Oprah on Weight and Shame

Oprah Discovers Self-Stigma and the World Listens

Celebrity weight loss is a bane to the world. For years, Oprah found herself sucked into it and, as a result, took on a lot of self-stigma. In an hour-long program on ABC last night, though, she shared her new awareness of this:

“I have to say that I took on the shame that the world gave to me. For 25 years, making fun of my weight was national sport.

“I come to this conversation with the hope that we can start releasing the stigma and the shame and the judgment, to stop shaming other people for being overweight or how they choose to lose – or not lose – weight and, most importantly, to stop shaming ourselves.”

There you have it. After years of being stuck on an endless cycle of self-blame and weight loss, Oprah is stepping back. “Obesity is a disease, not a character flaw,” she said repeatedly. Oprah has discovered self-stigma is a tool for self-harm not self-help. We are confident that her voice will reach an audience numbering in the hundreds of millions.

Real Medical Expertise

Refreshingly, she enlisted physicians with real expertise in caring for people living with obesity. Scott Butsch is Director of Obesity Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. Amanda Velazquez holds the same title at Cedars Sinai. They brought a genuine understanding of the biology at work in obesity, along with perspective from their experience in providing empathetic care for this complex chronic disease. Butsch called out the “uneducated belief that this is just a self-inflicted condition, as if people who have obesity actually want to have obesity.”

Biology is real. The choice we have is how best to cope with it.

Concern-Trolling from Fat Acceptance Advocates

Kate Manne, a philosopher with a book on fat acceptance, was ready with with faux sympathy for Oprah and all she has been through. But she clearly does not like hearing that people might want medical help with obesity. She told the New York Times:

“I can really sympathize with her sense that her body is a problem that needs to be solved. I feel worried that she will be again perpetuating a social sense that people’s variations in size and shape really need to be addressed as a medical problem.”

This has a name: concern trolling. It is odd that an epiphany about weight stigma can be so unsatisfying to a fat activist. Apparently denial about the health effects of obesity overwhelms their professed concern about weight stigma.

But to oppose health stigma does not require us to neglect our health.

Click here, here, and here for more on Oprah’s discovery of self-stigma. To view her new program about this, you can find it today for streaming on Hulu.

Oprah on Weight and Shame, post on X/Twitter by @OprahDaily

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


March 19, 2024

6 Responses to “Oprah Discovers Self-Stigma and the World Listens”

  1. March 19, 2024 at 12:59 pm, Just a patient said:

    Oprah’s special gets an “A” for challenging stigma and educating the public on the new obesity science. But it gets a “D-” for glossing over how stigma has allowed insurance to not cover the drugs. She also failed to ask the tough questions about prices of the Lilly and Novo drugs. Supply issues were hardly mentioned, and compounding wasn’t at all. It should have been at least 2 hours to fully cover the hot mess we are in.

  2. March 19, 2024 at 3:56 pm, Trisha said:

    I would also have liked for the Lilly and Novo reps to have been given an opportunity to address outrageous pricing. However, I give Oprah enormous credit for creating this segment, her excellent choice of lay people and medical professionals, and for providing an accurate description of obesity as a disease in effort to destigmatize while promoting understanding & compassion. Brava!

  3. March 19, 2024 at 5:09 pm, Concerned said:

    I felt discouraged about the amount of coverage to address access to the medication. Eli Lilly and Novo Nordick reps were present and all we got to hear was an acknowledgement of what we already know, that the price of the medication is beyond what one can pay when not covered by insurance. There was also acknowledgement of an unprecedented demand for the drugs. There was no mention of any plan to increase production, or to make the medication easily accessible and affordable for all, regardless of where a person is in his/her weight loss journey. If a person has the disease of obesity, the medication is needed life-long to maintain health. This needs to be addressed moving forward. When a person stops the medication, there will be regain. We can prevent regain and the resulting medical issues, if we just allow affordable access for everyone, from the start and through maintenance.

  4. March 20, 2024 at 8:37 am, Trisha said:

    To Just a patient and Concerned: All outstanding points! I think it came down to limited time. I’m hoping the show was a jumping-off point for many discussions to come and that the makers of these important and effective meds will finally address access, pricing, and supply problems.

  5. March 30, 2024 at 2:29 pm, Just a Patient said:

    I have since learned that Hulu has posted a 30 minute, no commercials, “after show” with additional content from the special. It covers the cost, coverage, and supply issues a bit more. A definite improvement and worth watching, but it really should have been included to make a longer and more comprehensive program.

  6. March 30, 2024 at 11:54 pm, Scott Butsch said:

    The After Show segment does partially address the cost, coverage and disparities of care, but not everything for sure.

    There were 3 hrs of tape so time constraint was a clear limitation of what viewers saw. Trust me I had a lot to talk abt costs, compounding and PBMs but alas only so much could be in the two segments.

    In the end the Special did exactly what it intended to do, which is tell the science and reduce the blame. I have heard from many ppl who say that they have never thought about obesity like that before and from those living with obesity who say that they feel better understood.