Oprah Blamed Herself For Helping to Promote the Diet Craze, but Here's the Real Culprit

Photo: Michael Kovac (Getty Images)
Photo: Michael Kovac (Getty Images)
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On Thursday (May 9), media mogul Oprah Winfrey apologized for participating in “diet culture” in a livestream with WeightWatchers called “Making The Shift: A New Way to Think About Weight.”

However, considering the scrutiny that has been placed on her weight by the media for decades she shouldn’t have to say sorry for anything. Still, Winfrey took accountability in promoting unhealthy weight loss strategies throughout her career.

“I want to acknowledge that I have been a steadfast participant in this diet culture through my platforms, through the magazine, through the talk show for 25 years,” Winfrey explained.

The legendary talk show host continued:

“I’ve been a major contributor to it. I cannot tell you how many weight loss shows and makeovers I have done and they have been a staple since I’ve been working in television....It sent a message that starving yourself with a liquid diet and set a standard for people watching that I, nor anybody else, could uphold...Maya Angelou always said, ‘When you know better, you do better,’ so these conversations for me are an effort to do better.”

Just earlier this year, the “OWN” pioneer shared that she was exiting the board of WeightWatchers after becoming a director in 2015. However, Winfrey shouldn’t have to bear the burden of “diet culture” when it’s proliferation is America’s fault—not hers. Women’s bodies—specifically Black women—have been scrutinized and fetishized and picked apart for centuries.

The media has been a major culprit in this behavior. Due to the prominent nature of “The Oprah Winfrey Show”—which ran from 1986-2011—the host was no exception to the rule. In fact, Winfrey’s appearance was further magnified because of her unprecedented success—she still holds the title for having the highest rated daytime talk show in the history of American television.

Along with this achievement came years and years of weight shaming, bullying and downright cruelty from various media outlets. For example, in 1982 People Magazine put Oprah on its cover and discussed her “diet wars” while calling her one of Hollywood’s “heavy hitters.”

Star Magazine called Oprah a “food junkie” with a “pie addiction” in 1991 and The National Enquirer stated she had an eating disorder while charting her weight for years. These are only a few examples of the ways her weight has been placed under a brutal microscope.

Additionally, she isn’t the only prominent celebrity to be a spokesperson for a weight loss brand. Mariah Carey was once the face of Jenny Craig, Janet Jackson has worked with Nutrisystem and Jennifer Hudson has also represented Weight Watchers.

In typical American fashion, Winfrey was consistently praised for being skinny—like gracing the cover of Shape Magazine—regardless of the cost. From yo-yo to liquid dieting to flat-out starvation, Winfrey admitted that she ultimately harmed her body to deal with the societal expectations unfairly placed upon her.

In March, the star collaborated with ABC for “An Oprah Special: Shame, Blame and the Weight Loss Revolution” to candidly discuss her publicly documented weight loss journey and the damage that it caused. After recalling one particularly alarming headline that called Winfrey “bumpy, lumpy and downright dumpy,” she stated she finally learned the value of self-acceptance.

“I’m absolutely done with the shaming from other people, and particularly myself...The number one thing I hope people come away with is knowing that [obesity] is a disease, and it’s in the brain.” Last year, she admitted to using a weight-loss medication but won’t share exactly which one it is. Of course, the media couldn’t wait to comment on how slim and trim she looked—it’s a never-ending cycle of surveillance.

For a culture that once praised models for looking “heroine chic,” had television shows called “The Biggest Loser,” “Celebrity Fit Club” and “Revenge Body,” doesn’t offer proper healthcare and makes millions from dieting products, there needs to be a deeper analysis of who is responsible for the rampant toxicity when it comes to women and body image.

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