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.