The New York Times Magazine has a new profile of Weight Watchers. They discuss how the company regained market share by focusing on healthy eating and wellness instead of dieting and thinness, which have negative connotations in our society. Weight Watchers rebranded their efforts, started Beyond The Scale, and brought on the queen of self actualization, Oprah, to help. They wanted to adapt somewhat to include some aspects of the body positivity and health at every size movements, but Oprah told the NYT there are limits to this and that she personally doesn’t feel positive about her body when she’s over 200 pounds. She may get pushback for this but I think she’s being realistic. You can love yourself and the state you are in while working toward losing weight. The author of this article, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, 41, admits that she’s struggled with her weight all her life. Writing this piece, and speaking to Oprah on the phone, sounds somewhat cathartic to her. Here’s the part where Taffy is talking to Oprah, who has lost over 40 pounds on Weight Watchers.
[Oprah] had never felt stress, even during all those years when she was doing three shows a day. She just ate instead. She had bags of potato chips, and people would say, ‘‘Don’t you get stressed?’’ and she’d think, What’s stress? She had seen the cultural changes for years. She knew that you were no longer supposed to say that you wanted to diet or be thinner. You had to want ‘‘fitness’’ and ‘‘strength’’ and just general health. But this thinking was a prison. So was the one where you just accept yourself and move on. “This whole P.C. about accepting yourself as you are — you should, 100 percent,” she said. But it was that thinking that made her say yes to Weight Watchers. ‘‘It’s a mechanism to keep myself on track that brings a level of consciousness and awareness to my eating. It actually is, for me, mindful eating, because the points are so ingrained now.’’ Meaning, Oprah wasn’t interested in ceding to a movement. She was wondering how to finally make this work.
‘‘In the particular moment in time that I got the call,’’ she told me, ‘‘I was desperate: What’s going to work? I’ve tried all of the green juices and protein shakes, and let’s do a cleanse, and all that stuff. That doesn’t work. It doesn’t last. What is going to be consistent, keep me conscious and mindful?’’
But this thing about acceptance? Why couldn’t accepting herself mean not accepting her weight? Why wasn’t it an act of love to use any available means to avoid her genetic predisposition to diabetes? Sure, she could have abandoned her efforts. She could have gone hard on acceptance. A million people would have bought ‘‘Oprah’s Guide to Body Acceptance.’’ But she couldn’t get there. ‘‘For your heart to pump, pump, pump, pump, it needs the least amount of weight possible to do that,’’ she said. “So all of the people who are saying, ‘Oh, I need to accept myself as I am’ — I can’t accept myself if I’m over 200 pounds, because it’s too much work on my heart. It causes high blood pressure for me. It puts me at risk for diabetes, because I have diabetes in my family.’’
I nodded into the phone because I didn’t want Oprah to hear me crying. I wanted to quit dieting, but had come to realize that dieting was all I had. I was completely perplexed by food — food! Stupid food! That’s what this was about! I dieted because I wanted to maintain hope that I could one day manage my food intake, because my bewilderment around the stuff was untenable. When I didn’t have that hope, I was left with too much worry about pain, about how much my knees hurt now and how much more they would in just a few years. I could be enlightened about my body. I could have acceptance. But nobody would tell that to the people who saw me as a target; nobody would tell that to my knees.
And yet, I told Oprah, in admitting this, I couldn’t stop feeling as if I were betraying everyone I knew who was out there trying to find peace with herself. I couldn’t stop thinking that nothing would change in the world until there was a kind of uprising.
‘‘Oh, my God, Taffy,’’ Oprah said. ‘‘I have to have a talk with you. I used to say this to my producers all the time. We are never going to win with this show looking back to see what other people are doing on their shows. The only way you win is to keep looking forward for yourself. What’s best for you?’’
The ‘‘you’’ threw me. I didn’t know if she meant ‘‘you’’ as in my body or ‘‘you’’ as in me, and it occurred to me that she could mean both, that some people think of those two things as the same thing. I treated my body with such contempt, but my body wasn’t different from me. There were no two of me to put on a magazine cover, just the one of me.
I never particularly disliked my body or myself when I was larger. I felt ok, I wasn’t too hard on myself. I was about 10 pounds shy of being obese but I felt like I fit in and I didn’t think negatively about myself or specific body parts. I wanted to change though and I think that you can both accept where you are while working toward being thinner or fitter or however you want to think of it. As for not talking about dieting or getting slim – if that’s what people need then maybe that’s what will work for them. There’s no one way to lose weight (although can I introduce you the church of calories? We have smaller cookies) and different people need a different approach. Also, I don’t think Oprah meant the quote in the title in a bad way. In the lead up she did say that you have to accept yourself but then added that she personally couldn’t do that.
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