Putting Moms on a No-Shame Diet

60s child ballet
Nutritionists, diets, and ballet was supposed to help, too.

Several friends have sent me information about Dara-Lynn Weiss’ memoir The Heavy and related Vogue article about putting her daughter on a diet because they’ve wondered about my reaction to it. I was a heavy child, I am a very heavy adult (my adult sizes have ranged between 14 and 32, many yo-you motions back and forth between the two), and have some heavy thoughts about the whole thing.

Babble’s Dara Pettinelli published an interview with Ms. Weiss about her work and the controversy it provoked. It contains this excerpt:

“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”³ 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.”

Whoa. The elephant in that particular room has nothing to do with weight and everything to do with an unhinged adult who seems prone to scenes and shame. People pushed back against what appeared in the Vogue article, but Ms. Weiss can’t really see why because she only focused on the fact that she means well. (Of course she does. We all do.)  In an excerpt from her book she lamented:

I appreciate that the public rushes to judgment to protect a young child, but why did everyone assume that my interactions with her were abusive? If I get testy with a food server, refuse Bea a second dessert, even scrape pasta off her dinner plate because she ate too much for snack those things do not necessarily entail cruelty. They can be, and were, actions taken with love and respect.

Weight and the weight control of women and children especially is a hot-button issue, so of course there is a spectrum of wild opinions in reaction to Ms. Weiss and her fat camp approach to nurturing her daughter. Here’s the thing about that: it’s really hard to assess the intervention when it’s wrapped in a cloak of emotional distress. That’s what’s so hard about talking about weight.  The emotional distress might be the child’s, or it might be the adult’s. Clearly, if your brain has reframed that Starbucks fit as “getting testy with a food server” you either have a hard time assessing situations (which might include what’s going on with your child) or you may lack sufficient self-awareness to know who you have and haven’t hurt with your behavior. Obviously people are reacting to the inherent shame in that anecdote. If she displayed a different type of attitude and behavior on behalf of a child who wanted to lose weight, maybe Ms. Weiss would get a different reaction.

Really, if you want to throw a fit in Starbucks because you can’t figure out that a calorie range most likely reflects the use of skim vs. whole milk and/or the addition of whipped cream, you probably shouldn’t leave your house until you find out what’s going on with you. It’s a complex world out there, and parenting only makes it more complex, and if that is the type of thing that will put you over the edge, bless your heart.

And bless your child’s heart. Because seriously, the real problem here is not weight or nutritional guidance or a fast food nation. If you are the type of person who is going to be histrionic about which calorie amount to punch into Deal-a-Meal abacus after you’ve already given the hot chocolate to your kid, if you are going to snatch and pour out the food in a self-indulgent scene, you are cuckcoo for Cocoa Puffs in a way no diet (for you OR your kid) is going to fix.

So there’s that. Believe me. If every kid with an emotional parent prone to shaming who is unhappy with her weight could only aerobic away the memories of scenes like that, they would. In a cardio-intense heartbeat.

Maybe that’s just the type of incediary ancedote you need to include in books to get Vogue articles, though. I do have a reaction to the “should kids be on diets” question prompted by her work, too. I think mine is an informed point of view. I’ve been on diets since I was 5 or 6. I remember sitting in a nutritionist’s office as a grade schooler as she showed me with plastic food the appropriate portion size for a crackers and cheese snack. I earned an very cool apple slicer in a calorie game from my next nutritionist. I’ve been fat, not as fat, and then fatter…rinse and repeat.

My experience was that early diets didn’t “work.” But neither you nor I can really assess that outcome on its own. We’d have to factor in many heriditary, health, environmental, childhood abuse, emotional, and socio-economic factors before coming close to an answer or an understanding. Or maybe they did help. I can, in fact, read a Starbucks menu, for example, without losing my temper. But as with Ms. Weiss’ daughter, we’d have to know HOW my mom tried to intervene, not only THAT she tried to intervene. It’s too bad, but for most people, weight loss at first seems like it’s a question of math, but then again it’s not. My real experience says weight, eating disorders, successful weight loss stories, our current social nutrional state and the like are something we don’t fully understand for every person. We might find some answers for some people, but the truth is we don’t wholly know. Maybe dieting for kids works and helps set up kids for a healthier future and self-confidence. Maybe it sets them up for a lifetime of disordered eating,  yo-yo weight and shame.

Maybe we don’t know.

But that admission,  just like non-hysterical behavior in a restaurant with your child,  just doesn’t help you build a name in the massively lucrative weight-loss industry, does it?


Check out some of my other posts on Babble Voices: 

On Jodie Foster’s Coming Out Speech at the Golden Globe Awards

Too Fat to Be Seen

Parents as Gender Warriors

Gay Marry Me: We’re on the Right Side of History

Coming Out with Anderson and Megan

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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