She Speaks: Why I Won’t Be Like Dara-Lynn Weiss

by Be Heard on March 30, 2012

in Parenting, Self & Body

Have you heard about Dara-Lynn Weiss, the woman who recently told her tale in Vogue of getting her seven year old to lose weight? In short, her 4 foot 4 inch daughter was weighing in at 93 pounds and declared by her doctor clinically obese. Weiss goes on to describe her erratic approach toward her daughter’s weight loss. Sometimes she would let her eat pizza or hard-boiled eggs, other times, denying her dinner when she had overindulged at school. My favorite decision (note my sarcasm here) is when she describes ripping a cup of hot chocolate out of her little girl’s hands in Starbucks, dramatically upset because the barista doesn’t know precisely how many calories are in the cup. For more excerpts you can read the Yahoo News story.

Now, this may be the first time I’ve ever publicly criticized a mother. It’s my contention that too many women are constantly critiquing each other’s parenting skills when what they should be doing is providing support. However, I’m very passionate about health issues, particularly when it comes to children. Besides, this is not just a health issue; it’s intertwined, as food often is, with self-esteem.

I have grown up with eating issues. From stuffing myself, to starving myself and attempting to make myself throw up, it has taken me a long time to have a comfortable relationship with food. Much of this has stemmed from my history of depression, anxiety, and being made fun of in school for being an overweight nerd. It can’t be denied, though, that my family, the case with many American families, seeks comfort in food.

So, I wonder, what would have happened to me had my parents talked to me the way Dara-Lynn Weiss did? Certainly I didn’t need them telling me that I was heavy, everyone at school was already letting me know that on a daily basis. I can only imagine that my disordered approach to food would have worsened dramatically. Or worse, that my depression and anxiety would have increased to dangerous levels. I was never told by my parents that I was “heavy,” and when I did manage to lose weight I wasn’t told “that fat girl thing is part of your past.” What a painful thing to say to a little girl.

We face in our society criticism every day over body image. No one would profess more how important it is to teach healthy eating to children than me. I don’t let my toddler have breading on her chicken chunks or juice in her sippy cup. I hope that teaching and modeling healthy habits
now will give her a solid basis for her future eating behavior. But if it blows up in my face, I would be more likely to share my own struggles than to make her feel fatter and less of a person that she already feels. Certainly if she gets to that point, no one will be making her feel lower than she is already making herself feel. The one person that could make her feel lower would be me, and I refuse to ever cause her that kind of pain.

We need to start being a culture that values happy curves instead of miserable skin and bones. Keeping our kids at a healthy weight may do wonders for their blood pressure and risk of diabetes, but done the wrong way, it will do little for their hearts, minds and souls.

Amanda Curvy Girl Guide Contributor, Amanda is a licensed mental health counselor and school counselor, work at home mom, wife, dog walker, cook, runner, knitter, and lover of wine, chocolate, and anything with cream cheese in it. She writes Tales of an Amateur Mommy where she describes her daily survival of being a new mother. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter!

 

Liz March 30, 2012 at 8:06 am

Very well said thank you!

I’ve been overweight for as long as I can remember and I’m very thankful that I can say that my mom never made me feel less about myself because of it (I did that all on my own, and with some help from my peers). One person that I distinctly remember making me feel bad about my weight is my aunt.

I remember, when I was maybe 12, her cornering me while I was staying in her house telling me that I had to start losing weight and asking me if I wanted to be fat all of my life. That one moment has changed my view of her and my relationship with her entirely. I still enjoy spending time with her but I always feel judged and am never fully comfortable.

Talking to a kid about their weight is a really hard thing to do correctly. I just hope that if I’m ever in that situation I’ll remember what it felt like and handle it better then my aunt.

Cait March 30, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Yes, exactly. As a woman who had a mother with very similar attitudes and intentions, I want to thank you on behalf of your daughter. You will have an infinitely better relationship with your daughter by avoiding the misguided heartache that actions like Weiss’s can cause.

