I can still remember when I started thinking Oprah was my arch nemesis. It was a warm and sunny afternoon, absolutely gorgeous. I’d been running around outside like the active, but chubby, 7 year old I was. It was 5 years after Oprah had wheeled that giant glob of literal waste out onto the stage, and yet she was still chronicling her struggle with weight loss and featuring panels full of unhappy fat people. Fat adults, fat children, fat people who couldn’t find love, who couldn’t find jobs, who needed life saving surgeries, and of course her own fat self. My mother (who let’s admit right off the bat – was NOT perfect) was sobbing silently while she folded the clothes on the living room table. She’d fetched me outside for the hundredth time to watch a VERY SPECIAL EPISODE of the Oprah show to try to change my fat ways. I could feel the sun hitting my skin and hear my little brother and our friends running around outside (because of course he didn’t need it. He’s now a fat adult, btw.), while I was forced to watch Oprah. It wasn’t the first or last time, but it was the time I finally realized how angry I was at Oprah.
I’ve still never forgiven her.
Oprah Winfrey is an absolutely incredible human being. She created an empire with nothing but what was inside of her. She is a survivor of sexual abuse and assault, she is a philanthropist who helps countless women and girls recieve education around the world. She’s intelligent, creative, powerful, beautiful and magnanimous – all the things a feminist icon should be. She’s a true pioneer for women and for people of colour and for that she deserves all of the props she gets. She deserved the lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes last night because she’s truly achieved SO MUCH in her life. Her speech was inspiraional, thoughtful, smart, and poignant. Even I, an Oprah hater, loved it. (You can read the transcript here)
Then this morning I noticed fat-run twitter accounts and facebook groups posting and sharing clips and gifs from Oprah’s speech, claiming her as a fat icon. A progressive, intelligent, successful, fat womn of colour!
Except…. Oprah doesn’t want to be fat.
Oprah can’t be a fat ally, a fat icon, if she hates fat. She might not have a little wagon of fat trailing behind her, but the blood, sweat and fat of thousands of people is on her hands. How many fat people, like me, sat through her television show learning exactly all the ways to hate ourselves? How many fat people have destroyed their bodies and health based on advice from her show – or the shows she spawned like Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz? How many other kids were subjected to hours of watching the most successful and wealthy woman in America, who “came up from nothing” tell us how little all of that mattered if you were still fat?
I know Oprah is a victim. Oprah has been a victim of fatphobia and fat shaming for her whole life. She didn’t begin by wheeling out the fat, she started by hearing awful things about her body. Being told she was too fat to be on tv. Her fatness often equated with her race to prove some bullshit racist notion that she’s not as amazing as she seems. Oprah is a victim of fatphobia, but rather than use her money and influence to stand against it she perpetuates it. If she was just lamenting about her own feelings about her body I might have been able to let go of my childhood bitterness, but with her buying a 10% stake in weight watchers in recent years she has firmly crossed the line from fellow victim, to willing abuser.
For those who didn’t know, we were at the beautiful precipice of the fall of Weight Watchers, the diet industry powerhouse that’s been combining the world’s two worst devils (weight loss and math) since 1963 with a disgustingly high “failure” rate. WW was struggling, financially, to reign in more victims with it’s stupid numberey counting trash that turns eating into literal torture and was on its way out – and then stepped in… OPRAH. I like to imagine she actually rode in on a little radio flyer and yelled that each board member would be getting a new car, but no matter the specifics, she managed to save weight watchers and it’s stock is on it’s way up. That’s right, y’all, Oprah is now profiting off of the diet industry, off of the pain and suffering of fat people, and refusing to sell any sort of body acceptance. She can yell about loving chips in the commercials all she wants, but I know some woman on the other end of that commercial is feeling guilt over how many WW points the chips she ate (just like Oprah!) added to her daily total.
Considering all she had to do to rid all of us of one major player in the diet industry was NOTHING I consider this the moment my bitterness and hurt is justified. I can’t look up to a “fat” person (SHE’S NOT EVEN THAT FAT, Y’ALL) that not only throws me under the bus, but profits off of it to the tune of multiple millions of dollars. An investment in the diet industry is not only a FUCK YOU to fat people, but to all people who have been victims of the rampant fatphobia in our society. All the thin women and girls who developed eating disorders, those people who exercised themselves nearly to death, those who gave up on life early because of discrimination, and those who’ve settled into a less than ideal life because they felt their body wasn’t suited for happiness, love, or success.
I’m not blaming Oprah for fatphobia, or pinning the atrocities of the diet industry on this one woman who is also a victim. I don’t think that the fall of WW would have brought down the entire industry and social bias in one fell swoop. However, I do think deep down I feel really sorry for her. Just once I’d like her to say YOU KNOW WHAT, FUCK THIS, I LITERALLY OWN EVERY FUCKING THING AND IF I’M FAT THAN SO WHAT I’LL BE THE BEST FAT PERSON OF ALL TIME. I’M FUCKING OPRAH! If anyone should be able to be a fat badass, it’s Oprah. I wish she could stop feeling the weight of that little radio flyer behind her carrying what she perceives as failure of character. I want her next incredible speech on the resilience and power of women to be delivered without shapewear and shame about her body.
More so, for all the rest of us, I want a real fat icon. I want to see more fat people at awards shows like the Golden Globes, wearing fantastic fashion made just for their perfect bodies. I want fat people to share their stories and their pain without fear of torment or blame. I want the diet industry to stop killing us. I want the medical community to stop ignoring us. I want businesses and financial institutions to give fat people jobs and raises and business loans. I want the police and justice system to take violence and harassment of fat people seriously. I want someone with Oprah’s money to invest it not in an industry that feeds off of their destruction, but in one that helps bring all of us up.
“So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.” – Oprah
I’m fat too, Oprah. I’m fat too. I’ve been a victim, too. I’m struggling, too. I hate myself sometimes, too. I’ve been disregarded or rejected, too. I’ve been harassed and sexually assaulted, too. I’ve had to fight for my right to be fat, too, and I try to fight for the rights of other fat people for this reason. I wish that at one point, in her lifetime of incredible achievements, Oprah had too.
Want to read more about this topic? Check out these awesome sources:
#MeToo & Fat Women: Sexual Assault Is Not A “Favor”
The Long Goodbye: Oprah’s Final Weigh-in on Weight
Fatphobia: A Guide for the Disbeliever
Canadian judge calls sex assault victim ‘overweight’
Why the sexual harassment of fat people reaches a different level of offensiveness.
Dear Virgie: Oprah Buying 10% of Weight Watchers–WTF?
Oprah’s Golden Globes speech gives huge boost to Weight Watchers