2016 is a year of new beginnings and as with any new year, we are taking a glimpse at what it means to be the best version of ourselves. We are hopeful, optimistic, and motivated because we want to do better in 2016, and this includes Oprah Winfrey, who has gone on a very public weight loss journey after recently buying a 10 percent stock in Weight Watchers. In a recent commercial, she stated that “Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be.”
Some of Winfrey’s comments in the video were considered controversial and insensitive, and MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry responded by writing a very thoughtful open letter to her on her show. Some of Perry’s comments included: “After watching your recent commercial for Weight Watchers, I wanted to let you know …even if you never shed a pound girl, you are still everything.” She goes on to provide a detailed list of Winfrey’s accomplishments such as her ability to set trends, create fame overnight and even help elect presidents. “Who you are, what you have accomplished, how you have influenced and altered the world is all so much more important than your dress size. There is not one thing that you have done that would have been more extraordinary if you’d done it with a 25-inch waist.” You can watch Melissa Harris Perry’s open letter in its entirety on MSNBC’s website.
Perry’s reflective and encouraging letter brought up many important points not just about Oprah Winfrey’s achievements, but also on the state of Black women in America and the pressure to achieve in all aspects of our lives: academically, professionally, and physically. We strive to measure up in a system rigged to favor whiteness. Despite the obstacles, Black women are defying odds; Oprah Winfrey is only one example of this phenomenon. For example, half of all black women ages 18-24 are pursuing higher education and are beating all other racial and gender groups when it comes to college enrollment. However, despite these impressive statistics, it’s still an uphill battle. For example, many sources quote the wage gap between men and women (22 percent to be exact), but when the data are stratified, we find that Black women make 64 cents to every white man’s dollar.
In addition to our fight to prove ourselves in the academic and professional arena, we are fighting to keep up with Eurocentric beauty standards in a society that subliminally communicates to us that we will never be enough. In Fashion Spot’s 2014 Diversity Report, they found that “Out of 611 total covers (this includes issues that had multiple covers), white models appeared 567 times, while people of color* made 119 appearances. That’s almost five times more covers for white models.” Although the tide is turning and we’re seeing fabulous and dynamic black women gaining more exposure, we still have a long way to go. Black women are continuing to strive, achieve and break barriers with the little we’ve been given and yet it seems like the odds continue to be stacked against us. At our low points, we wonder if what we do will ever be enough. It’s an epidemic. Even the world’s most successful woman is publicly telling us that she still thinks she isn’t up to par.
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I don’t think Winfrey should be punished or judged for displaying this moment of vulnerability because despite all of her accomplishment, she is still a human being and she is allowed to be imperfect. However, during moments like these, we must critically examine our society that creates the conditions for an accomplished woman such as Oprah Winfrey to question her self-worth due to her physical appearance. I share Perry’s sentiments when she says, “I’m thinking to myself-but O, you are already precisely the woman so many are striving to be.” I’m hoping that as Black women we will be kinder to ourselves in 2016. I’m hoping we will celebrate ourselves more and criticize ourselves less and that each of us will have our own personal revolutions when we look at ourselves in the mirror and say “I am enough.” This is how we can do better in 2016.
Featured Image: Flickr user Joe Crimmings via Creative Commons