In case you haven’t heard, the new issue of Vogue has an essay in which a mother, Dara-Lynn Weiss, writes about putting her 7-year-old daughter on a diet and then rewarding her subsequent weight-loss with new dresses a photo spread in the magazine. In order to help her daughter shed the pounds, Weiss resorted to eyebrow-raising tactics like occasionally refusing her daughter dinner and publicly shaming her when she wanted to go off-diet. Don’t worry, everyone is totally disgusted.
Over at Slate’s DoubleX the question came up about what, if any, is the appropriate way to speak your children about weight. Katy Waldman spoke with body image expert Dr. Robyn Silverman who said that a mother should never speak with her daughter about weight. Ever. Waldman goes on to say that it makes her sad that weight loss is this fraught a topic, especially considering that obesity is considered a health risk.
I agree with Waldmanthat there is something really sad about the fact that weight is so, so, so bound up in beauty and self-worth that a mother should never, ever, discuss it with her daughter. I don’t doubt that this is sound advice and would benefit many mother-daughter relationships if adhered to. But it doesn’t seem like it should be the end goal.
In a perfect world, the one I hope my daughter will get to live in, weight-gain would not be the loaded topic it is now. It would be something you can laugh about, a matter without much significance.I grew up in a house like this, but not because of my mother. No, it was my Salvadorean housekeeper who offered me an alternative, and, frankly, incredibly empowering, narrative about weight.
(By the way, I am not referring to weight problems that medical doctors determine as serious health issues. But, based on my experience of knowing women for 32 years, there are plenty of ladies whose struggle with weight has absolutely nothing to do with health.)
Alba, who either lived with us or came every day beginning when I was 7 until I was 24, clearly had a very different attitude towards weight than the mostly Jewish upper-middle class suburban moms that I was surrounded by. I know, no surprise there. If she thought she got a little fat she would tap her belly and called herself “gordita” and then laugh. Weight was not some Lord Voldemort figure, so powerful that it couldn’t even be uttered out loud lest we all spiral out of control. Instead, it was just not such a big deal.
When my weight began the normal teenager and college-student 5-10 pound fluctuations, Alba never shied away from telling me if I was “un poco gorda” or “un poco flaca.” But there was no moral, personal or aesthetic judgement in these pronouncements, as there would have been had it come a friend or a parent.
Ultimately, what Alba helped me feel is that when I gain or lose a few pounds it is no different than if a male family member did it. That, over a course of a year or a life, most people gain and lose some weight and there is simply no reason as to why that should inevitably be a source of shame or a devaluation of self-worth. This has proven an invaluable lesson for me as I become an adult, and I can only hope that it would be possible to impart these ideas on a child of my own.