I’m not the first (this was the first I saw and my inspiration for this post. And it’s awesome!), or anywhere near the last, person to be ticked off at Oprah Winfrey for her Weight Watchers ad in which she says, “Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be.” As though literally everything Oprah has already done in her life – hosted a long-running talk show, launched careers, empowered girls in Africa to go to school, become a media mogul with her own network all while probably dealing with racism, sexism and sizeism along the way – somehow isn’t totally awesome because she wasn’t thin while she was doing all those things.
But it’s Oprah’s choice. She can feel however she wants about herself, her career, her body. She can go ahead and diet for the millionth time, as though Weight Watchers were some well-kept secret that she just hadn’t caught wind of while she was busy failing at weight loss with her personal trainer and chef.
What I must completely object to, however, is Oprah’s insistence on speaking on behalf of “every” overweight woman. As an overweight – actually, obese, according to my BMI! – woman, I simply disagree that what is in me is a thinner woman whose life is better than my current fat one. I know because I already tried that.
When I discovered my thinner woman inside, I found she came with a deep insecurity about measuring up to others’ standards. I found a thinner woman who probably could have earned a PhD for all the time she spent adding up points and obsessing over food and weight. This woman may have had other interests outside of food, but she couldn’t fully cultivate them because there simply was no room left after food, exercise and worrying about how she looked.
Despite what Oprah said about looking in the mirror and not recognizing your own self because you’re buried under all that fat, this thinner woman, at her thinnest and hungriest, frequently looked into the mirror and didn’t recognize herself at all. She felt a strong sense of disconnection from herself, as though this was not in fact her own body but some borrowed, alien body with which she was not entirely familiar or comfortable. As though she knew the ephemeral quality of it already.
Oprah could not possibly know what is inside every fat woman. She only knows what’s inside herself and if she chooses to view all her amazing accomplishments as less than amazing simply because she was not thin, that’s her choice.
Because inside this fat woman is someone whose worth is not determined by her appearance, and knowing that, is just fine with the way she looks, and even more excited by the things she is. This fat woman dared to not diet, dares to take care of herself in a nourishing, not punishing, way, and dares to have her voice heard. She had the guts to start a blog and a podcast – things the thin woman never would have dared to do – and to reject the anti-woman, anti-fat culture that is ever-present.
Oprah’s weight journey has been so public and I feel for her. She doesn’t know that her size really doesn’t matter to the amazing person she is. But, Oprah, please speak for yourself only. Because didn’t you hear? It’s okay for us to feel fine about ourselves without having to turn into something we’re really not. It’s okay for each of us to reach inside and see that the woman there is already the woman we want to be.
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