I imagined it for years. We would meet, face to face, and start talking. In a matter of minutes, we’d realize we were soul sisters and had much to learn from one another. We would connect on many levels—we both struggled with our weight which affected our self-esteem adversely. I would share with her my experiences growing up chunky (but with “such a pretty face” according to family members and friends). Although I only carried around an extra 20, sometimes 30 pounds, for a petite person (my adult height is barely 5’2”) it may just as well have been 50 or 100—it probably felt the same. The extra weight made me feel inadequate, unattractive, and unappealing. I still had friends (and boyfriends), and engaged in life, but my brain was clouded with negative thoughts and feelings. (I even wore pantyhose in my tennis skirts because I thought they made my legs look better!) I aspired to look like the Material Girl (Madonna) herself, and plastered pictures of her all over my room (and even later on my kitchen wall when I moved to New York City after college). 115 was my dream weight. If only I weighed 115, life would be perfect!
In my mind's eye, when Oprah and I eventually met (I knew deep down we would meet someday), I'd say something and just like that, Oprah would respond as though she finally found clarity. Despite all the trainers, chefs, and other professionals she’s worked with over the years, in me she would find the one person who could help her make the breakthrough and finally achieve and a healthier body weight she could maintain for life (ok, delusions of grandeur on my part but no one ever said a girl can’t dream!).
When I heard Oprah was scheduled to attend an annual fundraiser my husband and I have attend for several years for Robin Hood, an amazing organization dedicated to fighting poverty in NYC, I thought about writing her a letter in case if I did meet her I'd be tongue tied. But after I thought about it more, I decided that if I was privileged and fortunate enough to actually meet her face to face, I would be myself and just speak from the heart.
In the midst of talking with a friend, my husband tried unsuccessfully to get my attention. Being wrapped in conversation, I didn’t notice until he slightly raised his voice, gently squeezed my arm and said “Are you going to turn around?” in somewhat of a stern voice. I turned and noticed Oprah in a magnificent and delicate peach floor length dress walking toward her table. It was as though someone lined a rope from her table to mine—I made a dash for her (without even excusing myself from my friend with whom I was chatting—I’ve since apologized for being so rude). This was my chance to meet Oprah and I had to seize the moment.
When I came face to face with Oprah, the only words I could muster up were “Can I have a hug?” She looked at me and said “Sure.” After the hug, I mentioned proudly that I’m a registered dietitian and have always wanted to be the “Oprah of Nutrition”. I then told her how amazing she was, how influential and helpful she has been to so many people around the world, and how she has always inspired me. I’m not sure what then possessed me to tell Oprah that if she had her weight issue under control she’d be perfect, and that nobody’s perfect. I then ended my rant by telling her what a beautiful person she is inside and out. I said goodbye (but not before I gave her another hug which she graciously returned), and was grateful when her body guards did not seize me and remove me, the crazy dietitian, from the room altogether.
Next I went to say a quick hello to Gayle King, Oprah’s best friend and colleague. After that I was making my escape when Oprah suddenly appeared next to me. I couldn’t help myself and said “Ok, now I’m stalking you.” I told her about how I was recently interviewed on television about her weight gain and the fact that she reached 200 pounds. During my interview, I talked about how difficult it must be for Oprah to have such visible weight struggles and to go through them under microscope and how overwhelming the pressure must be. As she listened, Oprah nodded in agreement. I told her that I understand firsthand what she and millions of people go through since I, too, was overweight, but that I have been able to successfully lose and keep off about 30 pounds. In closing, I gave Oprah a pep talk—again, not sure where all my nerve came from that day!—and told her that I know in my heart that once she is truly ready to change her life and take care of herself the way she takes care of everyone else, she will find her own personal weight loss success—even if that means losing even 20 pounds and keeping it off. I hugged her and as I was leaving yet again caught Gayle’s eye and said goodbye. As I made my way back to my table, Oprah looked right at me and said “Thank you for what you said.” I nearly died and of course asked for another hug and she obliged!
Did I change Oprah's life? I doubt I did. But when I spoke to Oprah, she made me feel like she was listening to my every word and that I was the only person in the room. It was an amazing feeling and I felt validated and valued. We should all look in the mirror and treat ourselves with that same attention and respect. It will help us feel better about ourselves, and allow us to be better for and to those around us as well.
When I mentioned my experience meeting Oprah to a few people, most asked me things like “Was she small, medium, or large?” or “Was she huge?” My answer: she was everything I had hoped for and more. She looked angelic and beautiful, and I didn’t care about how much she weighed, whether she was slim or overweight. She made me feel like what I said to her mattered. How could you not love someone who makes you feel that way? I wasn’t checking out her body. Instead, I focused on her face, which was radiant, and felt so lucky just to be in her presence. Whether she weighed 200 pounds or 150 pounds, she’s still Oprah and she’s still remarkable.
Oprah has a commanding presence. She comes across as extremely confident. Nevertheless, I could tell in my brief encounter and from what she has publicly divulged that her weight is a sore subject for her. It’s her issue, and it upsets her and makes her feel ashamed. It’s really too bad, and she does not (nor should anyone) deserve to feel like that.
Since I have been able to lose and keep weight off (and achieve even a few pounds lower than my dream weight) just by eating less and more healthfully and being more active, I’ve heard comments over the years like “You’re so skinny” or questions like “Did you lose a lot of weight?” Although I’ve fought excess weight for quite sometime, I never liked when others would say things about my weight, good or bad. I try to do healthful things so I can be fit and strong and feel energized and be able to run around with my young sons and husband. I want to keep my heart healthy and grow old gracefully. I don’t practice healthful habits to be thin or have everyone stare at me and tell me how great I look. I do it for me, because it makes me feel empowered and good about myself at the end of the day I’m the one who is stuck with myself forever!!
I have so much I want to talk to Oprah about. She doesn’t even know my name, but if I am ever lucky enough to meet her again, I promise to let her get a word in edgewise, and will actually listen to what she has to say with as much intent and respect she showed me just a few short weeks ago. I truly hope she’s on her way towards fully accepting herself at any weight, and overcoming the barriers that prevent her from truly finding the inner peace and happiness she deserves—and that we all deserve.