We all know Oprah is a mega-businesswoman above all else, right? She builds an empire on being everyone’s girlfriend, who we can just sit down and gab with, be real, you know? I know! I like her in some ways, or at least I like her carefully cultivated persona. I respect her and think she’s done lots of good.
But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking it’s not all about making money in the end. So why, oh why, did I feel so incredibly disappointed when she jumped on board the Weight Watchers train? She’s not just their latest celebrity spokesperson. No, being the savvy businesswoman she is, Oprah bought a 10% stake in the company late last year.
When Oprah gets behind something, it soars. Oprah’s book club picks had an enormous influence on the publishing industry for awhile:
The book club repeatedly made history. Winfrey got stores to order more than 500,000 copies of a book — not knowing its title, only that it was her next selection. Morrison, who was chosen four times, got a bigger sales boost from Winfrey than from winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.
In other words, what Oprah thinks carries weight. And what Oprah thinks about weight carries weight. Am I the only one who was disappointed, therefore, when Oprah decided to go for Weight Watchers? Am I the only one who wished she’d settled into self-acceptance? Am I the only one who wanted her to espouse body positivity and the idea of health at every size?
Of course she’s promoting Weight Watchers — she stands to make a ton of money. The stock she bought for $43,000,000 last fall is worth about $100,000,000 today. But this whole thing has let me down on several levels.
First of all, it’s that familiar thing of setting yourself up to fail. It’s hard to watch someone do this in such a public way. I don’t know Oprah (despite that she likes to make us all think we do), but I do know that she’s struggled publicly with her weight for decades. And I was kind of happy when I thought she’d settled into acceptance. She seemed to me to be focusing much more on “wellness” than weight loss, with things like her Super Soul Sundays and her connection with people like Ekhart Tolle, Marianne Williamson, and Deepak Choprah. (though–sigh!–she’s now joined with Chopra on a meditation challenge geared towards shedding “extra weight”)
But now she’s gone back to the weight loss theme, with her latest effusive video clip about how much she loves bread and how she’s losing weight on Weight Watchers and eating bread every day!
And more than that, she reflects out loud about how she joined WW because inside every overweight woman is “the woman she knows she can be.”
This gem prompted author Cassie St. Onge to give up trying to lose weight for once and for all. Because..
Oprah is one of the most accomplished, admired, able people in the world. She has an Oscar to keep all her Emmy Awards company. She creates magic for other people and herself on the regular. So if Oprah can’t do permanent lifelong weight loss, maybe it can’t be done. Oprah is also crazy rich. If Oprah can’t buy permanent lifelong weight loss, maybe it can’t be bought. And that sucks.
But it is also incredibly freeing if you, like me, have thought about your weight so many times throughout every day of your life that it becomes as maddening and distracting as if you’d stowed a beating telltale heart beneath your floorboards.
So let’s pause on this for a moment. Oprah, multi-billionaire Oprah with endless resources at her disposal, has not successfully maintained weight loss. She can hire a private chef and a coach, but so far she hasn’t been able to buy permanent weight loss.
And let’s go back for a minute to this thing about “the woman she knows she can be.” Oprah, this is where I felt really let down. Because I would have thought that of all people, you would know that there are more important things. Oh my goodness, I know so many women who think that if they could have just stopped obsessing about food and weight for long enough they would have achieved so much more in their lives, been willing to take more risks, had the energy to do more worthwhile things!
But there goes Oprah, redirecting our attention back to the one thing that supposedly will make all the difference: weight loss! Seriously, I’m with Cassie on this. If Oprah, with all of her accomplishments, isn’t who she wants to be yet but will be when she loses weight, what does that say about what really matters to who we are?
It’s a sad comment. So incredibly sad.
And what’s more sad still is that Oprah is poised to send a whole whack of women back to the drawing board, creating false hope for lasting weight loss. Such is the power of her Midas touch.
And that ad about the bread.
I don’t know. This ad just made me feel irritated because for goodness sake, we’re grown women. Can’t we just love bread without having to make a big statement about it? I mean really? This kind of relates back to my post the other day about not wanting to talk to people about weight loss anymore. And to that whole thing about “eat the damn cupcake.”
Just to be clear: Oprah’s taking another kick at the can doesn’t change the stats about success rates. Maintaining weight loss is a huge challenge, much more challenging than losing weight in the first place.
I don’t wish ill on Oprah or anyone who tries Weight Watchers because of Oprah. But I can’t help being disappointed. It’s great that she can eat bread and lose weight, for now. Everyone who loses weight on WW can do that. It’s true. But it requires tough choices, deprivation, mental focus, and a lifelong commitment that statistics show is difficult to make. That doesn’t take into account either the potential for metabolic damage and the lack of nutritional guidance for extremely active people.
I would have thought Oprah herself would have been a great example of how we can achieve greatness, influence, and respect at any weight.
Not achieving lasting weight loss is not about failure or about the inability to release “the woman you know you could be.” I hope that the woman most of us know we can be, or better, we already are, doesn’t depend on achieving and maintaining a certain goal weight. Or on “managing” our bread consumption.
The idea of managing bread consumption within the Weight Watchers “points” approach to food has already been the subject of a spoof. I’m not entirely sure what I think of the spoof, but (1) she does an amazing Oprah-voice and (2) the “plot” suggests that the “managing” approach isn’t going to be sustainable: