A few weeks ago there was quite a stink about a billboard advertising campaign that aimed to decrease child obesity by pasting billboard-sized photos of overweight children with harsh messages using words like "chubby" and "fat" to scare parents into action.
Yikes. It's hard enough to be an adult woman dealing with the pressure to look a certain way in our 21st century culture. I can't imagine being a child and seeing/hearing public affirmations that there is something "wrong" with you if you are not at a healthy body weight.
Oh wait. Yes I can. I mean, kids have been called "fat," "chunky," "chubby," "portly," "heavy," "big boned," and the like for a long time. I had my ugly duckling phase in late elementary school and grew a little bit horizontally before I grew vertically, if you know what I mean. Kids are harsh to one another. I experienced that harshness briefly. Many of us did, whether it was a matter of weight, height, ability, colour, religion, income level. God, I even remember—to this day—being made fun of because my running shoes were not cool enough.
As if schoolyard cruelty isn't enough, movies, TV, magazines and other pop culture images don't offer a variety of body images. They don't even offer a variety of HEALTHY body images. I'm all for modeling healthy images, in the family and in the media, but it should include a spectrum of body types. I don't think an anorexic woman strutting down a runway is any more in the public interest than a morbidly obese man hawking junk food on a late-night commercial. Anyone who believes these people and their body types are not chosen specifically for their marketing purposes is living in a magical fantasy world. What happened to the spectrum of healthy body image? Can't one feel good about herself and represented culturally whether she is a 5'2" 150-lb roller derby gal or a 5'11" 150-lb ballet dancer? *sigh*
I at least like to have faith that parents are reinforcing the beauty of diversity (while still emphasizing that there is danger and ill-health on both far ends of the spectrum). Home is supposed to be the island a child can come home to—the place of acceptance and solace they can retreat to when the big, cruel, judgemental world is just too much.
Then, this week, I read this article about a Vogue writer, Dara-Lynn Weiss, who wrote a "poor me, I struggle with the challenges of parenting and sometimes I make the wrong call" piece about her overweight daughter in the April 2012 Shape Issue of Vogue. She admitted to publicly shaming her daughter, arguing with her in front of other children as well as adults, friends and strangers alike, and even depriving her of an evening meal because she disapproved of her daytime consumption. Here's an excerpt:
I once reproachfully deprived Bea of her dinner after learning that her observation of French Heritage Day at school involved nearly 800 calories of Brie, filet mignon, baguette, and chocolate. I stopped letting her enjoy Pizza Fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week. I dressed down a Starbucks barista when he professed ignorance of the nutrition content of the kids' hot chocolate whose calories are listed as "120-210" on the menu board: Well, which is it? When he couldn't provide an answer, I dramatically grabbed the drink out of my daughter's hands, poured it into the garbage, and stormed out.
I cringe when I recall the many times I had it out with Bea over a snack given to her by a friend's parent or caregiver … rather than direct my irritation at the grown-up, I often derided Bea for not refusing the inappropriate snack. And there have been many awkward moments at parties, when Bea has wanted to eat, say, both cookies and cake, and I've engaged in a heated public discussion about why she can't.
Her daughter is 7 years old.
My first thought is, take this child away from this woman. She will be an anorexic, bulimic or otherwise compulsive woman one day. She will hate herself, hate her mother and never trust another human being. She will let men take advantage of her in order to feel loved and accepted. She will never know her true value.
Shame on you, Dara-Lynn Weiss. I can't believe of the 8 Daras in the entire world I have to share a name with, you're one of them.
Shame on you, Vogue. There is a place for everything. I don't believe in censorship. I do believe there is a venue for every inner thought and desire, if you are the type of person who needs to share every thought and desire. I do not think an admission of abusing an overweight 7-year-old belongs amid glossy spreads of underweight models. There is no way, ever, no matter what, if you were the last magazine on this earth and I was trapped in the airport waiting lounge from Hell, that I would ever pick up an issue of Vogue again.
Now, due to her controversial Vogue essary, Weiss has scored a book deal from Random House for a memoir tentatively titled "The Heavy."
And barf again.
I hope your daughter's sanity was worth it, lady.