As I’ve said before, I really wanted to like Dara-Lynn Weiss for opening up about the extremely difficult and somewhat taboo situation of helping an obese daughter lose weight. But as it worked out, she mostly ended up fat-shaming her daughter—both in the way she forced her to diet and in the course of publishing the sordid details in Vogue. The article got plenty of backlash, but, as was announced yesterday, it also got her a book deal with Random House. As an editor and writer, I’m all too familiar with the pressure to exploit controversial personal stories for attention, but exploiting a young girl’s body (and body image) crosses a line.
Weiss’ story, “Weight Watcher,” was published in the April issue of Vogue, and while it could have been a poignant opportunity to talk about the personal challenges confronting many parents in the midst of today’s childhood obesity epidemic, it ended up being a compendium of all the wrong ways to encourage your kids to lose weight. She calorie counted, publicly argued with her then seven-year-old daughter over which food she was to eat, and punished her for eating the wrong things by depriving her of foods she liked. When her daughter finally reached her “goal weight” (and yes, we should all be pausing to wonder if it’s ever a good thing to give a seven-year-old a “goal weight”), she bought her pretty dresses, rewarded her with a new hairstyle, and told her how pretty she looked (again, missing the opportunity to impress upon her daughter—and readers—that the point of the whole endeavor was to improve her health, not to make her more physically attractive).
Random House says the book, to be called “The Heavy,” will focus “an experience that epitomizes the modern parenting ‘damned if you do/damned if you don’t’ predicament.” Which is an interesting predicament indeed. (Although, as New York Magazine pointed out, they’re glossing over the dynamic of being “damned if you’re cruel enough to write about said predicament in an international fashion magazine.”) But if Vogue proved anything, it’s that what’ll really make Weiss’ book fly off the shelves is more stories about the arguments they had over calories at dinner parties, the food she ripped out of her daughter’s hands, or the public shit-fits she threw at Starbucks.
Weiss won’t be the first mother to put her parenting techniques up for debate, and as a grown, consenting woman, I’d say it’s within her right. But unlike “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua (whose punishing discipline methods were seen as genius or child abuse, depending on who you talked to), or “Bringing Up Bebe” Pamela Druckerman (whose praise for laissez-faire parenting a la French mothers spurred personal digs over past articles written about her meticulous planning of a threesome), Weiss is dragging her daughter into the limelight in a particularly cruel way. And for that, I think Weiss and Random House should be ashamed.