A few weekends ago during the Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award and like many people I was moved to tears by her speech. I knew I was witnessing one of the truly great women leaders of my lifetime offer us a rallying cry of hope and power.
I also knew I was witnessing a woman who many people have placed on a pedestal and toward whom criticism is sometimes seen as blasphemy. The last time I offered a public critique of Oprah I was surprised to see how many people unfollowed and even attacked me.
It’s imperative that we stop viewing our leaders with an all or nothing lens. They are neither saints nor sinners. They are humans, complex, and full of contradictions and blind spots — just like you and me.
Listen, I have blind spots. Lots of them. I mess up and speak out of cis-gendered, able-bodied, hetero, white privilege and ignorance all the time. Blind spots are not something any of us can pretend to be free from. We can only work with them to reduce the fog and shine a brighter light on the places we’re not seeing clearly.
And diet culture is inherently anti-feminist. Diet culture is a patriarchal tool, or rather a weapon used to keep women from their full power.
Thus, it is imperative we call in (or out) the leaders of the women’s movement who perpetuate diet culture and Oprah Winfrey is the most prominent person who fits this bill. I am not tearing Oprah down. I am not throwing Oprah and all her good deeds away. I am calling Oprah out where it is necessary while also still acknowledging the enormous positive impact she has had on the lives of women.
If you ever feel guilty for what you eat, find yourself eating in a way that feels out of control, find yourself limiting when/when/how much you eat in a way that helps you feel calm or powerful — you have diet culture to thank.
If you don’t feel at ease around food. If you feel like you need to keep a close eye on what you eat, even counting points or calories. If you are afraid to eat entire food groups. If you spend more time thinking about food than you do your relationships or life dreams. If you spend more time thinking about food then you do enjoying food or your life. You have diet culture to thank.
If you find yourself going round and round the dieting merry-go-round (on the diet, off the diet, blame self for ‘failure’, on the diet, off the diet, blame self for ‘failure’) you have diet culture to thank.
If you have spent years trying to lose weight only to end up weighing more than when you started. You have diet culture to thank.
If your day can be made better or worse depending on the scale, you have diet culture to thank.
If you ever feel like you have to earn what you eat by exercising more, you have diet culture to thank.
Does some of what I’ve just described sound benign, even normal? Thanks, diet culture.
These are just some of the many ways the diet culture has seeped into our everyday lives. This is what we’re sold and this is a load of poisonous bullshit.
Diets are proven not to result in long-term weight-loss or improved health and for a women’s leader to not only promote but profit from, this is not okay. Diets suck energy, time, and financial resources away from women.
It should be said that it is one thing to be on a diet. It’s one thing to be on a diet and share about your experience on your talk show. It’s one thing fall victim to the siren call of weight loss and portion control. I have all the compassion in the world for dieters. If you are on a diet or find yourself this New Year feeling the urge to get back on the merry-go-round I have no judgment of you. None. Billions of dollars are being spent each year to reenlist you.
However, with great power comes great responsibility and the pass I gave Oprah all the years she was dieting doesn’t stand now that she holds a 10% stake in and is the face of one of the biggest dieting empires. As I said, it’s one thing to be on a diet, but it’s another thing to sell dieting. It’s another thing entirely to go from drug user to drug dealer.
Oprah is wonderful, brilliant, and has made the world a better place. No question.
And Oprah and every other women’s leader who fails to incorporate an anti-diet, body liberation stance into her feminism and activism is failing women in this way.
Let’s ditch the black and white thinking, let’s stop with the hero worship and let’s not be afraid to make the downfall of diet culture a feminist issue because it is.
If you’re a feminist who wants to have an empowered relationship with your food and your body join me for this upcoming round of Feast, my masterclass for women who are seeking to be free and well-fed. The deadline to apply is fast approaching.