Brave Enough To Speak the Truth About Body Image

2016-04-18 Pic 1
Image used under Creative Commons license

I know Oprah Winfrey elicits strong opinions, positive or negative, and I’m not here to try and sway your opinion one way or another.  Her television empire, Harpo Studios, has had its offices here in Chicago for years and one could go see the Oprah Winfrey Show right here, just west of the loop.  While not a native, Oprah has made a home here and, in the process, has become a Chicago institution.

I picked her as my letter “O” today because she changed my life with a book she wrote with her trainer, Bob Greene, called Make the Connection.  Simply put, it’s a book about getting to one’s healthy weight.  But the book is so much more than that.

Ms. Winfrey, or simply Oprah as she is known by her fans, is baldly honest in this book about her personal journey.  I’ve spoken elsewhere, on occasion, on my own struggles with anorexia and I can tell you, it’s a shaming disorder.  When anorexics do speak up about their journey, people tend to freak out, laugh, or get overly solicitous.  One woman I told literally laughed in my face and blurted, “But you’re so -”  She broke off, but we both heard the word she didn’t say:  “fat.”  It’s only the skinny ones that get the press, the ones that are near death or the models who have died from it.  “Such a shame, she was so beautiful,” people say.

Oprah’s book was the first time I came across anyone in the public eye who had the courage to be candid about their journey with body weight.  Fat people know they’re fat.  They know it, they struggle with it, and they live with it everyday.  Oprah didn’t have to be honest in her book.  With her power and reach, even back then, she could have simply said, here’s a book by my trainer, go read it and you’ll get healthy too.  But no.  Not only did she share her own journey, her own personal shame, she shared pictures.  Fat ones.  Shaming ones.  Ones that no one ever talks about, or even admits to.

I’m actually not in favor of the so-called “fat positive” movement, because being over a healthy weight is, by definition, unhealthy.  All sorts of medical consequences come from being fat:  diabetes, heart disease, gout, high blood pressure, immobility, pain, arthritis, and just plain inability to enjoy life as we were meant to.  Yes, fat people get shamed, and that’s not useful and mean-spirited.  But fat people don’t need more excuses to stay fat; we need a collective understanding that being fat is a mental disorder, not a physical one.  When a person overeats, it’s generally from a psychological cause, not a physical one.  Someone who is morbidly obese is sick, not lazy.  They need help, not shame.

So, for the record, I’m saying it now:  Oprah, thank you for having the courage to own up to your own struggles, and to be a pathfinder for others to find a way out of being overweight and to develop healthy habits.  Every fat person I’ve ever met, every single one, knows enough nutrition to choke a horse.  Clearly, it’s not information fat people need.  It’s something else.  And Oprah, though her book and her television show, shined a spotlight on the problem and it helped many, many people, including me.


Tomorrow, we move on to lighter subjects and highlight one of Chicago’s greatest ethnic groups.

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