I would like to believe that most of the people I know wouldn’t dream of calling someone a fat cow. While I don’t know Oprah Winfrey personally, I believe that she also wouldn’t dream of calling someone a fat cow. She is a person who encourages people to be positive and feel good about themselves.
Yet in the January 2009 issue of O, Oprah makes the statement, “I felt like a fat cow.” This particular remark was made in regards to her feeling she had hit bottom when she wanted to stay home from a show as fun as one with Tina Turner and Cher in Las Vegas. She said she was supposed to stand between them onstage and wanted to disappear. She added that she was thinking to herself, “God help me now. How can I hide myself?” It is interesting that while many of us wouldn’t consider calling someone else a fat cow, we might easily take a verbal punch at ourselves and call ourselves a nasty name.
I went looking for photos of Oprah with Cher and Tina as I hadn’t seen the show. What I found was a photo of Oprah looking attractive as usual. She is wearing some sassy heels and a gorgeous dress. I even found a clip of Tina and Cher performing “Proud Mary” and at the end Oprah joins them on the stage. It was amazing to think that she actually thought she looked like a fat cow.
I actually felt disturbed by Oprah’s comments about herself. When I think of Oprah, my thoughts travel first to her amazing life story. I believe that Oprah has the following she does and is loved by thousands because of that life story. People love to see someone rise up from the bottom. She has succeeded in spite of being born to two young people who weren’t prepared to have a child. In spite of the poverty. In spite of being female and a minority. In spite of being molested as a young girl. In spite of working in a field that is very competitive. In spite of her weight.
I also think about all the good works Oprah does in the world. Her school in South Africa for girls and the Angel Network are just two examples. Oprah is an amazing woman who is extremely hard working and intelligent. It is thinking about these accomplishments that make it so sad to hear how she could be so reduced to focusing on the physical that she would feel like a fat cow. She also fell into the trap of comparing herself to others and in this case it was none other than Tina Turner and Cher. Oprah shared, “As I interviewed them, I was thinking, ‘Who’s the real older woman here? I am. They didn’t just sparkle; they glittered.’” I believe that many women, if put on the same stage with Cher and Tina Turner, would find themselves lacking if they began a comparison game.
Oprah also shared her recent struggles with some health issues, medications, and letting her life get out of balance, to the point she wasn’t making time for herself. She is honest about her frustration and how she began eating whatever she wanted. She says specifically, “My drug of choice is food. I use food for the same reasons an addict uses drugs: to comfort, to soothe, to ease stress.” I also took note of her sharing a comment made by her friend and author Marianne Williamson. Marianne said, “Your overweight self doesn’t stand before you craving food. She’s craving love.” Oprah added to that observation, “Falling off the wagon isn’t a food issue; it’s a love issue.”
Reading Oprah’s self disclosing article was also a powerful reminder to me about my own issues with my current weight. I, too, have felt embarrassed about my weight gain. I, too, have avoided gatherings, parties, photos, going to my old town with the fear of running into someone who would quickly notice how much weight I had gained. Like Oprah I also thought I had the weight thing all figured out and that the battle of the bulge was finally over once and for all. I worked out six to seven days a week for one to two hours for a good number of years. I watched what I ate all the time. It seemed like I could do that forever. It helped that I didn’t have a relationship or children. The two biggest portions of my life consisted of work and working out.
I think that some of us, maybe lots of us, have that tendency towards wanting perfection. I sense that even though Oprah says she wants her new program to be about her health and not about being thin, she also really wants to look like she did in 2005. She wants to look like Tina Turner and Cher. How many of us strive and desire to look like the stars and models who taunt us from the covers of magazines? This focus on how we look can create such dissatisfaction with ourselves. Even when I was a skinny size ten and looked great in clothes and in workout wear, I knew that I wasn’t completely satisfied with how I looked naked. I actually had thoughts that the only way I would ever look “perfect” was if I elected to have surgery.
I believe Oprah is right about health being the ultimate goal. Health is truly the golden chalice. If you do not have your health, the quality of life can begin a tailspin off a cliff very quickly. It is an adjustment to anyone who has craved to look attractive and beautiful to change their mindset. There may be a certain internal struggle about making it about health and not about being thin and looking a certain way.
Questions may start to spiral. Can I settle for being healthy? Can I settle for not attaining the type of thinness that the media propagates as ideal? Can I quit beating myself up? Can I quit thinking I am not good enough?
The deeper and more real questions to start posing are the following: What do I win for being thin? Am I a better person if I wear a size six, two, or zero? Will I really have the perfect life if I look perfect? What do I accomplish by beating myself up? What do I gain by pointing out all my flaws and imperfections? What good comes of comparing myself to others, especially women who find it necessary to meet the physical expectations of Hollywood?
The truth is that barraging oneself with negativity leads to lowering self-esteem, greater self loathing, depression, more fear, increasing stress and this can easily cycle into believing we are worthless. The worst case scenario is that it can even steal our desire to live.
We get to make choices about what really matters. Some may make career choices that dictate they need to look a certain way. I, for one, would never want a career that was based on my appearance. I believe that more people need to set examples about what really matters in this world. It shouldn’t be about looking like Tina Turner or Cher.
We are each unique with our own set of genetic DNA that can dictate a whole lot about the size of our behind or how easily we gain and lose weight. It is about time that we begin to truly value and respect diversity and that means not just diversity of skin color or culture. We need to respect that we aren’t all meant to be a size zero. We aren’t all meant to fit into a size six shoe. A woman can be larger and healthy. Just as a woman can be model thin and completely unhealthy with high cholesterol and a heart condition.
I would love to have a conversation with Oprah and remind her that in some cultures a “fat cow” is revered and considered sacred. Hopefully the Hindus won’t take her to task for insulting one of their most sacred animals. They love all cows—fat, skinny, young, old, black, or white. It doesn’t matter. They all get the same amount of love and respect. Isn’t that how it should be for us all?