How timely! The notorious "Vogue mom" is back, selling a memoir about putting her 7-year-old on a diet. (To the nitpickers: At least I think that's what the memoir is about - I haven't read it and don't have plans to do so.) From a NYT parenting-blog post that also appeared yesterday:
KJ Dell'Antonia: Can we get the elephant in the room out of the way first? I think a lot of my readers will want me to ask you why you would write an entire book about a subject that’s so personal to your daughter.
Dara-Lynn Weiss: I felt like this was something she should be proud of. This was an enormous accomplishment for her. The book is a celebration of her. Why would she ever need to feel bad for being a part of it? And I thought it was an important story to tell.Weiss goes on to confuse criticism of her parenting decisions regarding her daughter's weight with ones of her decision to publicize them. When it could perfectly well be that she was on the one hand right to intervene (or that those who haven't been in that situation on either side can't really say) and on the other, wrong to write about it for a mass audience. One commenter takes that approach: "I don't think Bea's story should have become a public essay and now a book, but I'm 100% in favor of how her mother handled this." And another: "It's all great—a mom helping her kid lose weight—but why does everything have to become a blog or book deal?"
This is a tale for Bea to tell, when (if) Bea is ready to tell it and not her mother.
Personally I would be horrified if my mother published *any* kind of book about me--even if it was about sports activities or successfully overcoming a challenge. Perhaps Bea was consulted and gave her blessing, though I am not sure what 8- or 9-year-old understands how a memoir or biography can follow one through life.Another commenter, meanwhile, points out a practical problem with parenting-memoir-as-success-story, namely that when the kid's still a kid, the story isn't over. What if this miracle weight loss isn't sustainable? I know, a radical thought, because everyone who goes from fat to thin stays that way. But especially with a girl who hasn't yet hit puberty, it seems odd to announce a body transformation as a fait accompli.
I do think that the message, if the writer deemed it an important one, can be brought to the wider world without sacrificing her daughter's privacy--one can use pseudonyms or other kinds of anonymity. I hope Ms Weiss makes sure to keep her desire to publish stories that are not her own in balance with her young daughter's inability to understand how having her name and story all over the Internet and on bookshelves might affect her in a few years.
Yet another commenter - at long last! - addresses the temptation to sell one's kids' stories, expressing an admirable amount of concern, especially given that the kids in question are apparently now adults:
For me, the issue here is not what Weiss did, which all sounds very reasonable and on target [...]. The issue is one's motivation in writing about one's child, which is something that I struggle with as well. It has been my lifelong dream to publish something, but I have never had any success. My kids are a RICH source of narrative material; I could very easily turn aspects of our lives together into something that might well be marketable.And another responds, and it's like, I have your answer!
I wish KJ would bring this topic up more often here in Motherlode. I know she tried to approach it with that recent column by the writer who "pulled a knife" on her mother -- but the sensationalistic detail about the knife and the author's notoriety for having previously written elsewhere in the Times about some sort of fetish sidetracked the conversation and ultimately obscured the point she was trying to make.Precisely, precisely, precisely! Keenan's post was great, but there was too much Keenan-specific material distracting readers. This commenter and I both used the verb "obscure," even! (Had this commenter seen the post? The date-stamp makes this not impossible.) But more importantly, yes, the time has come to question the ethics of selling your kids' story. Which is, to repeat, a separate question from whether the parenting depicted or promoted in a story is worth emulating. Also to repeat myself ever-so-slightly: the issue isn't whether parents have the right to seek medical care for their kids, or to confide in friends and family about their private concerns. It's not that parents should suffer in silence. It's that the alternative to "silence" isn't Vogue.
Most people need to chill. Worry a little less about how Bea is going to react when she's a teenager - I'm sure she'll address her feelings with her mother and her therapist - and focus more on the conversation about childhood obesity. Then we might actually get somewhere.
I am someone who would/does ignore all those advice-givers/"professionals" with anonymous "Jane Doe" stories and go straight for the first-person account. Anyone can lie and make up a patient. But I know Ms. Weiss isn't lying about her experience with Bea because her name gives the story authenticity. That's why I prefer first-person parenting resources.As though people never lie about their own memoirs? Have we learned nothing?