Dara-Lynn Weiss with her daughter, Bea, from the April issue of Vogue, in which Ms. Weiss wrote of Bea’s weight issues. (Picture and caption via The Times.)
Melissa Hayden, Swan lake
My homegurl is in the center, second row back.
As a freshman in college, I experimented with extreme dieting as I watched my college roommate successfully puke-up and shed her freshman 15 before returning home for the summer. No one was more aware of my new weight gain than I. And, at the time, I would have done anything to have the body I had nine months prior to entering college. When I returned home that summer and expressed my concern to mi madre, she slowly spun me around, checking me from head to toe. While nodding with approval she said something like: You look more gorgeous than ever. I've missed you so very much, and I'm so glad you're home. Had she said anything to me, confirming what I had been feeling about my figure, I may have spent my summer rekindling my relationship with my finger and the toilet. Instead, I spent the summer eating fresh veggies from mi madre's garden and biking 6 miles to and from work each day. A change in my routine from sitting long hours in the library and classroom returned me to my usual weight.
Last Sunday The Times published an article about Dara-Lynn Weiss, a mother, who after meeting with her daughter's pediatrician learned her daughter was, according to the BMI chart, obese. Upon hearing this news, Dara-Lynn gave herself license to put her daughter, Bea, on a strict diet. Cutting Bea's meal portions in half, monitoring the foods she ate while at school, and basically announcing through a bullhorn to family and friends that Bea was overweight and on a D-I-E-T, her daughter shed 16 pounds. Dara-Lynn, after writing an article about Bea's diet for April's edition of Vogue, signed a book deal. The media has both slandered and praised Dara-Lynn for her methods.
My first read of this article generated a feeling of wanting to meet Dara-Lynn at the back of the school fields, where I'd whomp on her dieting police boo-tay. I wanted to squeeze her cheeks (the ones on her face) and explain: Bea is just getting ready for a growth spurt, and all those stored reserves are in wait for Bea's metamorphosis into becoming a beautiful young woman. On the other hand, I was reminded that just the other day, I told my homegurl she didn't need to eat that second cinnamon roll she was reaching across the counter for. One was enough for my ballet girl, and I offered to make her a plate of carrots and cucumbers instead. This memory made me think to myself, "You're a monster compared to sweet Dara-Lynn. After all, who made those tempting, butter-laden cinnamon rolls? You did, you enabler. Then you made your daughter feel guilty for wanting another. You should be tied and quartered for running your mouth like that. This wasn't the first time I had stopped her from eating something that could alter her shape.
You see, in the ballet world, no matter what anybody says, body size is EVERYTHING. Just look up Balanchine body (a long, lean, and sculpted frame), and you'll get lists upon lists of what the ideal ballerina should look like. While Hannah was auditioning for summer intensives, underneath the the description of each school there would be a warning like: "They only accept a certain body type." or "They are open to a more athletic build." As my homegurl's mother, I feel like it's my job to help her maintain the healthy body that would put her in the running for becoming a professional ballerina. But I fear some of the comments or looks I've made about her eating choices have translated into: Don't you dare reach for another handful of food. (You'll become fat.) I've never said it directly.
Nobody else feels pressure to look a certain way more than she. She dances with it for fifteen hours each week, then comes home to find her dancing partner (the ideal body) on TV, facebook, and sees it again in her friends who are already dieting because they feel "fat." To her detriment, she sees it again when her mother, the woman she admires and trusts, makes small comments in order to get her to change her mind about what she's going to eat. I've even seen her hurriedly put back what she was about to eat in fear of my disapproval.
Since reading the article I've talked to my homegurl about the things I've said. She told me she's glad for the reminders because if it were up to her, she'd down an entire carton of cookie dough ice cream, each day, for the rest of her life. But she also said that the a few of my comments have made her feel dumb and like I don't trust her choices. I said I was sorry, and to never become a mother like me, and to please forgive me, if possible. She forgave me or is in the process, I think. I also reminded her that starving herself or barfing-up her food isn't an option, ever.
My mother, in all her life, has never said anything to make me feel my eating choices were unacceptable. Instead, she always had a house filled with healthy choices and a few sweets. As children, we were able to choose what we wanted to eat, and if we ate all the chips in one day, there wouldn't be anymore until the next shopping trip. This made us learn how to ration the sweets and grow a taste for healthier foods. Dr. Kimberly Dennis suggests that the best solution for healthy living is, "Life-style changes, in tandem with pleasurable exercise and emotional care, ... have the potential to effect life-long changes for the better."