‘The Heavy’ by Dara-Lynn Weiss


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.

My copy of The Heavy was supplied courtesy of Random House Australia via NetGalley.

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.


9 responses

  1. I don’t know much about this except for the descriptions you’ve given and a little google-searching. And I agree with you completely. My family’s healthy lifestyle is hard work and my partner and I work at it every day. Very cliche but it’s all about moderation. I agree that Bea has been given a head-full of hang-ups and issues that she will deal with for the rest of her life. Writing the book wasn’t a good move on mum’s part. Writing the book doesn’t put your child first. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one. It is indeed a tricky topic.

    • I suspect I would have felt a little differently if Bea’s photo hadn’t been included in the Vogue photo-shoot – people will look at the images and make all sorts of assumptions. Give the kid some privacy and when they’re older, if they want their photo shared then so be it.

  2. I don’t think I could bring myself to read this book. I agree with you that the public scrutiny is probably the most harmful element of all. And I do think the fact that the mother had an eating disorder makes this whole situation even more dicey. It doesn’t really sound like this should be a story held up as an example of a “success story.” I can’t say for sure since I haven’t read it, but it doesn’t really sound like this little girl has been set up with good habits for life.

  3. I hope the mother gives the money she makes to her daughter, both for the therapy she’ll likely need and because she’s exploiting her daughter’s struggles for profit. This has gotten a lot of coverage in the US and it has bothered me quite a bit. Obesity is a huge problem here, but a 7 year old doesn’t get obese alone. I’m not blaming the parents, but you should at least be conscious of what you’re stocking you pantry with. That being said, there is little to no nutrition education in this country (a place that so obviously needs it). Furthermore, it is incredibly expensive to eat healthy here, the processed foods are subsidized and it’s all many people can afford. For example, it is quite a bit cheaper to buy soda as opposed to water, processed bread as opposed to spinach, etc.

    Ultimately, I just feel bad for Bea, though it is nice to know she is at a healthy weight now.

    • There is a fair bit of discussion in the book about cost of foods. I feel lucky to live in a country with relatively inexpensive fruit, vegetables and meat.

      From a calorie point of view, it was ‘better’ for Bea to drink Diet Coke than juice (just one example of many). This concerned me greatly – it may be ‘better’ in the very short term to meet her daily calorie allowance but it’s setting up a lifetime of focusing on highly processed food.

      I must admit that I did notice when I was in the US how big portion sizes were. In Aus there is an obesity problem for adults but kids haven’t gone the same way. Yet.

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