Mags: Oprah needs to give herself a break

What kind of message does it send to women when one of the most powerful females in the world admits that she is "mad at herself... embarrassed" because she has gained weight?

In the January edition of O The Oprah Magazine, no less than eight pages have been dedicated to the talk show queen's weight battle. Cover line: "How did I let this happen again?". A self-confessed fad and yo-yo dieter, WWD reports Winfrey, who writes the opening and closing essays each issue, "uses more ink in the January one to deconstruct how and why she has gained 40 pounds in four years, reaching 200 pounds." She writes: "I didn't just fall off the wagon. I let the wagon fall on me." She says: “this past year, I took myself off of my own priority list. I wasn’t just low on the list, I wasn’t even on the list.” Winfrey attributes the gain to a slow metabolism, missed meditation and workout sessions and not eating right.

But so what if she wasn't able to maintain the same rigorous exercise and diet regime as Madonna? Clearly she is a woman with more on her plate (no pun intended... sort of) than maintaining some external image to win the approval of her devoted fans. Do other women care if Winfrey is overweight? Would they really respect her any less if she stayed the shape she is now? And, by the same token, would they respect her more if she dropped the surplus pounds?

The media is prone to celebrating the weight loss of celebrities, for sure (particularly post-birth), but why does Winfrey have to play victim to the same game? Could she not take a stance that says, "Hey, I'm a busy woman running a multi-million dollar empire, and I haven't had a chance to hit the gym"? Sure, being overweight is detrimental to one's health, but how much of our lives should we invest in aspiring to look thinner? It's such a brain suck. We're smarter than that. Admittedly, Winfrey does say in the story that it's not about losing weight but regaining control of her life. Still, pictures (and cover lines) speak louder than the fine print.

The cover shows an image of Winfrey sporting a crop top and toned stomach to rival Britney Spears from the January 2005 cover, juxtaposed with a current shot. She has been reluctant to use full-body shots of herself on recent covers, only allowing headshots and poses that disguised her body.

The new issue will be complemented by a week-long Oprah Winfrey Show series beginning January 5 during which she'll take viewers through five days of advice on health, spirituality, money and relationships.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel
P.S. In the interest of disclosure and honesty, I have battled my fair share of body/mind/soul issues (and still do). Which is, in part, why I feel so impassioned about the representation of women's body image in the media. Diversity and fabulous, three-dimensional women whose lives are not controlled by calories are what we need to see more of in our magazines, people.


Anonymous said...

I can't help but feel disappointed when women of Oprah's stature whine about their weight. She has achieved things that few other women achieve, and sacrifices are a part of that achievement, but more importantly, she needs to realise that some women are meant to be the shape they are and accept that. She'll never be Angelina (or Hollywood) thin, and she's probably creating more health issues by putting herself through many diets over the years.
It's a complete contrast to men with similar wealth. Donald Trump is pudgy but he doesn't make his weight an issue.
The female, only because it is more a female thing, association with weight and control is strange and I'm betting it originates from the avalanche of weight loss center adverts that are probably created by male ad executives.Ads for weight loss centres like Jenny Craig should go the way of tobacco adverts and be removed from television. They don't address the psychological issues behind overeating.

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

Well said, Anastasia. Weight loss advertisements, skinny models, buff celebrities... all these images and messages bank up in a girl/woman's brain, much to their detriment. The sheer volume has to have an impact - we're a product of our environments, after all.

Anonymous said...

The cynic in me can't help but wonder if the requesite weight loss to follow isn't all just part of a PR opportunity to further mag sales and increase audience numbers. Sad really.

Unknown said...

Erica - that was a brilliant piece and it totally goes against what Oprah represents to her zillions of female audiences ... does she not realise she is buying into all the stuff that she advocates not to.
She is such an amazing role model not just to women but to people all over the world and it's just disappointing that she would buy into this 'stuff'.
(sorry about the word 'stuff', brain is yet to wake up and I'm not very articulate right now).

FS said...

When you weigh as much as Oprah does - yeah it's a big issue. It's extremly dangerous for her health. She must have a very high BMI and is probably at the limit for obesity. I can't belive that you don't understand this.

I have myself suffered from obesity and diabetes 2 but managed to get get healthy and I do no longer have diabetes. Do you really understand how horrible it's to be obese? Your entire body is sick. I actually do understand how Oprah feels dissapointed in herself. It's never OK to gain that much weight.

But what Oprah does not understand is that she suffers from a eating disorder. It's a disorder when you jojo diet as much as she does. Most people don't gasp that obesity in many cases is a eating disorder such as anorexia.

I do belive that it's important that society focus on weight issues. But I do belive that the tone of the debate should change in America.