Saturday, January 17, 2009

Oprah and the "brown elephant in the room"

That, according to a recent New York Times article, is how Oprah Winfrey refers to the 40 pounds she's gained over the last year or two. The piece is titled "Her Bulge, His Book and Their Plan B," and focuses on her long-term relationship with the most important man in her life: Bob Greene, her personal trainer/diet guru.

It's an interesting piece and worth reading for those who are interested in the money side of the weight-loss biz. Greene has created several hugely profitable franchises from his work with Oprah--so profitable, in fact, that he no longer charges her for consulting. (I love that--the richest woman in the world doesn't have to pay!) The recent media attention to Oprah's weight gain has been a bonanza for Greene, a fact he readily admits.

There's much to shake your head at here, but it was this quote that really got me:

Ms. Winfrey has so far accepted all the blame for her lapse, not once suggesting the fault lies with Mr. Greene or his diet plan. "This has been a wake-up call for her to let me get back to doing my thing," Mr. Greene said.

Notice anything? Oprah takes blame for gaining weight. Not responsibility. Not ownership. But blame. As in, gaining weight is obviously a moral lapse that must be atoned for. Greene's "diet plan" is blameless, as is Greene himself. Not everyone agrees: At the end of the article, another trainer comments that "any time a client falls off the wagon, the fault lies with the trainer, because it is his or her job to formulate a plan that works for the client."

Here's a radical suggestion: Maybe the fault here lies neither with the stars nor with ourselves* but with the concept of dieting, a concept we know to be fundamentally flawed because 98 percent of dieters "fall off the wagon," as Oprah put it. Maybe the real problem is the frenzy of self-loathing we are so quick to fall into, which, I submit, does more to prevent us from "living our best life" than 5 "extra" pounds, or 30, or 80.

I've been there. Just ask my long-suffering husband, who's had to talk me off the ledge of self-hatred many times. One thing I know for sure: Self-acceptance feels a hell of a lot better than self-loathing. It's not easy to pull off in this culture, whether you're fat or thin. But it's worth the effort. Really.

* I can never resist a Shakespeare paraphrase or pun.


Anonymous said...

I am SO TIRED of hearing about Oprah and her weight. I wish that someone would just take her aside, shake the ever living CRAP outta her and inform her that she's got issues...and the problem isn't that she needs to learn how to have more self control, or stay on the wagon, or lose those last X number of pounds for good....but that she needs to learn how to love and accept herself no matter what her size. Period.

Anonymous said...

I went on my first diet when I was 11, by 15 I was anorexic and weighed 21 kgs - I started eating again when a friend I was competing with to see who could be the thinnest died. I gained 267% of my body weight and that was followed by 20 years of frantic dieting. Then I lost 3 children. But my next pregnancy was amazing - I felt amazing, for the first time I believed I was going to be able to become a mother and I did - but only for 45 minutes. My first twin was stillborn and his brother lived for only 45 minutes. Life sort of went into a blurr, life as I knew it had ceased to exist - my foundation felt like it had changed into sifting sand, I felt like the puzzle pieces that had once made up my life as the Cari Corbet-Owen I knew it no longer fitted. But inside something deeper was stirring, forcing me to start searching for meaning in life. And over the years slowly picked up the pieces and stitched my life back together.

You know those years when I lost all my babies were tragic, BUT they were also the start of something I'm really grateful to have found and that's a Spiritual Path that continually reminds me that I - and every other person in this world, without exception. are amazing incredible Sacred Beings and that our body is a (relatively speaking) very small part of the whole story because we are soooo much more than that. And that's why I believe I've been given the work I do in this lifetime with people who struggle with their bodies because when we start remembering that we're Sacred and that our body shape and size can never change this fact, then we start to heal at a level that is so much deeper than just changing our body size. We think when we change our bodies we'll find happiness. The truth is that when we remember our Sacredness we can be happy in whatever body we're in AND THEN THE WEIGHT FALLS OFF ALL BY ITSELF. We've just got it all backwards. The bonus too, is that when we remember our Sacredness no matter what, we are kinder and more self-loving and instead of continuously pumping our bodies with stress hormones which produce health-eroding neuropeptides which I honestly believe have a far bigger impact on our health than whether we are fat or thin, we release health-enhancing endorphins.

Harriet said...


I was with you until the part about the weight falling off by itself. This is a no-diet blog, and I'm not in the habit of promoting any type of weight loss plan, whether it's all about sacred beings or diet pills. I'm certainly sorry for your pain and glad you're doing well now, but please, no more talk about losing weight. Thank you.

Penelope, I hear you. Oprah's no fool; she must have heard and thought about this a million times. But she's also in an industry where appearances are even more rigidly regulated than for ordinary folks. I feel for her but wish she would stand up for HAES. She could do an awful lot of good.

Anonymous said...

I prefer fat Oprah -- as long as she keeps her big mouth shut about how fat she thinks she is. She looks fine right now and should devote her estimable resources to more important things than dieting and making Bob Greene richer.

Meaux said...

Aside from the obvious diet craziness, Oprah's behavior reinforces the idea that women can't do it (it=anything, really) without a man to save and guide us. What year is it again?