Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Here's a Loaded Question.

Image via here

We talked about Vogue yesterday, and this month's magazine has a controversial article that's getting a lot of attention: the author's seven-year-old daughter was diagnosed as obese, and the article details the year of trying to get this young girl's weight under control.  While the article isn't available on Vogue's web site, it's heavily excerpted in this article on Jezebel (caution: there's some, ahem, salty language here), and oh my, is it a loaded one.  

There are a million things about raising kids that make me absolutely terrified of having them someday: making sure they don't end up on drugs, teaching them about Stranger Danger, hoping that they have good manners and decent social skills.  Navigating when and how they are allowed to use Facebook keeps me awake at night and I don’t even have kids.  And that's on top of worrying about their physical health, concerns that could fill volumes.  Childhood obesity is a serious health matter that has to be addressed, but trying to put your child on a diet to get him or her to a healthy weight sounds like it is simply fraught with the worst of both physical and social issues.  So what's a parent to do?

For Dara-Lynn Weiss, author of the Vogue article, she put her daughter on what sounds like a pretty strict diet, based on a sort of Weight-Watchers-Points-For-Kids idea called the "Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right" program.  Interestingly, according to Jezebel, the doctor mentioned in the story was only consulted for a few months, and many of Weiss' methods, like confronting her daughter in public about how she wasn't supposed to eat certain foods, were not things that the doctor endorsed.  And lots of the coverage about the article has highlighted the fact that Weiss is very open about her own struggles with food and her relationship with eating, and how she is projecting her own issues onto her daughter.    

The diet itself seems to have worked, in the sense that her daughter lost sixteen pounds and grew two inches, a feat celebrated "with the purchase of many new dresses" and a trip to the salon for a feather hair extension, but I found myself questioning at what cost.  Weiss herself writes that her daughter "[i]ncredibly...has not yet exhibited symptoms of intense psychological damage."  That sounds really, really bad, doesn't it?        

Image via here by Garance Dore
Weiss also said that in order to keep her daughter from feeling "stigmatized, I forced her skinny little brother . . . to come with us to all the appointments."  Doesn’t that beg the question why, if she didn't want her daughter to feel stigmatized, did she publish this article in Vogue, with no regard whatsoever for her daughter's or her family's privacy?  But I suppose that at the same time, if the stigma is to be removed, there shouldn't be a need for secrecy or anonymity, and that sharing this story, warts and all, was the brave thing to do.  And as Garance writes, "You talk about [food] all the time…In a very casual manner. Sharing the best macrobiotic recipes, new revolutionary diets, and the best fat-burning teas. But no one really talks about the more alarming side of these rather obsessive behaviors."  So shouldn't we be talking about this, in frank, open, and honest terms? 

Isn't cake part of being a kid?
Image via here by Nicole Hill Gerulat.
I think the answer to that question is definitely "yes."  This is important, and there must be scores of parents out there dealing with this issue.  It's easy to say in the abstract that kids should eat right and make good choices.  But how are you supposed to react if your child is obese and you're at a birthday party and she wants to eat a slice of cake?  Isn't that part of being a kid?  Or is that outlook how child obesity has gotten to be such a problem?  

But am I the only one who, after reading the article, was left with an overwhelming sense of "this poor little kid?”  Having to deal with this at such a young age seems like it would be hard enough.  Having your struggle – and your mom’s characterizations of how “exhausting” and “grating” it was to “have someone constantly complain of being hungry” – published in a fashion magazine seems like it’s in its own league of hard.

The real question is, what do you think?  Are people getting too worked up and ignoring the fact that childhood obesity is a huge problem?  Should we cut Weiss some slack for dealing openly and honestly with such a hot button issue?  Or are there real problems with the way that she went about handling it? 
Should we ever question how parents raise their own children?

Image by Tall and Salty

PS: Am I the only one who wonders what Vogue could possibly have been thinking when it ran a Harry Winston ad featuring a very svelte model dressed as a bride (with, yes, a very beautiful engagement ring) holding a giant piece of cake in her hand on the page opposite this article? Ouch.  How did no one catch that? 

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