Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change


with 4 comments

Would I trade all of Oprah Winfrey’s money, influence and power for her too-public battle with her weight? Not for a moment. Nor would I trade places with Kirstie Alley, the comedic actress whose public weight loss as a spokesperson for Jenny Craig made her the target of the tabloids when she gained back the 75 pounds she lost.

Both women made their efforts a matter of the public record and both gloated when they reached their goal weight. Good for them. At least they did it, and did it loud and proud. So what if they both failed? When did failure become a matter of moral opprobrium?

The last time anyone made a comment about unacceptable public behaviour that made it into the lexicon, it was the 19th century English actress, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, who when posed a question about homosexuality remarked: “Does it really matter what these affectionate people do, so long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses?”

Would we all were so liberal about public actions.

It’s brave to go public and while just about everything Oprah does is a matter of public curiosity, her weight has made little if any difference to her outstanding career, her status or the love with which her audiences greet her. Maybe it is because she is so public with herself that fans love her without reservation.

Maybe her fans see in Oprah some of themselves and can relate to her more than some vapid, stick-figure celebrity.

Most of us fail at this. That’s why the diet industry flourishes and makes billions of dollars each year on the hopes and dreams of desperate people. Why, though, are we desperate? Who sets the tare weight for women? The fashion industry? The film industry? Men?

If you ask most men what their ideal woman looks like and ignore their comments about boobs and buttocks, you’ll discover they don’t really care. I have a friend who is short and fat and her husband treats her like a goddess. So, of course, she is a goddess. What she sees reflected in his eyes is love, respect and honour. He doesn’t care she doesn’t conform to anyone else’s notion of attractive. All that matters is that she is happy and he loves her.

Good for those women and men who carry around extra pounds and couldn’t care less. As long as they are healthy does it really matter?

Ah, but then we come to ourselves and our own expectations and what we want. Personally, I’m determined to lose 20 pounds in the next year and get fit and healthy trying. I’m doing it for myself because, frankly, my husband couldn’t care less as long as I am healthy and happy.

We have devised a vicious culture of expectations: one that permits other people to decide what is right for you. Newspaper columnist Lynn Crosbie writes this week in the Globe and Mail: “It was reported that the “265-pound” Kirstie Alley checked into a “fat farm.” Alley still looks beautiful; she is funny, and bright. She is somewhat heavy because, as Jack Black says, in School of Rock , ‘I like food! Do you have a problem with that?’ No, we do not. But fat chicks are treated differently: They are pigs who reduce on a farm. They are constantly scrutinized, mocked and tsk-tsk’d over by a lunatic world that has mistaken thinness for virtue. The day I saw a sweaty, 400-pound man on Hell’s Kitchen call a mildly chubby woman a ‘fat cow,’ I understood the rules of this Animal Farm, our culture, all too well.”

George Orwell, whose Animal Farm is only slightly a less dystopic novel than 1984 knew only too well how bullies behave. And how society can pressure people into behaving badly.

As for Oprah, she talks about being 142 pounds for one day in Make The Connection: Ten Steps To a Better Body And a Better Life. Oprah contributes her own story to the book largely written by Bob Greene, who was her trainer.

“I was 142 for one day. The next day I was 145. In two weeks, I was 155,” writes Oprah. One year later, she was 175; two years later, she was 226.

Yet Oprah still finds the determination to do it again.

Naturally thin people don’t get it. They don’t understand how anyone can go to all the work to lose more than 50 pounds and then gain it all back. Trust me, it’s not easy. It requires a great deal of self-delusion to one day wake up 60 pounds heavier. And to do so more than once.

Maybe one of the problems is that one cannot quit eating like one quits smoking. If I could do that, I’d be laughing and thin. If I could rid myself of the food addiction in the same way I rid myself of the cigarette addiction, I wouldn’t be writing this and trying, once more, to lose weight.

My Oprah moment came about 30 years ago. If she was 142 for one day, I managed 137 for maybe five minutes.

I can remember the exact moment when I weighed that. I was 33 years old and playing cribbage with my mother. I laughed so hard I tipped over one of the kitchen chairs (with me in it) cracked the back of my head on the refrigerator door and took that as a sign that I needed a snack. I deserved a treat, especially as I had just won a crib game against my mother and thus needed to celebrate.

I remember that morning, stepping on the scales and being smug about the fact I had lost more than 50 pounds over the previous few months. Not only that, but I’d ditched the really bad live-in boyfriend. Perhaps “ditched” is the wrong word. In order to be shed of him, I had to leave myself, driving from Toronto to Red Deer in three days, leaving behind a job, a house and most of my belongings.

I left Toronto on a Friday at 1 p.m. and pulled into my mother’s driveway in Red Deer at 1 p.m. Monday. All those thousands of kilometers I had put between him and me were for naught when he followed me west. While he knew where every one of my relatives lived, he didn’t know where all their friends lived, so I went into hiding for a week when he tried to find me. One would figure if anyone had a good reason to eat her face off and binge because of stress and emotional turmoil, it would be me. But no. I had in the previous few months — again — lost 50 pounds and I wasn’t going to give anyone, let alone some control freak, the opportunity to sabotage all my hard work.

I could do the sabotaging all by myself. So, like the little red hen, I did. But it took awhile. Meanwhile, thanks to some judicious planning and well-placed letters, I was rid of him finally.

So then I ate? Not quite yet. I found a new job, went to Europe for vacation, moved out of my mother’s house once more and somewhere between one year and the next, all of weight came back. Poof! Like magic!

Oprah writes on her Web site that she believed the last time she lost weight, she thought she was finished. “I was done. I’d conquered it. I was so sure, I was even cocky. I had the nerve to say to friends who were struggling, ‘All you have to do is work out harder and eat less.’ ”

That was in 2006. Oprah gained 40 pounds in three years. “I’m mad at myself,” she writes. “I’m embarrassed. I can’t believe that after all these years, all the things I know how to do, I’m still talking about my weight. . . . How did I let this happen again?”

“So now everybody’s asking about my new plan to take the weight off. And here’s what I’ve come to: My focus is no longer on the weight. . . .

“My goal isn’t to be thin. My goal is for my body to be the weight it can hold—to be strong and healthy and fit, to be itself.”

NEXT: Happy Birthday and how is the birthday girl doing so far?


Written by Catherine Ford

October 6, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. […] Original post by Catherine Ford Gets Personal […]

  2. Man, everywhere I turn, it’s Oprah Oprah Oprah. Everything about her is fake. This writer was spot on :

    Peter Drekker

    October 7, 2009 at 4:40 am

  3. Yeah! I’m delighted to see Catherine Ford ‘weighing in’ on this blog. Nice to have her intelligent, thoughtful wit to consider, as she wrestles with thoughts and feelings I have also , as we undertake this particular life challenge. She, at 65, has reached a milestone moment. I, at 48, want to hit 50 in the best shape I can. Both of us are counting the years, measuring their success not by appearance, but by content, and the ability to be fully alive in each moment and day ahead. Thanks, Catherine, for writing. I’m looking forward to following this blog as the days unfold.

    Karen Holmes

    October 7, 2009 at 4:43 pm

  4. amen sister!
    i am lovin your blog….

    thanks for the laugh out loud moments….

    my sister and i are doin the ‘at home programme’ too….nice to know that there are others out there

    su 🙂


    October 7, 2009 at 5:03 pm

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