Thursday, October 22, 2009

Oh Oprah

I've watched the Oprah show for close to 20 years now. I've always been a fan and an admirer of her accomplishments - both as a professional and a woman. But the past few years I have found myself  feeling impatient and disappointed in Oprah. Not that I have any right to ...  Oprah has achieved the pinnacle of success and is probably the most powerful and influential media person on the planet. In addition to her TV talk show, she publishes a magazine, owns and hosts a satellite radio channel, develops education and charity projects around the world, produces movies, and calls Presidents of countries "friend". She's a shining example of someone pursuing and living her dream; she's a role model for a generation of women and girls.

And yet all of this is not apparently not enough. It still comes down to weight and body image. She talks incessently about this on her TV show. She has been forthcoming about her weight struggles and over the past decade of her roller coaster relationship with her body, she has reframed the issue and served it up in many different flavours -- health; self esteem; living the best life; being the best version of  yourself, and it goes on.

I can understand anyone wanting to be healthy and live an active healthy lifestyle. However in Oprah's case, she has lost weight down to the skinny several times and she seems to gain back to a full female figure. Maybe she was never meant to be a slim woman. She once said that to maintain her size 12 body (not tiny by any means) she had to run on the treadmill for an hour each day .... r u n.

My disappointment comes with the mixed message Oprah represents. If you are the most well known, powerful, successful woman on the planet and achieved a monumental body of work - and you still can't be happy with yourself because of your weight - it represents everything we (and the Dove campaign) try to teach our girls not to be.  I wish Oprah would be contented with her personal success and phenonmenal contributions to humankind and not focus on the one thing she does not have -- a slim body. For millions of women around the world, struggling with the many issues she discusses on her show, Oprah is an icon - a symbol of possibility.

But the message is clear --  no matter how successful you are -- if you aren't slim  -- it's not enough.

Perhaps Oprah needs to revisit the poem of her mentor Maya Angelou ....

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

[Excerpts from Phenomenal Woman, May Angelou]


  1. I LOVE Maya Angelou. And I totally agree with what you're saying. Good observation!

  2. This is a fantastic post Lyn, i'll have to come back tomorrow to comment properly though, just too sleepy right now, but i wanted you to know i popped in to say hi.

    I love the way you write, you really have a talent.

  3. Once upon a time women were allowed to be curvy without feeling a misfit - The modern obsession with near-skinny looks leaves a lot to be desired...
    When all is said and done, it's the beauty on the inside that counts.

  4. I hadn't really thought of it in that way before.. good point. I haven't watched Oprah for a good few years, actually. Love the Maya Angelou poem, too!

  5. Amen! ;)

    I love Oprah, don't get me wrong, but I've always thought similar things myself. I never understood how she could promote a thin frame and "loving yourself the way you are" in the same episode and get away with it.

    I think what it all boils down to is that no one, not even Oprah, has perfect self-esteems. The pressure of being a public figure affects her just the same as it does every other icon, and it's the same pressure that young girls around the world feel from the media to "be like the stars." There's something in that, I think.

    My hat's off to the Dove campaign as well, by the way.

    Fabulous post. :)

  6. Wait a second -

    "She once said that to maintain her size 12 body (not tiny by any means) --"

    Oprah is 5'7" tall. That is not "tiny by any means" for a woman of her height/build/race??

    The average American woman is just under 5'4" tall and wears a size 14. Clothing sizes were originally "built" around WHITE women with an even shorter frame, Lyn. Oprah's "size" WAS small by American standards. :^)

    History of our clothing sizes (some info I thought you might find interesting):

    The US Department of Agriculture (The Department of Agriculture!!!) was instrumental in developing today's clothing industry's sizing system back in 1939 when they surveyed 15,000 women and took 50+ measurements standardizing the clothing sizes we still use in North America today.

    Back in '39 women were shorter than we are today. Today the average American woman stands 5' 3 and 3/4" tall - but the average height was only around 5'2" when the sizing system was originally invented.

    Julia Roberts - 5'9" - post 3 kids - size 10 (down to an 8 for her current Eat, Pray, Love shoot)
    Diana - 5'10" - post eating disorder - size 10

    You're seriously telling me Oprah's 5'7" body in a 12 wasn't small...? What are you basing your standards on...? (Maybe that's why Oprah's confused, too!!!)

    Love, HBB

  7. HBB - you misunderstood the point I was making. She has to endure 1-2 hours exercise a day to maintain a size 12 (size 14 in our country), which may be unrealistic to continue on an ongoing basis. I wasn't implying that size 12 wasn't slim; I meant that for that amount of exercise she wasn't tiny. I was actually getting at the fact that maybe she wasn't meant to be tiny, or even slim. I wasn't criticizing her body or weight. The point of my post was that we spend too much time talking and obsessing about weight. I love Oprah - just the way she is/was/will be.

    Thanks for "weighing in" on the topic H.

  8. "We spend too much time talking and obsessing about weight."

    Oh, I absolutely am in agreement with you on that, Lyn. And that's exactly WHY Oprah talks about her weight all of the time - because we DO spend too much time talking and obsessing about weight. And it's the very same reason she has sex experts on the show, Mermaid babies and Mackenzie Philips.

    She's running her show, selling a magazine and generating ad revenue in both mediums (she didn't become rich talking about math formulas, ear wax or tampons).

    You've gotta keep in mind the top topics for selling ads in either venue (and on the internet, too) are sex, relationship issues, weight loss, how to look more attractive and tabloid scandal.

    The big thing I wonder about Oprah - what nobody ever talks about - is what sort of stock that she owns. If she's having Sarah Palin on her show on the 16th of November - you know Palin's book is going to fly right off the shelves when it hits the streets on the 17th. Does Oprah have money in News Corp. (which owns Harper Collins...)? ;^)

    Have a good weekend, Lyn!


  9. BTW - do you think it was a coincidence Oprah decided to talk about her 40 pound weight gain in conjunction with the release of her JANUARY issue of O Magazine, 2009 (which, BTW, sold over a whopping 3-million copies - her circ prior to this issue had been dropping steadily since 2006)? Why didn't she talk about it in a December cover story...?

    What happens to the majority of the population every January 1st?

    ...What do yah think her January 2010 issue will feature...? Something tells me Bob Green will be involved... ;^)

    Cheers! :^)

    PS - Oprah donated $1.5 of those January magazine sales to New Jersey charities.


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