I just caught up on the story of Dara-Lynn Weiss, the mother who wrote so proudly in Vogue about putting her 7-year-old daughter on a diet. Meredith’s post on the subject contains a thorough recap of the story (which is, kid’s a little chubby, mother is horribly mean to her while forcing her to diet, mother writes about it for Vogue) as well as bits of the Vogue article, which isn’t available online. KJ Dell’Antonia has more quotes from the Vogue piece on Motherlode today, including the following disturbing bit. KJ writes, “When the little girl, now 8 years old, looks at pictures of her heavier self (not included in Vogue), she insists, powerfully, that “that’s still me. I’m not a different person just because I lost 16 pounds.” Most of us would agree that she’s right, but her mother doesn’t. “I protest,” Ms. Weiss writes. “She is, indeed, different.””
I’m thrilled at this little girl’s bravery in claiming ownership of her fat self, especially in the face of her mother’s clear disdain for it. (From the Vogue piece: “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 admire the way this girl is able to look at a photo of her formerly thick frame and see her essence there. Maybe, I’ll venture to say, though I’m sure Dara-Lynn Weiss won’t like it, Weiss’ daughter looked at that fat photo and saw her true self, even. Because – shock! horror! – some women actually feel like they were meant to be chubby, and gosh darn it not only have they begrudgingly accepted that fact, they sort of totally love it.
Yes, I know, I know, there are all kinds of women who think that an out-of-shape frame, even if only slightly, is disgusting. Any amount of flab at all is to be reviled. These women believe that being fit and thin is the only ideal, and I suppose they have a right to feel that way. I mean, of course they do. But not to the extent that they would punish a child for carrying a few extra pounds, taking her dinner away the way Weiss did to her daughter.
And sure, many overweight people are unhealthy: after all, there are very obvious health risks involved with obesity. But morbid obesity and being mildly overweight are not the same thing. And not everyone prescribes to the same standards of beauty, whether Vogue editors like it or not.
When I first read about Weiss putting her 7-year-old on a diet, I thought about the little girl in the video I posted this morning, Laughter with Teddie. Teddie is probably close in age to Weiss’ daughter, and she’s an adorably hilarious chubby little girl. She’s got chubby cheeks, a broad, infectious smile and the sense of humor and good nature we love our chubby girls to have. I thought about one of the girls who was in my daughter’s kindergarten class last year. A chubby girl who was unafraid to take charge when she needed to, who wasn’t shy about sharing her thoughts unabashedly with the class. She was a real brick of a kid who didn’t take crap from anybody and I liked her style. As I observed her and talked to her more while directing the class play, I thought, “I hope that’s me when I grow up.” Of course not every chubby girl is outgoing and gregarious; god help you if you’re the big fat girl who is as quiet as a mouse! People don’t understand you and they probably think you’re sad. And maybe you are sad, because people don’t understand you. Or maybe you’re just quiet. And fat.
Most importantly, though, when reading about Weiss’ ridiculous experiment, I thought about myself. I’ve got probably exactly the figure your mind conjures when you say the word “chubby.” I’m a little bit fat in all the right places, proportionate and curvy. I’m not obese, but I’m definitely not thin, and I’m very happy with myself. For the most part. I mean, I won’t say there aren’t days when I think about being able to shop at H&M or some other cheap-ish Eurotrash store that sells floral-print minis and tiny cardigans. But then I think about how many women work so hard to be a size their metabolisms can’t really support, and how much of the time they spend in the land of self-loathing, and I suddenly don’t mind having to shop at Lane Bryant. After all, they sell DKNY now! (Thank you, Donna! Come get a chubby girl hug – it’s the best kind!)
I’m not saying all thin women hate themselves or that all fat women are healthy, but I think any reasonable adult should be willing to admit that bodies fall naturally on a spectrum of varying shapes and sizes, and that everyone should feel comfortable being a shape that their system can easily maintain without having to eat nothing and do hours and hours of exercise a day. For some that may naturally be a size 2, and for others it’s a 20. Why’s that such a big deal?
Because the beauty and fashion industries make money off of women’s insecurities, of course. So it makes perfect sense that Vogue would support and encourage a mother who wants to make sure her daughter isn’t fat. But Weiss is going to have to accept the fact that her daughter – and indeed her daughter’s body, will likely one day rebel. I’m reminded of the story of Robin Marantz Henig and her daughter Jess Zimmerman, who shared a dynamic similar to that of Weiss’ and her daughter. Henig battled with her weight in an unhealthy way her entire life and was obsessed with the notion that both she and her daughter be thin. She restricted Jess’ diet when Jess was a small child, and by the time Jess was 16, she was bulimic. (Henig writes in Oprah magazine, “My first thought was she couldn’t be, or she wouldn’t be so fat.”) By the time she reached her 20s, Jess was well and part of the fat acceptance movement. Her mother eventually came around, too. I only hope if Weiss’ daughter ends up being chubby again someday that Weiss will be able to swallow her pride and love her daughter for who she is, not who she wants her to be.
p.s. – According to Jezebel, Weiss is coming out with a memoir about her daughter’s weight loss, so, that should be fun.