While I was never once teased at school or anywhere outside my home for being bigger than a societally-acceptable size, as soon as I began approaching puberty my mother made me feel absolutely horrible about my body. When I look at pictures of myself back then, it’s almost unfathomable how she could have thought I was fat (I became bigger after puberty, and I have no doubt that it was at least in part due to her damaging actions and attitude toward my body). I don’t believe that she was trying to be mean, but she was clearly projecting her body insecurities onto me under the guise of a misguided idea of “health.” Like Weiss’s daughter, I also had a skinny brother and was explicitly told that he could eat whatever he wanted because he was skinny. Like Weiss’s daughter, I was shamed in public about eating foods that my mother decided I shouldn’t have at that moment. Like Weiss’s daughter, my mom told me that my body wasn’t acceptable to her even though I was physically active and we ate healthy food as a family.

This led directly to 15 years of disordered eating on my part; while I luckily had pretty robust self esteem and a good self image, I overate and hoarded food because of her restrictions and shaming. If I had had less robust inner resources or more pressures or shame outside the home, I can easily imagine that I could have developed a much more severe eating disorder. And her tactics didn’t work; I am definitely obese now by BMI standards; on my height and my frame most people would just call me overweight (I’m also healthy and active). My mom stopped talking about my body when I left for college; I’m not sure if she reconsidered her concerns or if was just that my move into adulthood changed things. We have a good relationship (and we had a decent relationship during my teens despite this issue) but we aren’t as close as I wish we were. I’ve never been able to sit down with her as an adult to ask her why she did this and convey just how much she hurt me. I know that if I don’t in the intervening years, I absolutely will when I decide to have kids. If she says one word about body size to my children, or says anything like what she used to say to me, I don’t know that I could let her see them.

Weiss claims that this entire ordeal began when the pediatrician declared her daughter obese; she felt she had to take action for her daughter’s health. From my experience, it’s patently obvious that a large part of Weiss’s motivation has more to do with her own image as a mother in a body negative community, but I’ll leave that aside for now. When I was growing up, there was not much information or research on parental influence and eating disorders. Only when I was in college did I begin to see advice from nutritionists addressing my situation.

There is a lot more science-based information available now that shows that associating food with shame in pubescent kids will at the very least encourage the kind of eating it’s meant to discourage, and possibly lead to eating disorders. Sadly, evidence like this has been overshadowed and practically silenced by the hysteria surrounding the “childhood obesity epidemic.” I can’t speak to the numbers behind this “epidemic,” but I can say absolutely that an “obese” BMI does not mean a child is unhealthy. This is not to say that I think parents should let their children eat “anything they want” (a straw man argument made often by obesity hysterics)–I know that raising healthy kids will be a priority for me because I know that I feel better (and kids grow better) when they’re healthy. But healthy and a “fat” appearance (or “obese” BMI) are not at all mutually exclusive. I’m so happy that the message of Health at Every Size is gaining ground, and I want to shout from the rooftops that it applies to kids as well.

I’ve seen a lot of comments in response to the Weiss controversy (on Jezebel and elsewhere) defending Weiss and saying how hard it is to be the parent of a fat child. This is my response to those commenters: if you want your family to be healthy, do your best to provide healthy foods and, most importantly, make sure to help your children listen to their body’s hunger and fullness cues. If your child develops genuinely unhealthy blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar, make changes to the whole family’s diet without singling out the child and talk about the importance of healthy organs and bones and muscles. If your child has normal measures on actual health parameters but is “overweight” or “obese” according to BMI, consider these: a) your child’s BMI is likely to change as they grow and go through puberty, but also b) your child might be fat. Healthy and fat. If you have a problem with your kid being healthy and fat because they might be teased or judged by society, work on boosting your child’s self esteem. If your problem is that you just don’t like fat people, or that you think you’ll be judged by others as a parent because of your child’s size, you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. If you are truly comfortable with irrevocably damaging your relationship with your child, and drastically raising the probability that your child will develop disordered eating behaviors (if not a full blown eating disorder); if you’re really truly ready to destroy your child’s trust and make your child wonder whether you really love them, then be Dara-Lynn Weiss.

Amateur Mommy (Amanda) March 30, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Thank you, ladies, for sharing your stories. I appreciate your compliments re: my posting. I hope other moms can learn from them in their goal of raising healthy, HAPPY kids.

Amanda April 4, 2012 at 10:17 am

I have three daughters and have been trying to keep the emphasis on what our bodies can do, not what our bodies need to be. The more we can reward ability rather than punish appearance, the happier we’ll all be.

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