This week marks the release of The Heavy by Dara-Lynn Weiss, known popularly on the Web as “that horrible fat-shaming mother with the Vogue essay”. Weiss sent shockwaves of ire throughout the Internet last year when Vogue published her personal essay about dealing with her daughter Bea’s obesity in light of her own complicated feelings about food.
The essay, “Weight Watcher” was roundly criticized upon its publication. Internet commenters accused Weiss of humiliating her daughter and shamelessly cashing in on her condition. Jezebel called her “the most fucked up, selfish women to ever grace the magazine's pages”. She was dismissed as a bad, irresponsible, reprehensible mother—and she never said a word about it.
There are plenty of interviews with Weiss floating around the Web today, all of which address the backlash to her original Vogue essay and how she still found it in her to complete her full-length memoir. Taken out of the hyper-judgmental context of the magazine in which the story first appeared, Dara-Lynn and Bea’s struggles with obesity and body image become much more complicated and difficult to resolve. Weiss tellsThe Cut that,
I was expecting a certain level of interest and controversy based on aspects of my approach — my attitudes towards organic versus processed foods, the very idea of telling a child they have a medical problem instead of just trying to fix it subtly. I lived it, so I knew that was something that people are sort of shocked by. And I accept a lot of the criticism. I am strict. I was abrasive at times. I made a million mistakes. But the idea that I embarrassed or humiliated my child, that’s just wrong. It was painful to hear. The whole journey was full of self-doubt and questioning, but I was honest about it. So then to have this wave of people confirming my worst fears.
In another interview with The New York Times, Weiss goes on to say,
I had no sense of what were appropriate amounts of food for my children to eat. I have one non-obese child (Bea’s younger brother, David), and I have no idea how much he eats. He eats what he eats. It works for him, but it didn’t work for Bea.
I didn’t want to cut out food groups. I didn’t want to say “no pizza” or “no cupcakes.” I wanted to give her a budget that she could allocate for those things, so she didn’t need to feel left out of some kinds of eating. And anything more vague — like “make better choices” or “stop when you’re full” just felt too unstructured to work.
Weiss admits to making mistakes as a parent, but asserts that raising a child in America without having to tangle with body image and obesity is becoming increasingly impossible. When so many of today's new parents have grown up with flawed and disordered relationships to food, how can they keep from passing part of that on to their kids? Sure, keeping mum about your diet and weight loss efforts in front of your kids is a given, but what happens when you have no choice but to intervene?
The Heavy seems like a complex look at one mother's attempt to navigate this parental dilemma. By not laying a claim to perfect parenting while still standing by her actions, Dara-Lynn Weiss could very well redeem herself in the eyes of her many detractors. Maybe.
Photo via Juliana Sohn
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