Monday, October 26, 2015

An Open Letter to Oprah & Alex Trebek

Dear Oprah and Alex,

I'll start by saying I'm a big fan (pun not intended but also YES) of both of yours. I've been watching you on the television since I can remember, at least by the age of ten in the early 1980s. As a smart young girl, I was always so pleased when I could answer something in the $200 or $400 categories on Jeopardy!. When you brought on interesting young actresses or world-changing women to your show, Oprah, I knew in my teens that you were doing something good for daytime TV. Both your talk show and your game show, Oprah and Alex, were among my early favorites. I'd turn the TV off and feel I came away with a little more knowledge and a little less guilt for wasting precious time watching TV when I could've been crimping my hair or making out with my boyfriend.

I went off to college and grad school and watched less and less television, but was always thrilled when I'd catch Jeopardy! around dinner time. It's always been one of the cleverest game shows around, and I love how it highlights the nerd in all of us. Oprah, you've continued to empower women and be an uplifting woman yourself and I was excited to receive a subscription to O magazine a few years ago as a Christmas gift.

Unfortunately, you've both disappointed the hell out of me lately, I'm sad to say. First, Oprah, with the major faux pas in your magazine a few months ago about not wearing a crop top unless you were toned and tiny. Really? Well, backlash ensued, and your mag apologized, but I was still super bummed.

 image: Instagram user 

I shouldn't have been surprised, I guess, since you've been quite boisterous about your personal (yo-yo) dieting and body shaming, ever since you pulled that little red wagon full of fat on stage back in 1988. But this latest thing where you've saved a (fortunately and finally) failing Weight Watchers by buying 10% of the company and joining their board is unforgiveable. How can such a feisty feminist not see how they are oppressing women by restricting us and profiting off our self-doubt? And you are a diet industry dropout yourself? You are not the feminist I thought you were. This quote by Naomi Wolf, from her 1991 book The Beauty Myth, which I read as an undergrad and changed my life, says it best:

A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.

And, you, Alex. Just a few weeks ago I hear that Jeopardy! had a category called THESE WORDS COULD GO ON A DIET.

 photo: Dances With Fat

Really, Jeopardy!? You pride yourself on being an academic-minded and forward-thinking program but dedicate an entire category to blatant size shaming and harmful use of language to degrade people and call them names? UGH.

I don't normally give much thought or power to television these days, just as I couldn't give two shits what celebrities are wearing or who they are dating. But, from an intellectual level, I know that popular culture, especially the media, set the bar for lots of things, body positivity included. My standards are pretty low, I guess, for anything on the television to be thoughtful. I've always seen you both, Alex and Oprah, as savvy, college-educated entertainers who prided your programs on considerate discourse. I was holding out hope for you, in a lame lineup filled with cupcake wars and snarky and slimy 'reality' families.

TV, I'm so done with you. (Except CBS Sunday Morning. PLEASE DON'T FAIL ME NOW.)

Feeling not surprised, but still sad,



  1. I agree TV isn't what it used to be. I hope it turns around but they probably won't.

  2. I have to agree with you here. A little piece of me died when I saw Oprah had teamed up with Weight Watchers. Come on Oprah!

  3. I agree, except for the use of the word "lame". There are better words that don't have associations with people who limp.

    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Denise. I especially thank you for calling me out on using an archaic word with a demeaning history. I'll admit, while I knew the origins of the term lame, I feel we don't use it to describe anybody's physical abilities/disabilities any longer (at least I don't, and I don't believe I ever have), and I'd almost completely forgotten it's original intent. That's not an excuse, I know. Language is so interesting and complicated, isn't it?

  4. That is a strong statement and I love that Naomi Wolf quote. It is one of the ways they keep people obedient and distracted. I wrote a paper on the premier issue of The Oprah Magazine back in 2001 (wish I still had it to share). I haven't read the magazine since, I counted all the ads, 50% of the pages of that premiere issue were marketing or product endorsement, the rest I found was mostly Oprah branded typical magazine fodder. I never imagined that she would be the only cover model, I thought the subsequent issues would include covers that featured inspirational people. I think her Ego is huge. She has the power to influence real change but doesnt. She has the wealth to publish that magazine without any influence from advertisers. I'm sure if one werre to research further every product featured or advertised would lead back to a few very powerful corporations. It's like a politician accepting campaign contributions from billionaires, when you accept that money you accept the influence that those people want to exert over you. I wonder if the lawsuit with the beef industry made her rethink her actions and stymied her zeal for exposing truth or is she's just comfortable being mega rich and really thinks a crop top is more important than the money NOT being spent on education. If the latest weight loss trend is really as urgent news as the neutering of the Constitution and the continued extension of the Patriot Act. I know if I had that kind of power I'd have a million dollar lawyer on retainer to defended me against everybody I pissed off by tell the truth and exposing corruption. And if I had a television channel of my own I would actually report news that's not in any way influenced by corporate sponsors and spin doctors. But I could be wrong like I said I haven't read it since that first issue. You should keep writing you have a powerful voice.

  5. Thank you for sharing this interesting perspective. Especially poignant given Oprah's January body shaming push. I too am disappointed with her approach. I feel like she sold-out. I unfollowed her on everything. Not that she'll notice but I felt better for it. Keep up the great writing :)