I was just over at The Great Fitness Experiment reading about Dara-Lynn Weiss and her daughter, Bea, and their very public struggle with 7 year-old Bea's weight. Which is an article in "Vogue," with a photo of the two of them. (Including a slimmed-down Bea in her brand-new dress.) In part of the article, Bea starts to cry at the thought of gaining the weight back.
Which broke my heart into a billion, tiny fragments.
Part of me wants to slap that mom and tell her how lucky she is that her daughter is healthy, that she's hitting all of her developmental milestones, she DOESN'T have any special needs, and she should thank her lucky stars. But I REALLY want to smack her, hard, for belittling her daughter and then MAKING IT PUBLIC!!!!!!!!
See, both of my parents are (were) writers. Journalists first, but they both wrote a number of books. Including one they wrote together about our family. Using our real names, and including real anecdotes. My brother and I were kids, so we didn't get a say. My dad also often wrote about us in his column. There were TV and radio interviews, book tours, and we even flew out to L.A. so they could take meetings with producers interested in developing the book into a sitcom. (It never panned out, but one interesting tidbit is that during the book tour, we were on Oprah's old TV show in Baltimore. The one she did before she became "Oprah.")
Sometimes it was very exciting. When you're 9 years old, being in a TV studio is really fun. Seeing yourself on TV is exciting.
Until you get to school the next day, and you realize that your teachers and fellow students know EVERYTHING about you, and some of those kids are relentless in their teasing.
Put that together with the attention paid to me by my extended family on my weight (even though I was not overweight at the time), on what/how much I ate, on how active I was, and it's really no wonder I was bulimic by the time I got to college, and anorexic in the ultra-intense environment of graduate school. I'd learned to hide food, to sneak it up to my room and eat like I was committing a crime. To equate hunger with shame, but also know that food would soothe, at least until I swallowed the last bite. Then the shame would return.
As that young girl, I learned that I was being watched all the time. Nothing was private. Everything was fodder for the book/column, and everything I did reflected on my parents. I took this to heart, to the point where it was no longer a conscious observance, but an unconscious dictator.
At some point in my early childhood, I learned that I was lacking.
And that has ruled my life ever since.
If I feel that others are watching and judging me, it's because, for many years, they WERE!
If I feel anxious and paranoid, it's because, for those many years, I was never truly alone and never had any real privacy.
I sometimes still sneak food into the room I share with my husband. Then hide the evidence. As if he would judge.
He doesn't. He doesn't care that I weigh 40 pounds more now than I did when we met 17 years ago. He, miraculously, still loves me.
As do my kids. They don't care what I look like in my swimsuit, they just want to get in the water. They want Mom to play with them. They (still, luckily) want hugs and kisses and tickles.
Again, the only person who gives a crap about my weight is ME. Even my doctor isn't concerned!
But those old lessons, the ones learned when we are so young and open and vulnerable, are the hardest ones to UN-learn.
Ms. Weiss wonders whether she has given her daughter the tools to deal with her weight or, rather, a lifetime of weight and food issues. I can say she's pretty much guaranteed the latter. And by making it seem that love is conditional on weight, some pretty big self-esteem issues, on top of it. But by writing the article for "Vogue" and including photos of and quotes by Bea, she is compounding those issues a hundred-fold.
She has passed her own food neuroses onto her child. Which cannot always be helped. But then she wrote about it. And expressed her relief that Bea had dropped 16 pounds in time for the photo shoot. Oh, and bought her a fancy new wardrobe as a reward for losing the weight, apparently.
What I would LOVE to see is Ms. Weiss finding a way to deal with her own issues, and passing THAT on to Bea. Letting her daughter know that just because some boy at school calls her "fat," she doesn't have to go on a diet. (To be fair, their pediatrician told her to "do something about [Bea's] weight.")
Weight and appearance are loaded issues, especially in the rarified atmosphere of wealthy Manhattanites. But wherever one lives, whatever one's profession, at some point, a child's well-being has to come before what one's friends and colleagues think.
I think that was my biggest question when I was a kid: Why was I less important than the writing?
It's still my biggest question.
I can't answer it. I just have to realize that I AM more important, to myself and to my own family. That the external judgement is over. I'm no longer a child OR an actor. And I don't have to be my own worst enemy anymore.
But it has been a long lesson, and it's far from over.
Please, Ms. Weiss, don't set your daughter up for 35 years of misery!!!!!!!