book review: the heavy by dara-lynn weiss

This book was sent to me by Random House Australia. I have been asked to write a review and my review is truthful to my opinion of the book.

cover image

I was a bit apprehensive to read this book. I didn’t know how I felt about a mother who puts her seven-year-old on a diet, but similarly, I don’t know how I feel about a mother who “allows” (and I say this loosely) their seven-year-old to become obese. But you know the saying, until you’ve walked a mile (or more locally, kilometre) in someone else’s shoes, you can’t really judge. After reading Dara-Lynn Weiss’ memoir The Heavy, I couldn’t agree more.

From the media release (shortened):

In April 2012, Dara-Lynn Weiss wrote an essay for Vogue magazine chronicling her decision to put her then seven-year-old daughter, Bea, on a diet after her doctor diagnosed her as obese. It was a controversial move, and while Dara knew not everyone would agree with what she did, she was certainly not prepared for the reaction she received. She was vilified in the media, called “selfish” and “the worst mother in the world”. Almost everyone wondered if she had gone too far. … Now, in The Heavy, Dara shares the full story – (the good, the bad, and the ugly) – of the journey she and her family undertook in order to get Be a healthy.

Children with a body mass index for age in the 95th percentile or above are considered obese, and Bea was in the 98th percentile … Her child was unhealthy, and it was up to Dara to change that.

I did a quick Google search after I finished reading (I always like to see if they have a website or blog) and Dara really wasn’t exaggerating – the Internet is seriously filled with all of these incredibly hurtful things being said about her where they only just fall short of calling her a child abuser. I cringed when reading them and had to stop. Especially when people say she “shamed” Bea into losing weight. I read the book and I can tell you now, there was no shaming. In fact, Dara made sure that the whole family changed their eating habits (based on doctors and nutritionists orders) so that Bea didn’t feel singled out.

Naturally, the people who believe Dara shamed Bea won’t read the book or won’t believe my review but I’m being honest. The double standard irritates me. If there are overweight or obese children seen eating fast-food again, the cry of “those parents are abusing their child by allowing them to eat that junk” is heard loud and clear. Dara, with the help of doctors, has identified the issue and is controlling the number of calories her daughter eats for the sake of her health and she’s been called the worst mother in the world. I don’t understand, it’s very damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

I read comments on some posts about it and saw many people say it’s cruel for a child to be at a birthday party and not be able to eat what the other children are eating. If you read the book, you’d see that Bea was allowed to eat cake, but only one piece and only if she didn’t have all the other snacks as well. Some may consider this too harsh as well, but until you’re in that situation, you can’t really judge. And no, testing showed there was no thyroid problem.

- credit  Juliana Sohn for web

Author Dara-Lynn Weiss

When I lost a bunch of weight at the beginning of last year, I made no changes to my exercise regime (aka the one that didn’t exist). I was sad and as a result, my appetite lessened. Then over time, my portion sizes grew smaller as I wasn’t hungry for much. Through this, and this alone, I lost eight kilos in the space of a few months. So I understand, completely, why Dara put Bea on a calorie controlled “diet”. Because it works (in most cases). She also encouraged her to do gymnastics and karate, while they regularly walked everywhere. This wasn’t a child who sat inside all day and did nothing.

After reading this book, I truly believe that Dara acted with Bea’s best interests at heart. You may not have acted this way, but it doesn’t mean that Dara was wrong because she did. The Heavy is an honest account of a mother’s struggle with this impossible situation. She was very careful, and would often worry, as she didn’t want Bea to develop body image issues from this. She was careful not to use the word “fat” or make it sound like it was Bea’s fault. She didn’t want her to feel singled out and she definitely didn’t want Bea to diet until she was “thin”, just until she was in a “healthy” BMI range.

I appreciated Dara’s honest about the struggles and how even with a seven year old (and I say this because it’s supposedly much easier to change habits at such a young age), it was still difficult to change Bea’s eating habits. She was honest about how hard it was to explain to other parents what she was trying to do and to get them to stop with the “but she’s only a kid” and “a little more won’t hurt”.

What I didn’t like was how she compared having an obese child with having a child with a severe food allergy. Or liken her position as the parent of an obese child as an authority on such matters in the same way that a lesbian can speak about gay marriage. I see where she was coming from what it just didn’t sit right with me.

Overall, this was a fascinating read. It is likely to put some noses out of joint and I think Dara is very brave to write this. Don’t read it if you’re wanting tips on effective weight loss and management, but as a memoir, I rather enjoyed it.

This blog is not a space for you to say terrible things about Dara and if you do, I will not publish them. I don’t know the effect that this will have on Bea’s self esteem in the future and neither do you. She acted in the way that she felt to be best and that’s all you really can do.

Interested in The Heavy? You can read a free sample here.

Images supplied by Random House Australia. 

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