What if O stands for “Overwhelming body hatred”? (Reflections on the January cover of O: The Oprah Magazine)

O January Cover
O January Cover

As you can see above, the January 2009 cover of O features two different pictures of Oprah. On the left, Oprah is aglow. Dressed all in white, she exudes confident joy. On the right, a more quizzical, frustrated, and fuller Oprah dons a purple tracksuit. With her right hand, she indicates her “better” self, with her left,  she points to the question emblazoned across the cover “How did I let this happen again?”

A close-reading of this cover might question how the use of color perpetuates the notion that white is superior. The good white Oprah (or the thin Oprah, all in white with pearly whites blazing) is contrasted to the bad purple Oprah – that color Alice Walker so famously associates with womanism AND with blackness.*

The copy is telling as well, noting that “Oprah on her battle with weight” is “a must-read for anyone who’s ever fallen off the wagon.” Wow, weight as a battle and eating as an addiction akin to alcoholism all in one subtitle! And, in the left corner, “MAKING WEIGHT LOSS STICK” uses capital letters, indicating this is a directive, a must, something VERY important…

I admit to subscribing to the O magazine on and off since its launch. I like many aspects of the magazine- the book reviews, the emphasis on meaty copy rather than fluff, the coverage of global issues. Others I am not so fond of. For example, the “O List,” or those “must -haves,” many of which you would have to be a millionaire to purchase.  As this list indicates, the magazine suffers from rather pervasive class-blindness. Another aspect of the magazine I don’t like is its continual perpetuation of body hating messages that are all prettily wrapped up in a “love yourself” disguise.

This month’s cover, though, is perhaps the first one I will have to hide from my children’s eyes. I do not want them viewing this image, which screams that the “fat Oprah” is a failure. I don’t want them reading the copy that indicates one MUST be “Making Weight Loss Stick” by following a “simple plan.” I do not want them associating the color purple (Oprah, how could you?!?!?) with regret.

One thing I have liked about O in the past is that each month a black woman is on the cover – yes, it is Oprah, and yes, she is the magazine proprietor – but I still like the fact that a powerful, successful, brilliant, radiant black woman is on the cover each month. Having O decorating our coffee table along with Ms., New Moon, and The Nation conveys to my kids (I hope) that magazine covers are not only for thin white sexually objectified women.

Alas, this month’s issue of O will not be given a place on the table- it will hide away in a drawer, to be furtively read in preparation for further posts on Oprah’s “failure” to escape the body hating industrial complex, that prison house in which MOST of us dwell…

(As an aside, my nine-year-old daughter did see this cover and immediately tsked-tsked “That is so stupid mom. Why does she care so much about what she weighs?” Ah, these are the moments that melt a feminist mother’s heart.)

* See In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983).

(For an excellent post addressing  Oprah’s failure to make peace with her body, read Kate Harding’s “Dear Oprah” piece here. )

6 thoughts on “What if O stands for “Overwhelming body hatred”? (Reflections on the January cover of O: The Oprah Magazine)”

  1. What I take as most upsetting about this issue (which I dont personally subscribe to the O but have never really had a beef with it in any way) is that it will unquestionably be perceived as some sort of “love your body” message by its millions of readers rather than taking it for what it really is, which is a tool used by what PWI called the body hating industry.

    But hey, I mean its not like you can be “overweight” and actually lead a happy life, thats blasphemy! :::gasps:::

    1. Jesse,
      Yes, I agree that it will be taken as a “positive” message by readers… We always seem to wrap body hatred in this false package of “health” when what it really is about is dieting minus the t, or dying! In other words, it is about killing off normal bodily desires (hunger) and murdering the bodies set point/metabolism whenever that set point is “too high” by thin obsessed cultural standards.
      Thanks for your comment!

  2. It seems to me that Oprah is measuring her happiness based upon how she looks. And not necessarily only in the simple “I am happier because I am skinny” way but “things are going rough, and this is portrayed through my body”.

    Our bodies certainly can reflect our feelings (body posture, facial expressions, etc.) and this is demonstrated in this magazine cover. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Oprah’s body in either pictures (although knowing Oprah’s body history, my guess is that to achieve the body in the left picture, there was A LOT of fighting her body’s natural shape, but that is for another comment!) However, in one, she appears happy and confident, and in the other, disappointed.

    I have nothing but sadness for Oprah, and wish I could share with her something that took me 15 years of disordered eating and exercise to figure out – it is far more worthwhile to spend the time learning to love oneself despite how one’s body shape than to spend time feeding into the diet machine.

    I don’t profess that I have this figured out, but I do know that sharing with the world how one is disappointed in one’s body can’t help one’s self-esteem and confidence one bit.

  3. Shermanvolvo,
    So will put! I hope Oprah will get to where you are — she has been “feeding the diet machine” for at least 15 years I think…

  4. Plz, Oprah, like many of us, is going to be stuck in a fat body. She will have to accept that her job requires her to look a certain way. I too have to fight off my weight. mostly because this isn’t safe. I feel sorry for her, I don’t have to do my weight thing in public.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s