Oprah, Weight Watchers, and the burden of being fancy.
I’m going to do it. I’m going to talk about Oprah’s weight. Not because I give a shit about Oprah’s weight. Seriously, I don’t. But this is an eating disorder blog, and she’s Oprah with a new commitment to (and stake in) Weight Watchers. She’s one of the most successful humans to exist in the history of the world. And she has trouble controlling her weight. And, because she is who she is, all of the rest of humanity has a front row seat to watch, judge and ridicule Oprah’s body. (*shudder* Note to self: Never get that famous.)
I don’t know about you, but I really hate that new Weight Watchers commercial. It is the same “inspirational” music, and Oprah is using that same, low, soothing voice usually reserved for charity ads that begin “for just 70 cents a day…”
She says “Every time I tried and failed, and every time I tried again, and every time I tried again, has brought me to this most powerful moment to say, If not now, when?”
Do you know why I hate it so much? Because I don’t believe her. Not because I think she is a liar. I don’t. I think that Oprah has become as powerful as she has by being authentic. But I can see the fear. I can see the resignation. She looks to me like she is essentially saying, “This time I really mean it!” And I don’t know who she is trying to convince, us, or herself.
Behind that “I mean it” is the assumption that willpower is what she needs. That this time she is going to be committed. As if she weren’t committed every time before that. But we all know that’s bullshit. Of course she meant it every time. Not being able to be in a socially acceptable body is humiliating. Even for those of us who are not scrutinized daily on the world stage. It is one of the hardest things I, personally, have ever dealt with emotionally and spiritually. I meant it “every time.” But if I went walking in to my next weight loss experiment with the food obsession still there, and no experience that it could be any other way, I walked in defeated before I even started. The fear of being broken was still there. It wasn’t until I experienced a sense of relief, the possibility of sanctuary from the obsession, that I first believed that there was a solution at all. (I didn’t experience that relief until I surrendered to both giving up sugar and carbs all together and putting boundaries around my eating.) And more, I have seen women and men who still continue to struggle with their eating, even after they have had a glimpse of sanctuary. This disease of compulsive eating is no joke. And I do not see that telltale glimpse of sanctuary in Oprah’s eyes in her Weight Watcher’s commercial.
You may have the assumption that Oprah’s wealth and influence would make her weight loss journey easier. But from personal experience, I will tell you why I believe the opposite.
I have a very close friend who has boundaries around her eating, and has for over a decade. She is a very gifted singer and performer. She is a world traveller. She has friends in high places. She’s fancy. Now, she’s always fancy, but I have found that when she is feeling fancy, that is generally the most dangerous thing she can do for her food boundaries.
Because it takes a level of humility to say that you cannot control yourself around food. For Oprah Winfrey, it would mean the woman who flouted the conventions of race and gender and overcame a difficult childhood of abuse, would have to say that she couldn’t stop eating. She had power to change the world, but not enough power to step away from the chocolate cake. (Hey, Oprah, I don’t know anything about building a 3 Billion dollar empire, but seriously, it can’t be nearly as hard as stepping away from the cake.)
I don’t know Oprah at all, obviously. Not even a little bit. But I am going to guess that she does not have a “weight problem.” I am going to bet she has a food problem. And I am going to bet she is addicted to sugar and carbs. Because seriously, think about how many pounds of fruits and vegetables you have to eat to be overweight. And what’s more, how could a woman with enough money to buy several small countries not buy everything necessary to maintain a healthy weight? Personal trainers, cooks, dudes in suits and sunglasses with earpieces to guard the refrigerator, the freezer, and the cupboards where the cookies are kept. OF COURSE SHE CAN! But who is going to stop Oprah Winfrey from eating the cookie? I don’t care how crisp your suit is. If Oprah tells you to stand aside and get out of the way of the white chocolate macadamias, you are going to damn well do it. Because she is Oprah. Duh.
My point is that nobody is going to humble Oprah except Oprah. And if you were arguably the most powerful woman in the world, it might be a little scary to humble yourself. I am going to guess that she did not get where she is today by giving up her power. But I know first hand that power, or willpower, isn’t enough when it comes to eating. I know that it doesn’t matter how stubborn, strong, or committed you are. When the cookies and the cake are calling, if you have never experienced the possibility of peace around food, there is no escaping.
I wish Oprah the best. But I don’t expect Weight Watchers to be the cure for what is ailing her. And I hope that she can experience for herself the paradox of humility as power. Because if there is anyone who can lead by example and help people (especially women) be free and peaceful around food and weight, it’s Oprah. Duh.