The “Vogue” Child Diet Scandal

Bored little girls

The April issue of Vogue magazine was its annual “Shape” theme issue — but aren’t they all about shape, every month? A New York City “socialite” named Dara-Lynn Weiss wrote a piece about her daughter Bea’s struggle against obesity, and it made a bunch of people mad enough to spit. When Bea was six, her pediatrician issued a warning that the little girl was clinically obese. When Bea was seven, a boy at school called her fat, and her mom decided to act.

She sought out the teachings of Dr. Joanna Dolgoff, author of Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right, which describes her Weight Watchers-like program. Apparently, Weiss took some good ideas and applied them wrong.

And then she wrote, quite honestly and bravely, an article proving definitively that a mother is not always what the Victorians called “the angel in the house.” Sometimes a mother is “the fly in the ointment,” because she does something unacceptable like admit how exhausting it is to raise children. Weiss certainly didn’t set out intending to be a bad mother. Yet somehow, and even with the most sterling advice, she messed up and achieved a Pyrrhic victory at best.

Sometimes a mother is a burr under the saddle, especially the saddle of Katie J.M. Baker of Jezebel, who was very turned off by the experiences of Bea and her mother, and was especially alienated by how Weiss wrote about those experiences. Baker was moved to characterize Weiss and/or her methods as abrasive, draconian, irrational, immature, dysfunctional, and disgusting. Baker’s review is the type that makes a person want to grin and say, “C’mon, Katie, don’t hold back — tell us how you really feel!” And she does, calling Weiss:

… one of the most [expletive]-ed up, selfish women to ever grace the magazine’s pages.

BlissTree writer Briana Rognlin says the saga arouses a parent’s fear of emotionally damaging a child, and calls it a horror story that practically made her want to cry. Nobody claims that it’s easy to either bring up the topic of obesity or help a child onto a good path — especially when the mother herself has as many unresolved issues as Weiss admittedly has, according to her own article, which discusses her experiments with everything from juice fasts to laxatives.

Like other commentators, Rognlin scolds Vogue magazine for publishing such a reprehensible story and highlights the passages about Weiss’ public scenes and stagey gestures, portraying her as pretty much of a drama queen. The journalist says:

… [A]s her story unfolds, it becomes evident that she not only ignored most advice on how to eat healthy, in general (rather than pushing healthy options, she seemed to focus mostly on limiting calories and portions, regardless of whether her daughter ate cupcakes or salad); she instilled all of the bad body messages in her daughter that make parents fear broaching the topic of weight with their kids in the first place.

Meanwhile, Dr. Dolgoff went on record with the opinion that her program is being portrayed in a misleading way, and Bea’s mother is not quite clear on the concept, which is to empower children rather than shame and stress them. Dr. Dolgoff told the reporter:

The program has to be run by the child, and the truth is that making a child feel bad only causes problems. It’s not going to help with weight loss, and it’s definitely not going to help the child emotionally. The parents aren’t supposed to react in public. They’re supposed to be on their child’s team.

For a more detailed version of Dr. Dolgoff’s position, please see the short video clip at New York Magazine‘s website.

Yahoo‘s “Shine” department asked readers to respond to a poll to choose the world’s worst mom. The contenders were the tanning-obsessed mom who allegedly stuck her five-year-old daughter in a tanning booth that gave her a severe sunburn; the botox mom, who allegedly injected her eight-year-old daughter’s face with botulism toxin; the plastic surgery mom, who gave her young daughter vouchers for prepaid liposuction and breast implants to be used as soon as she is legally old enough; and obesity-obsessed mom Dara-Lynn Weiss. Apparently they didn’t get enough of a response to justify a followup article. Or maybe they’re still working on it.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Mom Puts 7-Year-Old on a Diet in the Worst Vogue Article Ever,” Jezebel, 03/22/12
Source: “Vogue Puts 7-Year-Old Girl On Diet: How Not To Solve Childhood Obesity,” BlissTree, 03/23/12
Source: “Diet Doctor Disapproves of Dara-Lynn Weiss,” New York Magazine, 05/14/12
Source: “4 Beauty-Obsessed Moms You Definitely Don’t Want,” Yahoo!, 05/09/12
Image by quinn.anya (Quinn Dombrowski), used under its Creative Commons license.

One Response

  1. I have to wonder at the thought process of editors sometimes. THough who knows? Maybe it will get some people to rethink the strategy and NOT do those things.

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Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

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Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

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Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

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Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

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