By Kaye Toal
Diet culture (I explain) is what we live in, where various diets are businesses that make billions upon billions of dollars marketing a product that has a 95% failure rate. Diet culture means that many people have really screwed up relationships with food. Diet culture means that 42% of girls will have been on a diet by age 10 — before their bodies have even developed.
If I am feeling particularly infuriated that day, I add something like, “Diet culture means everyone hates themselves and nobody wins. Especially women.”
I have a new addition to my explanation: in a diet culture, a woman who emotionally abuses, berates, and belittles her 7-year-old daughter into losing 16 pounds not only gets a Vogue byline where she boo-hoos over how humiliated she was by her own inability to parent effectively (which she, of course, blames on her daughter not cooperating with said abuse), but a book deal to write a memoir about her experiences abusing, berating, and belittling her 7-year-old daughter into losing 16 pounds.
This woman’s name is Dara-Lynn Weiss and her book, tentatively titled The Heavy (precious), is described by the publisher as “an experience that epitomizes the modern parenting ‘damned if you do/damned if you don’t’ predicament.” Ah, yes. The damned-if-you-do-or-don’t predicament of making your daughter hate herself.
As a 21-year-old woman, the thought of parenting terrifies me. I am sure it is incredibly difficult, and that parents must make very hard decisions for their children and they may not necessarily know whether those decisions are right. Parents are also people, with their own sets of demons that may manifest in their interactions with their children. I understand this firsthand. If at 21 I’m capable of recognizing and empathizing with it, at seven I was not. At seven, I was simply hurt by it. Here, it is probably best to let Bea, Dara-Lynn’s daughter, speak for herself in an excerpt from the original Vogue article.
For Bea, the achievement is bittersweet. When I ask her if she likes how she looks now, if she’s proud of what she’s accomplished, she says yes…Even so, the person she used to be still weighs on her. Tears of pain fill her eyes as she reflects on her yearlong journey. “That’s still me,” she says of her former self. “I’m not a different person just because I lost sixteen pounds.” I protest that, indeed, she is different. At this moment, that fat girl is a thing of the past. A tear rolls down her beautiful cheek, past the glued-in feather. “Just because it’s in the past,” she says, “doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”
I refuse to allow the culture we live in to reward this woman’s draconian methods. As a fat woman myself, as a person with friends and loved ones who have deeply complicated relationships with their bodies, I am appalled by the fact that this article ever made it to print, much less that Weiss is getting a damn book deal. I certainly do not trust that the memoir will do anything other than contribute to a world that tells women they are lesser if they are fat, and that losing weight is an “accomplishment” that fundamentally changes who they are as people and makes them “better.”
I am disgusted with Ballentine Books’ Marnie Cochran’s decision to publish, for in doing so she is – knowingly or not – contributing to this same world.
This is not a world that our daughters deserve.