10 Jan

Oprah’s National Campaign Against Obesity: Should we be skeptical?

Opinion writer Jennifer Weiner published a column in today’s (Sunday, January 10, 2016) New York Times about our national obsession with beauty and transformation. She references Oprah Winfrey’s new commercials for Weight Watchers and is clearly displeased on two counts. One, that Oprah has still not accepted her weight, and two, that she may be doing these commercials urging others to lose weight along with her because of her 43.2 million dollar investment in Weight Watchers. As a psychologist/psychoanalyst why am I interested in this topic?

First, and foremost, as I noted in a previous blog, I am concerned about the obesity epidemic in this country, because of the health ramifications, and because of the underlying emotional pain and frustration that I believe are fueling it. No one is really addressing the obesity problem in a meaningful way, so while I am also skeptical of Ms. Winfrey’s ability to make a dent in the problem, if the power of “O” could actually do so, that’s fine with me.

I also feel compelled to address Ms. Weiner’s comments suggesting that it is disingenuous for Oprah to say that when she looks in the mirror she feels that her true self has been lost and buried in her excess weight. Ms. Weiner says, “Seriously? Oprah Winfrey, with all her influence, all her accomplishments, the school she’s built and money she’s earned, is still feeling lost, buried, or like she’s not her best and most authentic self?” This attitude concerns me because it represents an inability to understand that early established patterns of low self-esteem, anxiety and depression are not eliminated by fame and financial success.

Wealthy, successful people suffer emotionally just as much as anyone else. And I would say that anyone who is consistently obese, including Oprah Winfrey, has some serious pain and uses food as a form of self-soothing. (She has revealed her history of childhood trauma repeatedly). If she can address the reality of helplessness and unresolved emotional issues as part of the overeating problem, perhaps she has a chance of helping others in large numbers.

Ms. Winfrey has always had a huge audience that joined her in her previous efforts at transformation. Perhaps she still needs one to motivate herself. And, yes, she did make an enormous amount of money off of these largely failed efforts, including her own. Opinion writer Weiner suggests that Ms. Winfrey, at age 61, should just stop trying. I don’t agree. It is likely that health concerns are a large part of her current desire to lose weight. If she doesn’t, the odds are not good for her living to a ripe old age. People can change bad habits, even though the literature has shown that they usually fail five or six times before they succeed. I’ve lost count of how many times Oprah has tried to lose weight, but we are all capable of change, and I hope she succeeds.

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