Oprah Says She Experienced 'Condescension and Stigma' When She Weighed More Than 200 Pounds

As powerful as the body positivity movement has become, weight shaming remains a pervasive and painful issue. And as celebrities like Oprah Winfrey can attest, success and fame don’t protect from it; if anything, they provide a spotlight.

“You all know I’ve been on this journey for most of my life,” Winfrey told the audience while leading an Oprah Daily panel on “The State of Weight.” She continued, “My highest weight was 237 pounds. I don’t know if there is another public person whose weight struggle has been exploited as much as mine over the years.”

Winfrey spoke with four experts in the field of obesity and weight stigma, leading a conversation that touched on the role of willpower in weight loss and why internal and external weight-shaming never works (yet is still so common).

Along the way, Winfrey opened up about her own, very public weight-loss journey and the toll it took. “You all have watched me diet and diet and diet,” the 69-year-old said. “It’s a recurring thing because my body always seems to want to go back to a certain weight.”

“This is a world that has shamed people for being overweight forever,” Winfrey continued, “and all of us who’ve lived it know that people treat you differently — they just do.” For example, Winfrey explained, “I get treated differently if I’m 200-plus pounds versus under 200 pounds.” She specifically remembered how it impacted her experience as a shopper. “I had to deal with that when I walk into a store … people are like, ‘Let me show you the gloves. Would you like to look at the handbags? Because we know that there’s nothing in here for you.’”

“There is a condescension,” Winfrey emphasized. “There is stigma.”

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Research has found that this kind of weight-shaming is the opposite of effective. In fact, it only causes stress that makes people more likely to engage in coping mechanisms, like avoiding exercise and consuming excess calories, that can further contribute to weight gain. One study found that people with obesity who experienced discrimination due to their weight were 3.2 times more likely to remain obese compared to those who hadn’t experienced discrimination.

One of the issues, as Winfrey discussed in the panel, is the perception that obesity is an issue of willpower. They actually have nothing to do with each other, said Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity medicine physician scientist at Harvard. Obesity is defined as a disease, she said, “because there is malfunction in how the body is operating, [in the] pathways of the brain that actually regulate weight …  [Willpower] literally is not part of that regulation, those pathways.”

It’s a much-needed clarification, as Winfrey can attest to. “One of the things that I’ve been so ashamed … about and was shamed in the tabloids every week about for 25 years is not having the willpower,” Winfrey said.

Now, Winfrey is finding power and a supportive audience as she speaks out against that kind of treatment. “Your choices for your body and your … health, it should be yours to own,” she said. “As a person who’s been shamed for so many years, I’m just sick of it.”

Before you go, read up on these celebs who’ve spoken out about their health issues:

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