Food Cop Mom makes Tiger Mother seem tame


FUNNY how we once used the term “moth­er­hood is­sue” to re­fer to some­thing fun­da­men­tal, some­thing com­mon­sen­si­cal, some­thing ev­ery de­cent, right-think­ing per­son would agree with.

Moth­er­hood is­sues are now in­cred­i­bly di­vi­sive, guar­an­teed to pro­voke out­raged head­lines, In­ter­net con­tro­ver­sies and din­ner party spats.

Take the re­cent case of Dara-lynn Weiss. In the April is­sue of Vogue, Weiss wrote a tell-all piece about putting her seven-year-old daugh­ter on a diet. Not since Amy Chua wrote about how to raise high-achiev­ing chil­dren has the bl­o­go­sphere been so fired up about par­ent­ing. (You might re­mem­ber that Chua, the self-pro­claimed “Tiger Mother,” mo­ti­vated pi­ano prac­tice by threat­en­ing to burn her daugh­ter’s stuffed an­i­mals.)

Jezebel, a web­site that of­fers a fem­i­nist take on pop­u­lar cul­ture and me­dia, im­me­di­ately branded Weiss’s es­say “The Worst Vogue Ar­ti­cle Ever.” This is re­ally say­ing some­thing, since Vogue’s last scan­dal in­volved a loath­some piece of puffery about Asma alAs­sad, the wife of the Syr­ian dic­ta­tor. (That ar­ti­cle ac­tu­ally sug­gested that the glam­orous first lady’s per­sonal mis­sion was to en­cour­age young Syr­i­ans “to en­gage in what she calls ‘ac­tive cit­i­zen­ship.’”)

Weiss’s cru­sade in­volves get­ting daugh­ter, Bea, to shed 16 pounds. Not just with an “eat a lit­tle less, ex­er­cise a lit­tle more” diet, mind, but with a very strict, very public reg­i­men in which Weiss ob­ses­sively po­lices her daugh­ter’s cake in­take at birth­day par­ties and makes an ugly scene over a for­bid­den bowl of salade nicoise at a friend’s house. One night Diet Mom sends Bea to bed with­out din­ner be­cause the child has in­dulged in brie and choco­late at her el­e­men­tary school’s French Her­itage Day. Weiss’s de­trac­tors aren’t deny­ing that child­hood obe­sity is an is­sue, but most of them view her ar­ti­cle as an il­lus­tra­tion of how NOT to deal with the prob­lem.

While lit­tle Bea is the one who is per­pet­u­ally fam­ished, Weiss some­how makes the ar­ti­cle all about her own pain. “It is grat­ing to have some­one con­stantly com­plain­ing about be­ing hun­gry,” she writes, that “some­one” be­ing, of course, her first­born child.

The ar­ti­cle’s off-putting, tone-deaf qual­ity isn’t sur­pris­ing, since Weiss is writ­ing for Vogue’s Shape Is­sue, an an­nual ex­er­cise in bad faith and con­tor­tion­ist prose in which the mag­a­zine pre­tends to cel­e­brate bod­ies of all sizes. You know, ath­letic (and thin), tall (and thin), pe­tite (and thin), curvy (but still fairly thin), and of course, thin (and thin). One wishes the mag­a­zine would just go back to its usual gor­geous, fas­cist fan­tasy and be done with it.

Weiss tells us enough that it seems clear she’s pro­ject­ing her own Vogue­sanc­tioned in­se­cu­ri­ties and self-im­age prob­lems onto her daugh­ter. She ad­mits to beg­ging her doc­tor for the ap­petite sup­pres­sant fen-phen, even af­ter it was proven to cause ir­re­versible heart de­fects. She con­cedes that ev­ery morsel of food that goes into her mouth is sub­jected to a tor­tured process of men­tal and emo­tional arith­metic.

Mean­while, Weiss says re­mark­ably lit­tle about what her daugh­ter might think about the whole process. It isn’t un­til the last para­graph that lit­tle Bea fi­nally gets to speak with her own voice. “‘That’s still me,’ she says of her for­mer self. ‘I’m not a dif­fer­ent per­son just be­cause I lost six­teen pounds.’” Her mother can’t quite let that go: “I protest that in­deed she is dif­fer­ent. At this mo­ment, that fat girl is a thing of the past.”

