal and met it. Sadness that I had jumped on the D-word roller coaster for good.
My biggest hope for the beautiful Bea is that the pain of being called fat will indeed go away, to be replaced by confidence and pride in her new, healthier weight; being thin is not necessarily the cure for that diagnosis. In that regard, her mother’s (and her father’s) work has only just begun.