Dara-Lynn Weiss, a Manhattan mother of two who has recently become famous for posing in Vogue with her 7-year-old daughter, Bea, newly thin after a one-year weight loss diet, is under fire in the press and blogosphere for her methods and for showing and telling all about them. Just Google “dara-lynn weiss and bea in vogue,” and you’ll see.
I’m not a fan of her methods (reportedly she badgered and occasionally embarrassed her child). The Vogue piece (not online — you’ll have to buy the print issue) seems self-serving to me, as does Weiss’s book contract. But helping her medically overweight child lose weight? For that, I applaud her.
I was an overweight child until a six-inch growth spurt between the ages of 12 and 13 got my weight in line with my height, finally. The photograph shows me at 11 or 12, with my youngest siblings, Emily and Brian, on a family vacation. The horizontal stripes don’t make me look plump; I was plump. In fact, whenever my other two siblings, Michael and Sally, called me fat names, my mother would say, “She’s not fat. She’s pleasantly plump.” I bought my clothes in the Sears “Pretty Plus” department.
Flash forward 30 or so years. I have three children, and the older two, now teenagers, have already gone through what I did as a child. When they were younger, their weight was too great for their height, and their BMI was medically elevated. My youngest child, who recently turned 12, is still struggling, and we struggle with her, as we did with the older kids. For years, the five of us have been regularly seeing a family nutritionist and doing our best to keep junk food out of the house, fill half our dinner plates with salad or vegetables, and resist the ease of the school lunch program by packing lunches daily. All of this is a total drag, and we do not always make the best choices, comply 100%, or do this with a smile on our faces. We do, however, stick with health (not moral) messages.
None of our kids have diabetes, but with Type 1 diabetes in my family (one brother also has it) and Type 2 diabetes in my husband’s family, this is a real threat. The high BMI must be addressed like the medical problem that it is. Yes, in the developed world, being overweight is often seen more as a moral or aesthetic issue than it is a health one, but this should not distract us from the fact that weight, whether too high or too low, is a dimension of our health status.
When my brother was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 13 (after weeks of unexplained weight loss and excessive thirst), my parents treated it as the serious problem it is by rigorously providing my brother with the diet, insulin, activity, and health care he needed. There was no question that they would do this, and there was no moral dimension or controversy to their approach. Was my brother always happy? My parents? Probably not. It’s hard to deal with a health problem that is confounded by natural human appetites and remain always cheerful.
I think it may be even harder today than it was in my 1970s childhood, when everyday life was not as saturated with food images, food choices, and food temptations. It often is an us-against-the-world feeling when we’re trying to help our children grow up into healthy bodies and outside our door is (literally) a Starbucks, a bakery, snacks for sale even in the pharmacy, and a school where every child’s birthday is celebrated in the classroom and cupcakes.
About Dara-Lynn Weiss about her book contract, I wrinkle my brow and wonder, “How will this affect the child?” About her inconsistent messages to her daughter, I would ask, “Couldn’t you aim for a more even keel?” But about helping her child achieve a healthy weight, I’d raise my right hand, slap hers, and say, “Right on, sister. Right on.”