“What about diet pills?’
“Do juice cleanses work?”
* Silently sobs in the H&M dressing room *
My niece Emmi has come to me several times throughout her young life asking for advice on how to lose weight.
Not going to lie: these conversations strike fear in my heart. I’ve struggled with body acceptance my whole life, having watched my mom cry after eating or deny herself dinner for months at a time. She once pointed to my eleven-year-old saddlebags (we called them “humpy lumpies” in my family) and said, “It’s already starting.”
“It” turned out to be a lifetime of anxiety and unrealistic expectations, often confusing a love of fitness with loathing for my body. I never want Emmi to fall down that “lose enough to be good enough” rabbit hole that I’ve tumbled down too many times to count.
As someone who’s had to work much harder on her self-esteem than her weight, I desperately want to say the right things, model the right behavior and assure Emmi that loving the body you have and still wanting fab abs aren’t mutually exclusive. She needed practical advice, lovingly given.
Talk about pressure. I need an auntie master class to help me navigate this tricky topic.
But maybe not one of Oprah’s master classes.
For the record, I love Oprah Winfrey. On most topics, she’s one of my go-to sources for inspiration. She’s been there for me during a lot of hard times.
But her approach to health and fitness sometimes makes me uncomfortable.
Take her new partnership with Weight Watchers. I was excited to read about it.
As a creative director at an ad agency, I thought, “Yes! Perfect fit! Marketing gold!” And it has been. Weight Watchers stocks have soared.
As an auntie, I thought, “Yes! Emmi was just asking about Weight Watchers. I have a lot of body positive friends who love Weight Watchers. Now Oprah endorses Weight Watchers. Gotta be a sign. “
Then I saw Oprah’s Weight Watchers ad.
A lot of people love it. Like everything Oprah does, it’s honest and frank and deeply personal.
But it’s not a message I want my niece to embrace.
I don’t want Emmi to think that no matter what else she achieves in life – even if she accomplishes incredible things as Oprah has – that her real self can get “lost” or “buried in the weight.”
I don’t want her to think that gaining weight, or losing weight then gaining it back is failure, a sin that needs to be atoned for. That’s what Oprah calls it, over flashback footage of herself hating life on the Stairmaster or jogging like an infomerical fail.
On no other topic would Oprah let a woman speak to herself or about herself like this. It all just seems so out of step with the current cultural shift toward wellness and empowerment rather than guilt and body shaming. (As Oprah herself should have noticed when her magazine tried to tell women they could only wear a crop top if (and only if!) you have a flat stomach”)
But back to Oprah’s Weight Watchers ad. After watching Oprah talk about her failure, and being lost, I wanted to yell, “You can’t talk about my friend like that.” Instead, I wrote the spot I wish Oprah had made:
“I’ve worked my whole life to be the best version of myself that I can be. And I’ve tried to inspire others to do the same. For longer than I care to admit, there’s been one thing that’s been holding me back. No, not my weight. My complicated relationship with my weight. Joining Weight Watchers isn’t about what I want to lose. It’s about what I want to achieve: Self-acceptance, good health, a body that can keep up with everything I still want to accomplish in life. These are gifts I give myself. Weight doesn’t define who I am. Reaching my goals – including this one – that’s what defines me. Are you ready? Let’s do this together.”
Yes, it needs Oprah’s heartfelt delivery. Her wrist full of bangles. Her comforting voice that always inspired me to live my best life. But that’s the message I want my niece to get when she considers her own health goals. And the message I want Oprah to get too.
If not now, when?
What about you? How do you feel about Oprah’s Weight Watchers ad? Think it could use some work or feel totally inspired? Sound off below.