Oprah Winfrey has chubbed up again. She announced it on the cover of her own magazine with a big coverline quote: "How did I let this happen again?"
The news of her weight gain spread like butter on a hot skillet around the tabloids, gossip blogs and columns. They are treating it with shock! Shock! As though we all haven't been watching Oprah fairly bursting out of her squeezy-sweater-dressy wardrobe over these past many months.
What, we had to wait till Oprah herself admitted it? Girl, we could see you were back on the chips and pie. And it didn't take high-def.
“I’m mad at myself,” Winfrey writes in an article for the January '09 O mag. “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."
We can't believe it either. Because if anyone has a pass on the rule that says women on TV have to be skeletal, it's Oprah Winfrey. Her heft is part of her appeal. It's an oft-quoted statistic that the average American woman is size 12 or larger. O looks to be about a 16-18 at the moment. And nobody's turning her show off because of that.
At her slimmest, Oprah was probably just north of single digits and that's back when she was starving herself and doing those maniac workouts with trainer Bob Greene every day. When she's working at it, like when she trained for the New York Marathon, she looks good at about a 12-14 -- a size range that, in the real world, is perfectly acceptable, even desirable, for her height (about 5'9") and her age (55).
We love Oprah for her generous proportions, her ample avoirdupois. She should be larger than life, not a candidate for Celebrity Fit Club. That one time she dropped a wagonload of fat on that liquid protein diet and squeezed into the tiny jeans, she looked sickly and...un-Oprah. By her own admission, that size lasted exactly two days. She celebrated that round of severe dieting by going on an eating binge.
We never expect Oprah to compete looks and size-wise with Katie Couric (gym-thin with impressively well-toned biceps), Diane Sawyer (size 4 and mysteriously line-free) or former NBC reporter and longtime Oprah friend Maria Shriver (so gaunt her flesh strains against coathanger jawbones). And we certainly don't want her to look as freakishly unfed as Barbara Walters (dangerously doddery) or former talk show queen Joan Rivers (who has joked about her many procedures, "one more facelift and I'll have a goatee").
And God forbid, Oprah does to herself what Star Jones did, losing weight so quickly (with surgical help), she ended up looking gaunt and obese at the same time.
Oprah's our gal, our best friend, our sistah who will succumb to some midnight fistfuls of cookie dough from time to time. So she's put on a pound or 40. There are plenty of reasons for stress-eating when you're running a media empire, hosting a daily show and getting a black Democratic president elected.
She said she wants to lose 20 pounds before Inauguration Day, Jan. 20. That's about five weeks from now. Yeah, right.
The problem with Oprah's weight gain is that Oprah thinks it's a problem. She can go on and on about how she wants to be "healthy" and "fit" and "live her best life" with the help of "The Secret" and not just reach some magical goal weight. But don't we get a sense from her public shame about her yo-yo dieting that there are other subplots at play? Because really, who cares if Oprah gets fat? Oprah was popular when she was pushing 275 and she'll be popular when she's back down to 140.
The real issue is why Oprah finds it necessary to keep undergoing massive makeovers. Wasn't it just a month or two ago she went on that trendy cleanse diet, foreswearing caffeine, alcohol, sugar, wheat and dairy for a full 21 days? What a strange stunt (which she blogged about on Oprah.com). After three weeks consuming nothing but lawn clippings and spring water, who wouldn't reach for mac and cheese? With a margarita chaser.
Oprah tries one thing and then another and not just with dieting--she goes through spiritual advisers that way a fat kid goes through a bag of Oreos. Oprah's always unsatisfied with some aspect of herself and that's the real concern here.
As Dr. Drew Pinsky would say, she needs to deal with the "chaos" before she can deal with the weight. Pinsky, the wise radio-TV doc who counsels addicts of all stripes, often says that sexual abuse in childhood can have longlasting repercussions. Oprah has spoken on her show and written about being molested by a family member as a child, raped later on and becoming pregnant as a teenager. If chaotic, traumatic events such as these aren't dealt with through extensive therapy--and not the kind that includes spa massage--an adult often will carry shame and self-hatred into adulthood, and spin it into problems with alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual addiction and, yes, food addiction.
Not to play armchair shrink, but maybe Oprah's tendency to pack on pounds, even while preaching health and fitness to her audience, is her way of protecting her inner child. She builds a mighty fortress around her feelings, stuffing down the "chaos" with fine food and good wine.
Look, we need to stop expecting this woman to be perfect and subjecting her to unreal expectations about physical beauty. There's no reason someone as accomplished, respected, even adored, as Oprah Winfrey should ever feel "less than" because she can't wear sample sizes from designers. There's no designer in the world who wouldn't beg to whip up a size 14 frock for the most powerful woman in media. And no one at those inaugural balls will be anything but wowed by the sight of TV's reigning goddess, no matter what she's wearing in whatever size.
Remember that story about editor Anna Wintour (herself a "lollipop" who's all head atop scrawn) telling Oprah she had to lose 20 pounds before she could be on the cover of Vogue a few years ago? The nerve. As it is, some might say there's not enough Oprah to go around. What wonderful revenge it would be if now Oprah would tell Anna to gain 20 so she could be in an issue of O.
The New Year will dawn with Oprah launching a new diet-and-exercise plan on her show. She'll invite everyone in the TV universe to take part and later in the year, probably during sweeps, she'll have success stories parade across her stage in skinny glory. (Remember how she did that with Kirstie Alley? And how quickly Kirstie ballooned up right after? So much for "calling Jenny.")
But the cycle of gaining and losing needs to end soon if Oprah truly wants to live her own "best life." if she really wants to conquer the fat monster that keeps sneaking the weight back on her, Oprah needs seriously to look at dealing with some of that "chaos" that she's never come to terms with. She can hire all the chefs, trainers and motivators in the world. She can even starve down into those size 10 jeans again. But it won't last until she comes to terms with the heavy stuff stuck deep down inside.
To borrow a phrase from Weight Watchers: The problem is not what Oprah's eating; it's what eating her.
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