The Long Goodbye: Oprah's Final Weigh-in on Weight

Present-day Oprah stands next to a cardboard cutout of an former, thinner Oprah. Both are wearing tracksuits.

Oprah has devoted hundreds of shows to body issues over the years, and she culminated her show's discussion on the topic in her final weight-loss episode last week (audience members were people who had lost more than 100 pounds and were motivated to do so via an Oprah Winfrey Show spark). The episode focused on two fronts: Oprah's personal struggles, and updates on guests or viewers who had significant wake up calls, which led them to lose weight.

For the former, a retrospective was presented: "This is the battle of my life," Oprah says in a clip from the eighties. And she has shared it with us openly and honestly. She introduced us to her "brother" Bob Greene. She has presented exercise regimens, guidance on how to determine if there are underlying emotional issues at play, and nutrition tips, but rarely has she touched on acceptance.   "All the success doesn't mean anything if you can't fit into your clothes," she said in January 2009, "It means the fat won."

Then last year, Oprah said she had an epiphany: "I've never liked the term food addict, and have in the past referred to myself as a food addict casually, but I realized…I have punished myself for that...and I know that I am not alone and I know that the battle has an ending." Ugh. This feels more like a platitude than an epiphany, as does the following said in the same show, "I'll always be on this journey, but I gave up the battle when I read [the book Women, Food and God] because the battle really is about how much you're willing to love yourself and give back to yourself."

OK, agreed that loving yourself is key, but like many statements Oprah has made during this season I can't help but think what does that mean, really?  Doesn't loving yourself include acceptance of who you are and how you look? I think so, and I expected at least one voice representing fat acceptance to be present during this final OWS episode on weight. But it wasn't. Which makes the whole freaking public journey seem for naught.

Guest after guest appeared to share their weight loss stories, motivations, and results, all focused on fighting fat. The victory of losing weight was the predominant theme of the show. What I'm saying about this particular episode is what I've been saying throughout this series: that Oprah is amazing at being Oprah. There is no one else like her—she created her own job and her own empire, based around her, as a public persona. She is a model for branding and entrepreneurship and I admire her (especially given her early struggles). But as a talk show host, she rarely presents the full spectrum of an issue. In this case, fatphobia wins again. Actual acceptance? Not so much.

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While I agree that the

While I agree that the "epiphanies" that Oprah often has do not really mean anything for those outside her mind, I think her acceptance of herself is clear. She has stated that she has given up the obsessive part of her struggle with weight. However, the focus of her shows about weight since the acceptance she has gained focus more on the health aspects of weight loss. It seems that the people who lost weight and were on the show were doing it in favor of living their "best life" not obsessing over how they look. Oprah even stated that she is going to focus on being in better shape when her last season ends. A focus on health not necessarily appearance. One can be thin and unhealthy as well. Also, not every guest was rail thin and some could be considered pleasantly plump but not obese. All of these people, however, were inspired to accept that they were not taking care if themselves and needed to put their health first-- maybe that is acceptance enough...

Beware the health trolls...

Discussions about health and weight have to be treated carefully though, as Tasha Fierce had previously discussed it can turn into a form of masking fatphobia. Even in the case of this Opera show, there was a visual representation of being thin-er in combination with discussions of health which serves to maintain the connection of thin=healthy.

Yes, Beware...

Weight Loss and Health are two completely different topics, though the weight-loss industry doesn't want you to think so. Unfortunately, the mass appeal that fat-shaming has had on our culture prompts insidious conversations about people's health that are actually due to hatred for overweight individuals. The other day, someone started a fat-phobic conversation on Facebook, complaining that, essentially, fat people could get thin if they just put their mind to it. It was followed up by comments that were like, "Yeah, fatty; step away from the donuts. But seriously, it's not healthy." And so on. It's freaking disgusting and annoying the way people use "health" as a topic to abuse fat people.

I am very much for

I am very much for fat-acceptance, however I think it’s important not to lose sight of some basic scientific facts in our quest for political correctness. Being overweight IS associated with health complications. That said, the way we approach the issue is what needs to be changed. Yes, people tend to use supposed concern for health as a veil to mask their fat-phobia. However, many other factors are also associated with health complications, habits that can’t readily be observed based on one’s appearance. Therefore, if one is to place judgement on another for neglecting their health, it should be no more focused on the large person than the skinny person who smokes and drinks like an addict. Furthermore, taking care of one’s health is a personal choice that I don’t believe in forcing on people through guilt. Nobody here lives on organic green smoothies and tofu salads, so let’s just admit to that and stop criticizing each other.
Yes, all that coming from a personal trainer / nutritionist... I am all too familiar with fat-phobia in my field. That is why when a client comes to me with a goal of ‘looking hot’, I tell them that’s not a fitness and health goal. A fitness and health goal is running 10k, bench pressing your weight, or controlling your diabetes. This is the crucial difference that needs to be emphasized.

*sigh*

I've been watching the final season quite faithfully, and have enjoyed it. I definitely and deliberately skipped that Weight Loss Extravaganza! episode, though.

I don't think Oprah is on the HAES bandwagon yet, but I think she's come to a point that's a lot more measured than her '90s low-fat frenzy. I also thinks she knows that she has to tread kind of carefully on the weight loss issue now that she can't claim to be a guru on the subject any longer. After all, if one of the most powerful, richest women on the planet can't be skinny even with the outrageous resources afforded to her, what does that mean for the average Jane or Joe? It's often said that for actresses it's their "job" to stay skinny. But of course, the fact is, not all humans can be skinny, because we are a diverse species and health does come at every size.

I have noticed some subtle things this season, though. For instance in the (horrifying) follow-up with the young woman who was so brutally shamed by her fatphobic father that she had weight loss surgery in her early 20s (and nearly died from complications), Oprah had a strange air about her. Her disdain for the abusive father was palpable, but the end of the interview was kind of pat, in a "This is my last season and I don't have the energy to deal with this shit" kind of way.

And then when she had a follow-up with two Mariah Carey superfans (who, through the show, got to be in an MC video and everything), one of them said that he had lost weight after seeing himself on TV. Oprah said, "Well, you look great. You looked great before, too." A small comment, but an important one, and one I don't think she would've made even 5 years ago.

Anyway. Over the last 25 years, Oprah has fed into and done her not insignificant part to build up the destructive weight loss industry and culture. But I still can't hate her for it -- 'cause she's a victim of of the system just like the rest of us.

What about the picture?

What makes me sad about this famous picture of "fat" Oprah looking at "skinny" Oprah, clearly thinking, "What happened?" is that she looks great in both sides of the picture! I mean, really, I see that they've put her in some form of track suit on the right side (because, of course, all fat, or even just bigger, people lounge around in unattractive track suits, duh!) trying to play up the 'overweight' side of the picture, but seriously, she still looks good. Why not use this same picture (or perhaps a re-shoot with a real outfit instead of the track suit) for an issue/article on the acceptance of her body in all forms?
Whether or not Oprah claims that her weight loss is about health or self-love, this famous picture implies that it's all about appearance. Skinny Oprah is super happy showing off her midriff, and Fat Oprah is depressed enough about her appearance to lounge around all day in her sweats (so the picture says). This picture was, I believe, first published on the cover of Oprah's own magazine. So until she starts truly promoting weight loss or healthy diet or healthy exercise WITHOUT the addition of fatphobia and concern for fitting a narrow beauty ideal, I just don't buy it.