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weight watcher

I might have completely missed the article in the April issue of Vogue about a mom who put her daughter on a diet. But a friend of mine texted me about what’s being called the “worst Vogue article ever” after it had traveled throughout every media channel, asking me how Momfilter was handling the article. I read it over the weekend, talked it over at length with a friend. I figured, if we are in fact “filtering”, we should at least give some opinion here.

Unfortunately you can’t read the article online, so you have to pick it up on the newsstand, or infer its content by reading the numerous articles about the article online.

The only point I would like to make that hasn’t already been discussed ad nauseum, is that we consider that the writer was very likely blindsided. It’s entirely possible that she wrote a piece that was twice, three times, or five times as long as the one that was published. Being an editor, I can tell you first-hand that our job is to make a piece as interesting, and perhaps, in this case, as newsworthy, as possible. I’d guess there were things that were cut that would have made her a little more sympathetic. Maybe not. She wasn’t an established writer before this story came out, so she probably would not have been privy to rounds of edits and the final text before it went to press. I have to imagine she entered into the piece with blind trust that the magazine professionals would tell her story in a positive light. The photograph of mother and daughter looking very glamorous, which provided endless fodder for commentary, is, in the best case scenario, yet another rookie move on the part of the mother. Having been a photo editor at a number of magazines, and having read plenty of fairy tales, believe me, it is a very exciting thing to have a Vogue editor set up a photo shoot, get Cinderella hair, makeup, and fashion treatment. It’s easy to Monday-morning quarterback and say that she should never have “exploited” her daughter’s weight-loss or allowed herself and her daughter to have been pictured at all, let alone in designer clothing. But maybe she would say that she was really proud of her daughter and wanted to mark this occasion. (Okay, the being photographed with her is a hard pill for me to swallow.)

Perhaps I am extra sympathetic because of a personal experience my family went through with an article that was in the NY Times. Pilar had a dear friend, Katherine, who was writing a story about the dynamic of couples in the kitchen. Since my husband is fondly (most of the time) referred to as the “kitchen bully”, he was a natural fit for the article. I can’t tell you how much “sympathy” the article got me, and how many readers felt sorry for me, wishing for me to escape the awful relationship that it appeared I was in. But for the whole story, which I am only telling you because I can, is that Matt was being interviewed by Katherine, a friend, when we were at a restaurant. He had had a few glasses of wine and wanted to be as funny and entertaining as possible. He wasn’t worried about how his words were going to look in print, how he was going to be seen as an asshole by people all across the country. It didn’t bother me–well, as long as I didn’t read all the comments.

The point is, anytime you are interviewed, chances are good that writers and editors will likely massage an interview to support thesis. However benign or insidious, a distortion of even minor magnitude can be incredibly hurtful. My husband and I work in the media, and even we felt a little blindsided after reading the comments: The story made it look like I was a victim and he was a jerk. I have to think naivete on the part of  this mother before an intimidating Vogue staff had to play a huge role in how badly she came off in the story.

I actually know the writer of the Vogue story. Not well, but our daughters were in a 4s class together, and we went to a birthday party for her daughter once. I certainly didn’t think of her as a socialite–she seemed like a thoughtful, caring mom, who wasn’t fancy or concerned with climbing a social ladder. Of course, this is completely my impression, but I think that first impressions do count for something.

I’m sorry that she and her daughter have had such a rough year. And I hope that all of this dies down fast. I don’t know what good the article ultimately does for anyone, because it doesn’t actually teach me anything about how to deal with weight issues and kids, or adults. It definitely shows how careful we all need to be when it comes to thinking the media is going to protect you just because you’re giving them a good story.

 

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Comments (12)

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  1. Posted by: Rachael

    Oh what a great post on it. I’m particularly glad you shared such a similar experience, “big” media-wise. I appreciated her article–I don’t relate to it on any level, but I thought she allowed for all our mental caveats and tried to answer them.

    Vogue is the ideal venue for that kind of piece, and Vogue knows their readers want nice photographs to accompany everything. I thought Garance Dore talked about the tough topic in a good way as well.

    I’m glad you addressed it!

  2. Posted by: jsohn

    this is probably the most sane and humane commentary on that article i have read. readers tend to attack the “writer” unfairly without knowing the process behind the media machine. this negative media storm benefits vogue and sells more issues. i don’t think they are so sensitive to the individual with their name on the byline . it’s been more interesting for me to see the reactions/commentary and realize how quick people are to judge and attack. i’ve been shocked by the vitriol. the article and the issues it raises surely touch upon a highly controversial topic. with a book deal in the works, i’m sure this is just the beginning.

    thanks yolanda

  3. Posted by: Deb

    Thanks for your measured and thoughtful commentary here — it’s one of the few sane responses I’ve seen. I read this article when it came out and had nothing but sympathy for this poor mom and her daughter. Would she have seemed more sympathetic if she and her daughter were unattractive? Poorly dressed? If she herself was fat? Come on. The obesity epidemic among our kids gets endless media coverage, and celebrities like Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama are lauded for their efforts in combatting it, but when a mother tries to deal with an actual, real weight problem in her own home, she is villainized. I sit at my son’s swim lessons and listen to other parents around me — parents! — snigger and make rude comments about the chubby kids. I’ve heard dads comment about the “fatties” on the soccer team. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. We’re lucky that our son is a healthy weight, but I’ve had snide remarks about keeping treats from him to combat his gluten intolerance. When it comes to raising our kids, we are a very poor village.

