When Oprah first bought stock in Weight Watchers last year I blogged about it and said “while Oprah has every right to join Weight Watchers, be a spokesperson for Weight Watchers, buy stock in Weight Watchers, get “I Love Weight Watchers” tattooed on her ass or whatever, that doesn’t make long term weight loss any more likely, and it doesn’t make Weight Watchers any less of a scam.” I was going to leave it at that, until I heard her first commercial for WW.
It’s tricky criticizing Oprah because she has done truly amazing things, fighting racism, sexism, misogyny, and a crushing pressure to be thin to do them. There are so many things about Oprah and her work that are incredibly admirable, but this Weight Watchers thing is a problem. First of all, her choice to promote Weight Watchers seems to mean one of two things:
Scenario 1: After all her years of yo-yo dieting, all the weight loss gurus that she has made famous and rich (even though their methods proved not to work long-term), the private chefs and the private trainers, after being unable to lose weight despite having every resource imaginable at her disposal, despite the mountain of research (including their own) that shows that Weight Watchers almost never works, Oprah may actually believe that the only thing standing between her and permanent thinness is joining Weight Watchers.
Scenario 2: She is a shrewd business-woman and she knows that many women are desperate to be thin, and that many women are so enamored of her that they will do anything she recommends even if a mountain of evidence (and perhaps their own experiences) show that it doesn’t work. And so she bought stock in Weight Watchers and then became a spokesperson (though in none of the commercials so far does she divulge her ownership or profit motive.) If this scenario is true, the money-making part is working – her stock was worth $43.2 million the day she bought it, and was valued at over $145 million (and climbing) in November.
Or maybe it’s something else? It doesn’t really matter, the problem for me is what she’s saying. In her first commercial she sits in a chair and says earnestly to camera:
Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be. Many times you look in the mirror and you don’t even recognize your own self because you got lost—buried—in the weight that you carry. Nothing you’ve ever been through is wasted, so every time I tried and failed, 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?'”
Oprah is allowed to feel this way about herself, I have no judgment or opinion about it. I personally can’t imagine how “the woman [Oprah] knows she can be” would be different than the woman Oprah is, other than wearing a smaller size, but that’s not my business. Oprah is allowed to believe (or say for profit) that joining Weight Watchers is likely to lead to long-term weight loss, even if all the evidence suggests otherwise (that’s what all that small print is for.) But Oprah has no right to speak for all “overweight,” or as I like to call us, fat, women.
Despite what you may have heard from Oprah, there are plenty of fat women who don’t worship at the altar of thin, who are already the women we know we can be, who look in the mirror and like what we see. Who haven’t bought into the notion that we are thin women buried in fat, but know that we are amazing, fat, women. Who know that, when it comes to dieting, what we’ve been through isn’t wasted because now we know that dieting doesn’t work and we’ve exited the diet rollercoaster and all the time, money, and energy it cost us to ride. There are women for whom every time we’ve tried and failed, every time we’ve tried again has brought us to the most powerful moment to say “If not now, when? How’s never for you – because fuck dieting, that shit doesn’t work!”
I understand that the women who don’t fit into Oprah’s model of “unrecognizable thin woman buried in fat” don’t make any money for Weight Watchers’ shareholders, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to pretend we don’t exist. I don’t know what Oprah’s intentions are and I’m not saying that I think she’s a bad person or that she set out to harm people. I’m saying that, regardless of her intentions, the outcomes of her actions here are harmful and I think that she should apologize, but at the very least she should stick to speaking for herself rather than trying to erase all the women who aren’t like her.
Oprah is allowed to try weight loss and sell weight loss, but she shouldn’t act like she speaks for all fat women, because she damn sure doesn’t.
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