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Friday, October 31, 2014

Elizabeth Street

BOOK CLUB: THE HEAVY

Jan 24, 2013

Book Club: The Heavy

It’s difficult to begin a discussion of Dara-Lynn Weiss’s new book The Heavy, without acknowledging the author's despised reputation on the blogosphere. Weiss is the infamous “Vogue Diet Mom,” who chronicled the ups and downs of a year-long diet with her then-seven year-old daughter Bea (a pseudonym).

Weiss was mostly criticized for what came off as unfeeling accounts of unsubtly micromanaging Bea's diet in public, making herself the victim, and projecting her own weight issues onto her daughter. The fact that a picture of now-slender Bea wearing a short dress and laughing with her mother at a fancy restaurant in the West Village ran alongside the article struck some as especially unsavory.

So, is the book more of the same? Yes and no. As Weiss is quick to point out frequently in The Heavy, "judging someone's parenting is all too easy." The longer and more holistic view of the Weiss family make many of the details that seemed unforgivable in Vogue suddenly quite understandable. Weiss’s husband comes from a genetically overweight family, which suggests that a healthy weight is not something Bea likely would have grown in to. The family already ate a balanced diet, but Bea was still obese, so Weiss was left with no choice but to impose a regimen. Bea's pediatrician said something had to be done – not just because Bea was obese, but specifically because her blood pressure had risen to a number too high for a child her age. The unflinching restrictions Weiss chose seem necessary in light of these issues.

Weiss still comes off as a horrible, weight-obsessed person in many a chapter. She backs up her ideas and approaches with studies, but she picks and choose as she pleases. She decides that Bea’s food issues are all entirely genetic, that exercise doesn’t aid weight loss, that obesity is a disease—and while there are studies that might support all of these schools of thought, there are also many that refute them. Weiss isn’t good at disagreeing with herself or wondering if she’s always doing the right thing. 

Uncertainty about Weiss aside, this is a book worth reading. Not only is it quite engrossing—her prose is fast-paced and readable—but it brings up some important issues about parenting around food and the way we treat food and weight in America. Weiss’s story points to the conundrum we’ve put ourselves in. We’re disgusted by obesity but more disgusted by a mom who makes her obese child diet.  We want everyone to be thin, but we're tired of everyone's food issues and eating disorders and will deride someone who displays them in public. We won't stop talking about health, but every occasion seems to call for cake, candy, and soda. If you’re struggling with a child’s health because of their weight, The Heavy is a must—you’ll probably pick up a few ideas, and you just might learn from her mistakes. We should all be thankful to Dara-Lynn Weiss for sharing her story and starting an important dialogue, especially since she crucified herself in the process. —Hally Wolhandler