By Joe Nadglowski, OAC President and CEO
This past weekend, my wife Lori and I had the opportunity to join around 17,000 people attending Oprah’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus event in Dallas. I left truly impressed and wowed by not only Oprah’s amazing stage presence, but by the lessons she learned through a lifetime experience of struggling with her weight in the public eye.
The event itself was part rock concert, part dance party, part group meditation session, part the Oprah Show (with a celebrity interview) and part revival — but it mostly consisted of Oprah leading people through questionnaires and exercises to help identify their own path to wellness. Everyone received a personal workbook to guide them.
Oprah Opens up about Weight Stigma
Oprah herself shared a number of life circumstance that shaped her journey, many of them unbelievably blunt, raw and honest. Of the many stories she told, one really stood out to me. She spoke about being shamed for her weight on “The Tonight Show” (Joan Rivers was filling in for Johnny Carson). You can see the clip if you CLICK HERE.
The clip was hard to watch. I know almost all of us who struggle with our weight have faced bias and shame in some form, but can you imagine facing such a public shaming?
Oprah spent time talking about how excited she was by the opportunity to go on “The Tonight Show” (this was 1985, and she was just getting her career started), and she described in detail how she had planned the perfect outfit and shoes and even reviewed her conversations with the producers where she wasn’t given the heads-up that the topic of her weight was going to be raised. You could still hear the pain in her voice as she relived those moments. She pointed to this experience, as well as adverse childhood experiences, as being catalysts for more weight gain and a lifetime of weight struggles.
Speaking out and Taking Action
This got me thinking. Have we really made progress in tackling weight bias and shaming?
I’d like to think that if the OAC existed in 1985 (we weren’t created until 20 years later), our members would have shouted from the rooftops demanding change. However, the reality is that not too long ago, another segment on “The Tonight Show” featuring another past host, Jay Leno, was also stigmatizing. Bill Maher’s comments on his show last year were equally as bad. Were our cries heard on those recent issues? There was some public outrage, but was it enough considering how harmful stigma is? Have we grown too complacent?
Shaming people over their weight is not the solution. Evidence shows it makes matters worse. It takes people like Oprah to make change (and James Corden, who stood up to Bill Maher recently), but it will also take each and every one of us, too. Enough is enough. If you see stigma, bias or shaming, say something. It’s not OK. It’s time to stop with excuses for those who engage in such behavior. Shaming must stop. Its impact can last a lifetime.
Oprah, thanks for your bravery and adding your voice to this important topic. It’s time for all of us to be as courageous as you!
Shout out to Tammy Beaumont, active OAC volunteer and OAC Board of Directors member emeritus, who I bumped into among those 17,000 attendees. Another shout out to my seat mate during the show, James McGee, Executive Chef and co-owner of PeaceLoveEatz.com, who shared his own powerful story about addressing his weight (he went plant-based). Finally, special thanks to Gary Foster, PhD, a frequent Your Weight Matters Convention speaker and Chief Scientific Officer of WW, for arranging for me to attend.
Share Your Own Story
If you have your own story about struggling with weight or experiencing weight bias, I encourage you to share it. By speaking out, you can raise awareness of these issues and be a voice of support to someone else. To share your story, visit WeightoftheWorld.com.