I was horrified when I heard that a mother put her seven-year-olddaughter 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 sixteen 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.