The socialites who write personal essays for Vogue aren't known for their kindness and humility, but Dara-Lynn Weiss, who opened up about putting her 7-year-old daughter on a Weight Watchers-style diet in Vogue's April issue, has to go down in history as the one of the most fucked up, selfish women to ever grace the magazine's pages. Weiss' initial quandary is a complicated one, to be sure: what do you do if your pediatrician tells you your child is clinically obese? But the justifications to which Weiss clings as she describes the abrasive, often irrational weight-loss strategies she imposed upon her young daughter are truly disgusting, as is the obvious fact that Weiss was projecting her hatred of her own body onto her child throughout her year-long diet. The ickiness of the essay is only overshadowed by the accompanying photos, in which Weiss and her now-slender daughter — who even Weiss admits is traumatized by the events of the past year — don miniskirts and giggle girlishly over tea.
According to the CDC, approximately 17 percent of American children are obese, which means their BMI lies in the ninety-fifth percentile or higher for their age and height. Weiss' daughter, Bea, fell in the ninety-ninth percentile at 93 lbs and 4'4'' inches tall, therefore putting her at a risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type two diabetes. Weiss writes that everyone supported her long-term mission to get Bea to a healthy weight, but that "no one seems to approve of my methods." Perhaps that's because Weiss' "methods" were draconian, immature, and affected by her own dysfunctional attitude toward food. "All I really had to do was give Bea less to eat," Weiss writes. But it wasn't that easy:
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 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.
Sounds rough, right? It was — for Weiss. "It is grating to have someone constantly complain of being hungry, or refuse to eat what she's supposed to, month after month," she writes. It was also "exhausting managing someone's diet, especially when her brother has completely different nutritional needs." And then you have the embarrassment, as "no one likes to see a child or her mother humiliated over something as trivial as a few dozen calories." Weiss only has herself to blame for her humiliation, although it's unsurprising that she would make the issue about herself. "Who was I to teach a little girl how to maintain a healthy weight and body image?" she asks, given that she's spent the past three decades "[hating] how my body looked and [devoting] an inordinate amount of time trying to change it." Among other destructive habits, Weiss took laxatives as a teen and "begged" a doctor friend to score her appetite suppressants that had been proven to cause heart-valve defects. "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," she admits. One wonders if posing in Vogue with her skinny daughter who "looks great" and "seems to take enormous pride in her appearance" has made her feel any better about herself.
A year later, Bea is sixteen pounds lighter and two inches taller, and has been rewarded with "the purchase of many new dresses" and a feather hair extension. But is she happy? "Only time will tell whether my early intervention saved her from a life of preoccupation with her weight, or drove her to it," Weiss says, but I don't think that's true. While reading Weiss' endless excuses for putting her daughter through hell (one example: "She didn't strike anyone as ‘obese,' but, in truth, I liked that the word carries a scary, diagnostic tone"), I kept wondering what Bea thought of all of this. I didn't expect to hear her point of view. But then I got to the end:
For Bea, the achievement is bittersweet. When I ask her if she likes how she looks now, if she's proud of what she's accomplished, she says yes...Even so, the person she used to be still weighs on her. Tears of pain fill her eyes as she reflects on her yearlong journey. "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. "Just because it's in the past," she says, "doesn't mean it didn't happen."
I called Dr. Dolgoff, the founder of "Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right," the Weight Watchers-style program that Bea based her diet upon, to hear what she thought of the piece. She said that while Weiss "clearly loved and wanted the best for her daughter," she "wasn't thrilled" by the article, especially since it somewhat misleadingly portrayed her program, which focuses on empowering children, stresses that parents refrain from embarrassing their kids in public, and allows kids a number of indulgences to enjoy with friends. "The program has to be run by the child," she said, "and the truth is that making a child feel bad only causes problems. It's not going to help with weight loss, and it's definitely not going to help the child emotionally."
Perhaps that's why Weiss and her daughter only used the program — which suggests parents come up with a "code word" to remind their children of their diet in public settings and, failing that, let them make their own decisions and discuss them later during doctors appointments — for a few months. "The parents aren't supposed to react in public," Dolgoff said. "They're supposed to be on their child's team. Another parent in [Weiss'] situation may have seen that, while weight loss was progressing, there were some emotional issues. But she chose to continue dieting in her own way. I believe that if she had continued coming, the end result would have been more than just weight loss: she'd have weight loss and a happy child." Perhaps she would — but then she might not have her Vogue byline.