Dara-Lynn Weiss: Over the Top or Right On?
Dara-Lynn Weiss wrote an article in Vogue magazine about putting her 8 year old daughter on a diet and has come under heavy fire. Now she’s talking to my publisher, Ballantine about a book deal on parenting.
So is she setting her daughter up for some serious psychological issues or is she a mother who’s had enough our food obsessed culture’s influence on her daughter? I think, a little of both.
What’s wrong with her tactic is publicizing her daughter’s personal business. She can write all she wants about her own food struggles, but, as a pediatrician, publicizing kids’ issues is completely off limits. I was once contacted by 60 Minutes asking me to come on the show and discuss problems associated with teen sexual activity. The producers asked me to find some teens who had terrible sexually transmitted infections so that they could put them on the air. I flatly told them that I was fair game, never my patients. Same is true with Dara-Lynn’s daughter. Children’s issues should never be aired publicly.
Second, was she right to put her daughter on a diet? If her daughter really was 4 ft 4 in and 93 pounds at age 7, then she was in the 90% for height and about 115% ile for weight. She did have a weight issue that threatened her health. So, clearly, she needed help with her weight.
But here’s the problem. Food, weight and dieting are loaded issues for girls (and women of all ages) in the United States. We have an obesity epidemic among children and at the same time we have a nation full of girls who are starving, binge eating and inducing vomiting daily. When it comes to food consumption, or lack of food consumption, we are genuinely obsessed. Add to that our obsession with body image and how that affects a young girl’s sense of self worth and we have a mess on our hands. So what’s a mother to do? Risk her daughter being taunted by school kids because she is chubby, getting diabetes and all the other health problems that go along with obesity or risk humiliating her daughter and setting her up for an eating disorder by forcing her to diet?
Here’s where I believe the answer lies and it may surprise you. The answer lies in the mother’s motives. If she approached her daughter as though she needed to be healthier and stronger, her daughter will do fine. If, on the other hand, Dara-Lynn felt a bit embarrassed by her daughter (she would never say this, but her daughter would know it) then her daughter is set up to have a serious eating disorder. She will either eat herself into oblivion or starve.
In the end, I do agree with Dara-Lynn’s willingness to take charge of the situation. I see girls with eating disorders of all kinds and by far, the most common eating issues occur because mothers won’t intervene. They allow their kids to eat whatever they want and handle their children like they will break. We have become a nation of confused parents whose motives have become gnarled. I do believe that the psychological and physical health of our children comes down to what we believe about them and what we want for them. If we believe that they are fully capable of controlling their impulses (like eating) then we need to treat them as such. The choices that they will have to make regarding consumption of all sorts of bad stuff- food, video games, television shows, sex, drug- you name it, are only going to get tougher. And we need to prepare them to make those tough choices by teaching them to be disciplined kids filled with self control. Go overboard, or do this because you want a nicer looking kid, and you will create psychological havoc for your child.
Do you agree? What are your thoughts on the issue?