But it’s hard to let the past go when it’s also the sub­ject of a fu­ture book. Weiss got a pub­lish­ing deal out of the Vogue ar­ti­cle, with Ran­dom House plan­ning to re­lease a mem­oir ti­tled The Heavy. (Get it? The Heavy? ) Ran­dom House seems con­fi­dent that Weiss’s ex­pe­ri­ence as a Food Cop is a mod­ern “moth­er­hood is­sue,” that peo­ple will un­der­stand, maybe even sym­pa­thize with what the pub­lisher calls a “damned-if-you-do-damned-ifyou-don’t” sit­u­a­tion.

For most com­men­ta­tors, how­ever, it’s just damned if you do, and ex­tradamned if you de­cide to write about it in an ex­tremely public forum, start­ing a cy­ber-trail that will fol­low your al­ready trau­ma­tized child around for­ever.

I’m pretty sure that in 15 years or so, young Bea could have a book deal, too — a tell-all mem­oir about her fraught re­la­tion­ship with food, and with her mother. DEAR MISS LONE­LY­HEARTS: The week­end is com­ing around and I’m dat­ing my­self again. That’s not re­ally a joke. I don’t have any­one in my love life although I’m 29 with a great job and con­sid­ered very good-look­ing. My first girl­friend told me I was a good kisser. But, I haven’t had a girl­friend ex­cept for sex af­ter the bar in six years. Some­thing is wrong. I asked my brother what, and he said, “You’re al­ways brag­ging on your­self” but I say, “Who else is go­ing to do it for me?” My hob­bies are hunt­ing and fish­ing and I’m away most week­ends in the bush, but I need a girl­friend dur­ing the week, af­ter work. Af­ter high school most of the girls leave here for the city. I have a com­puter but I don’t know how to work it pa st email. What do you sug­gest? I read your pa­per ev­ery day I can get it, and I’m a real smart guy. — Lonely on Week­days, North of 59

Dear Lonely Week­days: Be­cause you live in a ru­ral sit­u­a­tion and al­ready know the peo­ple from your im­me­di­ate area, start with the com­puter. Get a friend to help you get on per­sonal sites with a photo of your good-look­ing face — but not hold­ing up a big fish even though you need to advertise for a woman who en­joys the out­doors. Con­sider camp­ing and fish­ing with a lady friend, as you’re use­less as a real boyfriend if you’re gone away to have fun on your own ev­ery week­end. Find out who’s best on com­puter in your cir­cle, even if it’s a younger brother of one of your friends. Then, pay for some lessons. Plenty of Fish is a free site and you can find peo­ple by re­gion. Have him help you get set up there and ask him to take a good picture of your­self and up­load it. (Hand held self- taken pho­tos are dread­ful.) The photo is half the bat­tle. Then write up a longish de­scrip­tion of your­self and in­ter­ests and have your brother edit out the brag­ging. Best of luck. Write back and tell us how it goes.

Dear Miss Lone­ly­hearts: I’m in love with the jan­i­tor at my school. I’m the school sec­re­tary, but I know two peo­ple who work as staff in a school shouldn’t be see­ing each other. The trou­ble is I’m head over heels. He’s hand­some, funny, sin­gle, and nice to ev­ery­one. We take ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to speak to each other. I stay af­ter school on any ex­cuse to see him with­out so many peo­ple around. I know he likes me and I like him a lot. The truth is I dream of him al­most ev­ery night and day­dream about be­ing in his arms ev­ery time I see him at the school. I am think­ing we could sort of “go un­der­ground” un­til school lets out for the sum­mer. What do you think? — Dream­ing, Win­nipeg

Dear Dream­ing: And what hap­pens in the fall? Ei­ther you’re more crazy about each other and have be­come a cou­ple, or you can’t stand each other and have bro­ken up. Then you have to deal with each other at work - not easy. The best you can hope for is a sum­mer ro­mance that fiz­zles for both of you by the end of Au­gust. Hav­ing said that, ro­mances do hap­pen in schools — teach­ers and sup­port staff have ro­mances and some­times marry or break up. The real taboo is stu­dents get­ting in­volved with staff and this is not your sit­u­a­tion.


Dara-lynn Weiss and her daugh­ter Bea.

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