Is there a more sensitive topic than telling a parent that their child is fat? When a doctor pronounced Dara-Lynn Weiss’s daughter, Bea, obese at the age of seven, the mother of two knew she had to take action. She chronicles the battle in The Heavy.
Before I share my thoughts on the book, hit Google with the search term ‘vogue dara-lyn weiss’. Weiss published an article in Vogue in March, 2012 – basically the precursor to The Heavy. Let’s just say the search results aren’t pretty. In fact Weiss is caned. So, is The Heavy a chance to tell the real, unedited story? Yes, to a certain extent although you can’t help feeling that the damage is already done in magazine, newspaper and blog posts about the ‘diet’ Weiss put Bea on.
I was going to try very hard to be objective about the book. I was going to ignore all the stuff that was published before the book. I was going to take the book at face value and not be judgmental about how another mother parents… But that is really very difficult when it comes to such a provocative topic.
First up, I should say that the book is well-written, albeit a little repetitive in parts. Weiss thankfully avoids an overkill of ‘science’ to support her arguments and instead sticks very much to a memoir format (a wise move). So, let me get down to tin-tacks. I felt lots of things reading The Heavy – astonished, sympathetic, angry, incredulous but mostly sad. Very sad. Because while Weiss believes she has given her daughter the tools for achieving and maintaining a healthy body, she’s also handed her a lifetime of emotional issues in relation to food and body image.
“Obesity is an excruciatingly obvious disease. Having fought her way to a healthy weight, I’m not sure what these critics believed Bea should feel embarrassed about.”
Therein lies my concerns for Bea. She is eight-years-old and has a lifetime of weight gain and loss ahead of her. Had Weiss kept Bea’s battle private, then any gain or loss of weight in the future would not be scrutinized in the way it will be now. And Bea has it all chronicled in a book, for the whole world to see. She can read it over and over. She’ll probably be the subject of a trashy magazine expose “How fat are they now?”.
Your mother should be your greatest supporter and some may say that Weiss is Bea’s greatest supporter. But why publish it all in a book? Parents are responsible for their children’s health and their emotional well-being. My fear for Bea is that publication of The Heavy will come at great cost, a cost that hasn’t even been tallied yet.
“‘Even if I fit in and I’m not fatter than the rest of the kids, that’s who I was: the fat girl,’ Bea told me tearily. ‘And that’s who I’m always going to be. Even if I change, I’m always going to be known as that person.’”
Yes, I agree with you Bea.
Let me just touch on Weiss’s own issues with food which are an important part of this story. Weiss could be classed as someone with an eating disorder – she sets the scene with descriptions of her lifetime of dieting and makes mention of diet pills and throwing up after meals.
“At my most desperate moment, I took an emetic in order to make myself throw up after a slightly out-of-control eating session.”
Hello! This is not normal. This is an eating disorder. Now put someone with an eating disorder in charge of an overweight child.
“I felt a kind of adrenaline-fueled exhilaration. This was familiar territory for me: the first few days of a new diet, full of hope and anticipation, where the food shopping felt fun, and even words such as tablespoon in the recipes for the new diet foods sounded tasty. Best of all, I wasn’t doing it on my own – I had teammates!”
I was prepared to give Weiss the benefit of the doubt regarding her claim that she made her family ‘healthful’ meals (despite the numerous references to cupcakes, pizza lunches and that it was easier to eat out (burgers and fries) than cook at home) – that was until I read the bit about the apples -
“I learned, for the first time in my life, what kinds of apples I liked and didn’t like. I’d eaten them infrequently and certainly never bought them, so it was interesting to learn that they offered so much variation.”
Seriously? She’s a forty-something year old woman (who has dieted for three decades) with two kids and she’s never bought apples? Here’s the tip – her pantry is not full of “healthful” foods, it’s full of all that processed shit – pureed apple in pouches and ‘fruit’ roll-ups.
Okay, that was all a bit judgmental…
So, who’s going to buy this book? Smug mothers whose kids are in the healthy weight range? Mothers of overweight children looking for answers (which they will get – Weiss neatly reveals the hypocrisy inherent in their situation given that she was criticised for allowing Bea to get fat and just as quickly criticised for restricting her food intake). Or people who like to read the book that is making news? That last one was me. I like a bit of controversy.
3/5 Ultimately, I predict an unhappy ending.
Goodness, what to team this book with that won’t be disingenuous? There was one bit that involved cupcakes that was funny. Weiss describes a time when a teacher, wanting to avoid junk food being brought in by parents for children’s birthday celebrations, said “Let’s raise the bar on cupcakes!” Weiss saw the humour and I think any other parent can too – break out the vanilla cupcakes.