Well, actually, she was connecting personally with me and the thousands of others listening in on the call that Weight Watchers orchestrated for members.
Never mind the rest of the masses. For her part, O rocked enough of that signature comic, raised-and-lowered, stretched-out-syllable-delivery (“Uh-MAYZ-ing!) to offer not only the inside story on her humiliating yo-yo dieting thought process: “Should I do the CLEANSE? Then after the CLEANSE, I eat a meal and immediately gain four pounds….So then I think I should have done GREEN DRINKS, or PROTEIN SHAKES, or maybe NO CARBS, or PALEO, so then I think about BACON…”
In one of many great lines about being “obsessed” with food, she admitted that she had been “controlled by the potato for 50 years.”
And we got lots of other personal nuggets, and inside-the-program-jokes about points. She told a long story about having company at her house over the holidays, including Gayle King, her real-life BFF, who is also on the program. Oprah had brought in three chefs, including one to make pastry. (“I make no apologies for having chefs. I worked really hard for that,” she said.)
Anyway, the chef made homemade Cronuts every morning. Gayle decided to devour one for breakfast, leaving herself with only “seven points for the rest of the day.”
The experience was just like being in on some of the best moments of O’s talk show; it confirmed the power of sharing stories, and Oprah’s mastery for both building community and making each person feel heard. Even with the somewhat hokey set-up, she proved to be an EQ genius, a personal connection magnet. (And magnate.)
At the same time, over the years, we’ve all watched Winfrey’s painfully public weight fluctuations. Who can forget that image of skinny mini-Oprah pulling a Radio Flyer wagon full of fat onto her talk show stage? She later admitted that the designer jeans she'd worn then didn’t fit her even hours later.
So addressing the elephant in the room, the “Why is this time different from all other diet times?” question, was key. She explained that this was not a not a “diet.” Instead, she had now made the shift to “this is the way I want to live forever. I can trust the points system.” Now down 26 pounds, she said she was in it for “the long haul.”
Which was the best answer she could muster, while also relying on that unfortunate word “journey.”
But it only underlined to her fellow overeaters that keeping it under control is never easy, even if you can afford chefs and trainers. “If trainers could lose the weight for you, I wouldn’t be on this call,” Oprah said.
And while some of the questioners on the line seemed overly prepared and/or scripted, she acknowledged the importance of having a “safe, non-judgmental” place to talk with others about weight stuff. She called the Weight Watchers Connect app (through which the call was generated) a “social media snark-free zone.”
She certainly knows about snark.
Last October, Oprah shocked lots of people with the announcement that she was buying 10% of the struggling Weight Watchers business, and would become a member, an endorser, and also sit on the board.
In all of her well-documented dieting, she had never mentioned Weight Watchers before. And in fact, she admitted that she had resisted it all these years because she didn’t want to have to weigh in and count points. Many of her fans seemed to think that at 61 (she turns 62 on Friday, she noted on the call), the self-made billionaire talk show magnate/actress/social activist had achieved some sort of peace with herself, including the overweight part.
Or at least, that’s what most people who aren’t as rich or famous might think.
Last December, Oprah appeared in her first WW commercial. Shot close-up in her sunny backyard, sitting under trees, gesticulating with her arms, (with her Apple watch and many bangle bracelets glinting on her arm) she waxed philosophical: “Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be.”
She used her serious voice. It felt honest and soul-baring to me. She then talked about not recognizing yourself in the mirror, “getting lost, buried in the weight that you carry.” She ended with “Let’s do this together.”
The spot set off a social media fire storm. Some people were very touched and cried, but more were outraged. “Being thin should not define your self worth” one offended mom scolded her. Others, who had modeled their own careers on hers, didn’t want to hear that their glorious mentor felt “lost” or “buried.”
How weight-ist and looks-ist to admit what she did!
Oprah responded to those criticisms on the call. She said that no one “who has been through it, standing in the closet with three different sizes to try on on the floor,” who “can’t zip up their pants” would be offended.
She seemed to be establishing a baseline; the follow-up ads have been more specific and relatable. But she said on the call that she has always just talked about “her own truth.”
The latest video, in which she rhapsodizes over being able to eat a slice of sprouted, whole-wheat bread every morning with breakfast (with avocado slices and maybe an egg) resonated. Lots of dieters go to sleep dreaming of breakfast.
But more importantly, a variation on that line, in a single tweet — “Eat bread. Lose weight. Whaaatttt?” released hours ahead of the live online call, made the stock go crazy. In one hour, it had risen (like freshly baked bread) nearly 16% By the next day, it reached $14.07, a 23% increase. According to USA Today, that single tweet netted her somewhere around $19 million
Did anyone figure that with Oprah’s buy-in of a small percentage of the almost moribund Weight Watchers (like every other weight-loss company, it’s feeling the competition of free online services and apps) , that she would get way richer, with the stock becoming exquisitely sensitive to each of her tweets and pounds lost?
Food obsessives tend to lie about their weight. But in Oprah’s case, any misinformation could actually become subject to securities fraud. Even seeing her in a dressing room, shopping, could amount to insider information.
That’s heavy — but no matter. She no longer has a daily show to do, and now by taking her weight loss public, Oprah is unburdened. She’s able to come clean about her deepest, darkest eating secrets, and in the process is helping others.
Oprah has indeed brought new life to Weight Watchers, a business that for the last 50 years has been based on the quaint notion of getting together and talking.
It will no doubt work in the short term. It already has. But for the company’s fortunes to weigh so heavily on one celebrity’s success is tricky. What happens when Oprah gets to maintenance, or inevitably, gains some weight back?
That’s a lot for one woman to carry. It’s not that easy for one former obsessive eater, no matter how brilliant or magnetic, to save an entire corporations’ bacon.