  4. Posted by: T Robinson

    Like many people, I read the articles and comments on this particular article well before I actually read the article. My takeaway from them was that this woman must be some kind Tiger-mother monster. When I finally read the actual article my impression was so different–I thought the mother told a heart felt story of a real struggle she went through with her daughter. This was a woman discussing a very difficult parenting issue, and like most difficult issues, one for which there is no “best approach.” In fact, most of the examples being quoted as proof of just how awful a woman the writer is were taken out of context and came as part of the author recounting instances where she felt particularly lost–she wasn’t sure she’d done the right thing either. What mother hasn’t felt that way? I have to wonder how much of the outrage here is at the media vs the message–I can’t imagine the same level of vitriol would have been directed at a story in say, Parents magazine, about the honest struggle of a mother trying to help her child lose extra weight.

  5. Posted by: chiaromonte

    the writer got a book deal out of this story. so maybe she wasn’t
    so naive after all. or possibly she will have a chance to tell the story her way.

  6. Posted by: Amy

    This is the best commentary on this essay. I read it, without knowledge of any “scandal”, last week. In fact, the tag on the cover was one of the things that caused me to buy Vogue in the airport. I identified so much with the author — the denial, the hypocrisy, the desire to raise my daughters without my food / body-image connections and hang-ups — and appreciated her candor. Now that I understand how the author has been vilified in the press, I’m writing to her in support. Not that she cares what I think, per se, but hey, her article was life-changing for me and my kids.

  7. Posted by: courtney

    I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, so thank you for reminding me to do so. I was so enraged when I read the article, I practically couldn’t see straight. But with a husband who works in media, I need to remember that stories are always slanted, edited, and exploited. (take a deep breath, me!)
    Also, I read that article about couples in the kitchen, and I thought it was funny! Wasn’t it written to be comical? Like, clearly your husband isn’t actually a bully. Maybe I just understand because I take charge in the kitchen, so i could relate. Anyway, sorry for you guys that it caused so much heat. :(

  8. Pingback: Of weight management and parenting « Just Because.

  9. Posted by: mzwong

    I really appreciate this perspective, and it rings true. I used to work at a newspaper, and my husband and I were interviewed for a piece in the newspaper. Feeling casual and personal, as I worked there and knew the person who was interviewing me, I spoke as I would to a friend: off-the-cuff, sarcastic, funny, saying I’m sure way too much. I was flattered that I was asked to be interviewed for the topic and did not think about how what I said would be parsed and cut and would appear in print. It was humiliating to see what they decided to take out of context and put in print because it sounded funny, or alarming, or whatever. i can completely understand now how that can happen to people not accustomed to speaking to reporters, since this happened to me with people I knew and worked with! So I always take a grain of salt now with what I read, and try to leave my judgement at home. You never know the whole story, and any media’s job is to be profitable first. Thank you for this perspective.

  10. Posted by: kara

    I disagree with your post. I read the article, and I was beyond horrified. I just don’t undertand how anyone could treat their daughter so horribly. I have had weight problems all of my life. My mother has been nothing but empathetic. She helped me in a kind way and I owe my health to her. I was always grateful to my mother and love her more than anything. After reading that article written by that horrible, shallow woman, I am even more thankful. After reading your blog, I think you are superficial and that is why you support her.

  11. Posted by: Sabrina

    Tara I think you are being unnecessarily harsh. Superficiality has nothing to do with this article. You were lucky to have a mother who was able to lovingly help you in a very difficult and complicated struggle in exactly the way that you needed. This is a rare occurrence, and you cannot judge every other mother for not handling it as well as yours. My mother is wonderful, but weight and eating issues was one of the biggest things we struggled with. She was constantly attempting to get me to make healthy choices and think about what I was eating; I felt that she was being judgmental and trying to make me even more self-conscious about my body. I also felt like my sister, who is naturally tall and skinny while I am curvy, was not receiving as much criticism. It took me a long time to realize that my mother did not want me to struggle with weight issues later on as she had. We have a similar body type and I think many of the fears and insecurities she has faced came back when she was trying to help me. This is such a difficult issue for mothers to handle and they rarely know how to approach it. That does not make them terrible parents, it makes them human and capable of making mistakes.

  12. Pingback: Have a great weekend. | A CUP OF JO

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