I interrupt your regularly scheduled family humor programming to discuss a subject in the news that is near and dear to my heart: girls and body image issues.
When I was a young girl, there were two things that caused me great distress: my struggle with weight fluctuation and the fact that Ricky Schroder never wrote me back. Now that I’m a, um, slightly older and wiser girl, I can tell you that only learning to have a healthier relationship with food (and myself) finally ended my 15 years of yo-yo dieting, which started when I was 12. And that I will always, ALWAYS hold a grudge against Ricky Schroder for not having the decency to at least send me a headshot autographed on his behalf by his cousin-slash-assistant.
That’s right, I said it: RICKY. Rick…? Pssshhh. As if.
So when I read about a Vogue article penned by socialite (whenever somebody’s name is preceded by “socialite,” it’s rare that anything positive follows) Dara-Lynn Weiss, who put her “clinically obese” 7-year-old daughter on a strict diet of hard-boiled eggs, coffee cake and public humiliation to help her lose 16 pounds, I couldn’t help but have mixed emotions.
As a mother with a little girl of my own, I am appalled by Weiss’s admission that she would reprimand her daughter’s food choices in front of others, saying: “I once reproachfully deprived Bea of her dinner after learning that her observation of French Heritage Day at school involved nearly 800 calories of Brie, filet mignon, baguette, and chocolate. I stopped letting her enjoy Pizza Fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week. 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’m surprised a calorie-counting “socialite” wouldn’t know that it depends on the kind of milk and whether you use whipped cream. Geesh. Strip this woman of her “socialite” status NOW, I say! (Also: You owe your daughter a huge apology. And a hot chocolate with OR without whipped cream.)
I was equally uncomfortable reading her admit that: “I cringe when I recall the many times I had it out with Bea over a snack given to her by a friend’s parent or caregiver … rather than direct my irritation at the grown-up, I often derided Bea for not refusing the inappropriate snack. And there have been many awkward moments at parties, when Bea has wanted to eat, say, both cookies and cake, and I’ve engaged in a heated public discussion about why she can’t.”
Just as I’m about to mentally tell this woman to stick a 120-200-calorie cup of hot chocolate where the sun don’t shine, it becomes clear Weiss is all-too-aware of her less-than-stellar parenting skills, fueled by her own lousy relationship with food: “Sometimes Bea’s after-school snack was a slice of pizza or a gyro from the snack vendor. Other days I forced her to choose a low fat vegetable soup or a single hard-boiled egg. Occasionally I’d give in to her pleas for a square of coffee cake, mainly because I wanted to eat half of it. When she was given access to cupcakes at a party, I alternated between saying, ‘Let’s not eat that, it’s not good for you’; ‘Okay, fine, go ahead, but just one’; and ‘Bea, you have to stop eating crap like that, you’re getting too heavy,’ depending on my mood. Then I’d secretly eat two when she wasn’t looking.”
Weiss adds that:
“I have not ingested any food, looked at a restaurant menu, or been sick to the point of vomiting without silently launching a complicated mental algorithm about how it will affect my weight. Who was I to teach a little girl how to maintain a healthy weight and body image? Only time will tell whether my early intervention saved her from a life of preoccupation with her weight, or drove her to it.”
A good excuse for messing with her daughter’s self-esteem? No. But Weiss is hardly the first or only mom to struggle with food issues of her own; perhaps instead of calling her “one of the most f*cked up, selfish women to ever grace the magazine’s pages,” as women’s site Jezebel sniffs (a bold statement, considering Paris Hilton has appeared on the cover…in Turkey), we can have a little compassion and realize that, just because we become parents, doesn’t mean we immediately shed our demons, like eating disorders. Sounds like both mother and daughter could benefit from the counseling of a dietician to learn how to embrace healthier food and fitness as a lifestyle instead of a “diet,” and dig deeper to better understand why they’ve poor choices to begin with.
The mom can start with why she chose to submit the article to a magazine like Vogue, which is headed up by a woman who is notoriously obsessed with being skinny. And why, when she had an opportunity to help other moms learn from her mistakes and spark a serious dialogue about passing our body image issues on to our children, she instead chose to impress her fellow socialites by posing with her now-“skinny” daughter in total glamour shots:
“Hey, honey, look at all the glamorous things we can do now that you’re THIN! Afterwards, we can celebrate by eating three jelly donuts and skipping dinner altogether!”
*SIGH* So, yeah, mixed emotions. Moms are entitled to mistakes, despite what 99.9% of the population will have you believe. But learn from those mistakes, for the sake of your kids, if nothing else. Tell us what you’re going to do differently from here on out to ensure your child doesn’t inherit your demons. Don’t glorify those mistakes in the pages of Vogue.
As for Bea, she isn’t exactly at peace with how things have gone down, telling her mom:
“‘That’s still me,’ she says of her former self. ‘I’m not a different person just because I lost sixteen pounds.’ I protest that, indeed, she is different. At this moment, that fat girl is a thing of the past. A tear rolls down her beautiful cheek, past the glued-in feather (a gift for losing the weight). ‘Just because it’s in the past,’ she says, ‘doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.'”
Heartbreaking, isn’t it? Almost as heartbreaking as Ricky’s silent rejection of my professed love for his golden locks. Almost.
Be sure to check out sites such as BodyImageHealth.org, which helps adults and children avoid body image and weight problems