With all of the scandal that broke in Illinois this week, the announcement that Oprah Winfrey now tips the scales at 200 pounds was still considered a newsworthy item. It was reported by the Associated Press, in O magazine and by Anderson Cooper. I understand that CNN has twenty-four hours to fill with news, but really, is a woman’s weight a matter of national concern?
Since Oprah entered the limelight she has battled with the bulge. Over the years we have watched her move from skinny jeans to elastic waist. What has bothered me most about viewing each yo-yo swing is that she only seems to portray satisfaction when she has reached a body weight that she is clearly unable to maintain.
“I’m mad at myself,” Winfrey writes in an article provided early to The Associated Press by Harpo Productions.
“I’m embarrassed,” she writes. “I can’t believe that after all these years, all the things I know how to do, I’m still talking about my weight. I look at my thinner self and think, `How did I let this happen again?’
Somehow the number 200 is viewed as intolerable; however her body keeps cycling this way. Could it not possibly be that this is the weight that she intended to be in the first place? Culturally we have made the skinny, near-to-anorexic body out to be the ideal. Women have died living on chicklets in an attempt to gain the much beloved size zero.
There are some that would argue that Oprahs weight has become the target of conversation because she is an iconic figure; however it is my belief that furor over her weight gain speaks to the ways in which society has invested in disciplining the female body.
From childhood young girls are given toys to play with that present an abnormal figure as the ideal female form. We are so far removed from what the female body is meant to look like that what occurs naturally is now viewed as a flaw. There is not a single part of the body that cannot be “improved” upon with the scalpel, or starved into shape. Instead of encouraging our daughters to be strong, we are telling them not to get fat.
If you are fat in this society, many instantly feel that they have the right to sit in judgment of you. They tell you that it is for your own good. Fat not only equals undesirable it equals unhealthy.
No one considers that Marilyn Monroe, a national heartthrob, was a size 16, or that skinny people die of heart disease too. We have too much invested in fat as repugnant to break down how and why this western social construction came into being. It is certainly necessary to say western because the thin woman as the ultimate model of femininity is far from a universal concept.
Oprah expresses shame at reaching two hundred pounds on the scale. Her weight is seen as some sort of moral failing. How is it possible, the pundits ponder, that given her access to personal trainers, and professional chefs that she could have allowed this to happen?
Two hundred is a number on the scale and Oprah’s value as a person cannot, and should not, be determined by the size of her physical body. This is a woman that runs a network, a magazine, a radio show and of course the Oprah Winfrey show. She has raised millions of dollars for charity and has personally donated much of her fortune to help others. Instead of speaking about her philanthropist activities, and how similar acts by others in this rough economic time would help to reduce the social anomie, we are focusing on her weight.
The issue of having the perfect body would not even exist if her name was Omar instead of Oprah. This is a gender-specific discussion meant to remind women that no matter your accomplishments, if your body does not fit within a certain framework you are less than.
If a woman as accomplished as Oprah can be reduced in this way, where does it leave the rest of us? This disciplining of the female form will not come to an end until we begin to forcefully reject it. There are far too many industries capitalizing from “woman as imperfect” for this to simply recede into darkness. In this we can see a perfect marriage between patriarchy and capitalism.
The diet industry regularly pitches its products at women. When was the last time you saw a Slimfast commercial aimed at a man? The multi-million dollar exercise industry again often pitches its machines and gym memberships at women.
Right now the pitch is “get in shape for the holidays” and in January it will be about “losing the holiday weight gain”. There is always a season, or time of year that women can be made more perfect.
What you cannot starve or sweat away belongs to the medical establishment. Liposuction anyone? A stomach tuck here, and breast augmentation there. What is risking your life by undergoing anaesthesia and complications to say nothing of the pain, in comparison to having the perfectly disciplined body?
What women must remember is that it is our duty to hate our imperfect selves. There are too many industries dependent on self loathing for us to shirk our collective female guilt. Should we ever begin to slip and decide that continual self-loathing is counterproductive to a happy life, public fat shaming like what happened to Oprah, or a nicely airbrushed image of another female celebrity will appear and we will all fall in line.
Actually loving yourself and all of your imperfections in a society that is built upon feminine discipline is enough to get unsexed.