When parenting becomes a weighty issue

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 April, 2012, 12:00am


A fresh controversy has emerged involving the US edition of Vogue, and it's refusing to go away. In its April issue, the magazine published a disturbingly self-satisfied article about a mother putting her seven-year-old daughter on a diet and using an array of dubious parenting techniques.

The plan was triggered by a doctor's diagnosis of the child, named Bea, as technically obese. And with the newly trim child in tow, Vogue has rewarded the writer/mother with a glamorous photo shoot, where she proudly shows off her thin child.

The author of the article, Dara-Lynn Weiss, recalls 'dressing down a barista' at Starbucks for not giving her the calorie count of her daughter's chocolate drink, publicly berating the child, and denying her dinners upon discovering that she had a high-calorie lunch at school. She rewards Bea's weight loss with shopping sprees and hair extensions but admits her daughter is at times dubious and upset over the regimen.

The backlash against Weiss has been understandably furious. Online feminist publication Jezebel describes it as the worst article in the magazine's history.

Weiss does herself no favours by describing, in Vogue, her own unhealthy relationship with her body as 'a battle'. This is not a New York mother wanting her child to have a healthy body, but rather one who is passing on her own body issues to her daughter.

'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,' Weiss admits in her article. 'Who was I to teach a little girl how to maintain a healthy weight and body image?'

It's not easy to be a parent. It's not easy to be a woman in the culture of beauty that the fashion industry creates. It's not easy living in a culture where obesity is a health threat, and eating disorders and body dismorphic disorder are on the rise among both men and women.

Perhaps there is a minority who support Weiss' efforts to establish a healthy diet. In a world plagued with obesity-related illnesses, surely a healthy push early in life can't be all bad. Time magazine writer Judith Warner argues that perhaps we should thank Weiss for 'blowing the lid off the little-discussed but vitally important issue of how difficult it is for parents with their own issues to nourish and nurture their children in healthy ways'.

Warner might have a point, but I don't think we should thank Weiss for anything. Getting an unhealthy child into shape is one thing. Teaching a seven-year-old girl to count calories, and publicly berating her is quite another. As if Bea doesn't have her whole adolescence to worry about looking perfect.

We all have to work harder to maintain our bodies as we age. As someone who spends hours daily looking at Photoshopped images of teen models, I can tell you that it's not great for the ego. Bea is an unfortunate reminder that no child needs parents to push them down the slippery slope of body anxiety so early in life.