A few years ago, I went through a huge personal crisis. I won't bore you with the details, but the resulting stress left me with a knot in my stomach the size of a baseball. When I tried to eat, I found that after a few bites I felt ridiculously full. In an effort to deal with all the anxiety I was experiencing, I began hitting the gym seven days a week. Once there, I worked out like a madman. Distracted by the complete collapse of my life, I barely noticed that I was rapidly losing weight. Within a few short weeks, 15 pounds had fallen off my already slender frame. My neighbors, friends and family members immediately expressed alarm. Was I okay? Could they do anything for me? Didn’t I think I should see a doctor? My show business acquaintances, however, only wanted to know one thing: How had I done it?
Somewhere along the line, being thin became something much greater than the sum of its parts. Here in Hollywood, there is no higher honor we can pay one another than to utter the magic words, “You’ve lost weight.” Even a few pounds count, but those who manage to drop a large amount of body fat are looked upon with true reverence; as if the newly-thin individual not only scaled Mount Everest, but somehow came back down with a PhD in Microbiology.
In reality, monounsaturated fat in not unhealthy and actually offers us protection from cancer and heart disease. Polyunsaturated fat provides necessary acids for healthy skin and assists in the development of cells. Scientists have long known that fat is an essential component for healthy brain function. If that is in fact true, then the young actresses on “Gossip Girl” must be some of the stupidest people on the planet. More and more, it seems like Hollywood’s image of a beautiful woman resembles a microphone stand wearing a large blonde wig.
When I dropped the weight, I instantly noticed a difference in the way I was perceived. In meetings, people sat a little straighter in their chairs and listened more carefully to my pitches. Clearly someone as fit as myself must be wiser, more clever, more attuned to what audiences wanted. Obviously, my boniness meant I was aggressive, determined, obsessed, motivated, unstoppable. Something similar began to happen in my social life. Small crowds began to gather at parties to marvel at the new emaciated me. In a town where it’s hard to get noticed, I liked the attention. Then two things happened that pushed matters somewhat over the line.
First, I got a gig adapting a book written by a woman who had almost died of anorexia. The last thing my obsessive-compulsive personality needed was more tips on weight loss. Next, I was cast in a reoccurring role on a TV show where I was constantly reminded by my slender colleagues that the camera adds ten pounds. As the months went by, I became a “grazer” (a person incapable of eating a full meal). Every morning, my quarter cup of oatmeal was followed by at least 90 minutes of vigorous weight training and cardio. A small piece of fish and some raw vegetables was a fine lunch. A couple of cherry tomatoes made an excellent snack while dinner consisted of bowl of lettuce with a half-can of tuna on top. In between, I flooded my system with highly caffeinated beverages like espresso, diet soda and green tea. Although, I no longer possessed any sort of attention span, it seemed a small price to pay. After all, I looked great on camera. I could shop in the children’s section of most major clothing stores. Plus I felt light and sleek (and slightly dizzy). On the down side, I was also developing a snotty sense of superiority which I secretly lorded over anyone I perceived to have more than 12% body fat.
One morning as I stood on the bathroom scale, it occurred to me that if I kept this up, I’d soon be back to my original birth weight. This alarmed me a little. My face, reflected in the bathroom mirror, appeared pale and gaunt. I looked at my rail-thin body which, between all the working out and dieting, had begun to take on the anatomical characteristics of a wasp. It didn’t look good. I felt confused. Wasn’t this what people wanted; to be thin and muscular? Wasn’t this the ideal? Having set up a merciless, painful routine for myself, I was naturally hesitant to let it go. I soldiered on until the fall of 2007 when the Writers Guild went on strike.
Now, in addition to everything else, I was walking fifteen miles a day while carrying a cleverly-worded sign in my hand. My new schedule required me to get up even earlier so I could work out and burn off all those unwanted calories before joining the picket line. Then one morning, for no real reason, I snapped. I rolled out of bed as usual at 6:30 AM and pulled on my gym clothes. As usual, I felt weak, irritable and vaguely angry. Keys in hand, I trudged out to my car, when suddenly, a long-ignored little voice began to whisper a few truths into my ear. Despite all this Herculean effort, I was no more successful. I was no more talented. I was no younger. Or smarter. I was no more content or happy. The parameters of my life had not expanded. In fact, with all these ridiculous restrictions, I had reduced the quality of my life. There was now (quite literally) less of me to go around. Something that had been hiding deep in my consciousness broke violently through to the surface. My mouth flew open and out came five little words that perfectly crystallized this moment of epiphany. “Fuck this shit!” I said. “I’m hungry!” I drove to the first International House of Pancakes I could find – where I enjoyed the single most delicious breakfast I’ve ever consumed in my life. I can still remember it.
While all the other striking writers began losing weight from walking the picket line, I started gaining. Pasta was back in my life. Sandwiches were okay again. Three visits to the gym replaced the eight I used to make. Slowly, my all-too-human flesh started to return to its previous size, shape and color. I felt better. My middle-aged body began to do what do what it was meant to do: Settle. My face filled out and something genuinely remarkable started happening. People began telling me how great I looked; how happy, full of life, handsome; calm and focused. After a long trip, I was back.
Recently, America’s favorite fat girl, Oprah Winfrey sadly felt compelled to issue a public apology for having porked up again. It left me wondering how much longer we are supposed give a shit about this. Had I been Oprah, instead of an apology, I would have issued the following statement: “I created the highest-rated talk show in the history of television. I am an influential book critic, an Academy Award nominated actress, and a hugely successful magazine publisher. I have been ranked the richest African American of the 20th century, the most philanthropic African American of all time and was once the world's only black billionaire. According to some assessments, I am the most influential woman in the world. Odd, since I was born to poor, unmarried parents, was raped at age nine and had a child at age 14 who subsequently died. Realizing my potential to do good in the world, I have put my wealth and my celebrity behind countless charitable, social and political causes and have championed education, and literacy throughout the world. And, oh yeah… Since 2006, I have gained 40 pounds, primarily by eating things that tasted good and made me happy – and I’m supposed to apologize to you about it? If you are one of those sad, jealous people who are always on the lookout for something to point at -- so that no one points at you – I’d like to suggest perhaps finding a meaningful purpose for your life as I have. However, if you're determined to go on judging a book by the size of its cover, I'd like to suggest that you kiss my hard-working, comfortably expansive, 52 year-old, billion-dollar ass. Love Oprah.”