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Oprah Winfrey reveals how she was fat-shamed on TV and it’s shocking to hear in 2024

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Oprah Winfrey reflected on the time late TV star Joan Rivers body-shamed her on The Tonight Show in the most humiliating way.

Nowadays Oprah is one of the most recognisable talk show hosts in the world but throughout her career she has faced prejudice in many forms – including fat-shaming.

The iconic TV personality, 70, spoke about one incident that occurred during her first-ever appearance on The Tonight Show with guest host Joan Rivers in 1985 in which the late presenter called out her weight on national television.

At the time, Oprah was a presenter for AM Chicago and was also waiting to hear if she had been cast in the film adaptation of The Color Purple (a role she eventually landed an Oscar nomination for).

‘I go to this fat farm because I am devastated and I know that it is because I’m overweight,’ she recalled on the Jamie Kern Lima Show.

‘I’d been shamed on the Tonight Show by Joan Rivers,’ she explained as part of her motivation to attend the ‘health retreat’.

‘I have my first appearance on the Tonight Show and they pre-interview you before so we’re supposed to be talking about the great success of this little talk show in Chicago that’s beating Phil Donoghue,’ she recalled.

Oprah continued: ‘Joan Rivers turns to me and says “Tell me why are you so fat?” on national television. I don’t know what do with that, I just am like “oh I just love potato chips, Joan.”

‘She goes “No seriously shame on you, shame on you”.’

According to Oprah she agreed to ‘go away and lose 15 pounds’ before returning.

‘I accept it, I accept that I should be shamed because how dare me be sitting up here on The Tonight Show. Of course, I didn’t lose the 15 pounds. I went and ate my way to another 10 pounds,’ she added.

The awful experience convinced the media star that she had lost out on The Color Purple because she was ‘overweight’.

After going to a retreat – which were called ‘fat farms’ at the time – she was ‘on the track trying to let it go because [she was] obsessed with it’.

Oprah Winfrey and Joan Rivers
Oprah returned to the show in 1986 (Picture: NBCUniversal)

It was only after the ‘release’ that she received a call from the Color Purple producer Steven Spielberg with the good news.

Oprah said Steven told her: ‘I hear you’re at a fat farm. You lose a pound, you could lose the part.’

The entire saga became a life lesson for the actor and award-winning presenter.

‘The instant I let it go was the greatest life lesson I have ever received because I physically felt the release. The second I did that it changed,’ she shared.

In a clip of the interaction, Oprah was clearly uncomfortable with Joan’s references to her weight, but the host remained persistent.

Oprah Winfrey in a blue dress
Oprah agreed to lose 15 pounds in front of a live audience (Picture: Getty)

After checking if she was once a ‘beauty contest winner’, Oprah confirmed she was right.

‘So how d’you gain the weight,’ Joan asked, to which Oprah replied: ‘I ate a lot.’

‘You shouldn’t have let that happen to you, you’re very pretty,’ Joan scolded, continuously talking over Oprah’s attempts to defend herself.

‘You’re a pretty girl and you’re single, you must lose the weight,’ Joan, who died in 2014, added.

After telling Joan she is trying a new diet, they shook hands on both losing weight by the following March.

This is not the first time Oprha has opened up about her struggles with body image.

Oprah Winfrey
Last year Oprah faced criticism after admitting she was on the weight-loss drug Ozempic (Picture: Jamie Kern Lima Show)

The former Weight Watchers ambassador said on a panel last year: ‘You all know I’ve been on this journey for most of my life.

‘My highest weight was 237 lbs. I don’t know if there is another public person whose weight struggle has been exploited as much as mine over the years.’

In December she faced backlash for using the weight loss drug Ozempic, adding to People: ‘I had an awareness of [weight-loss] medications, but felt I had to prove I had the willpower to do it. I now no longer feel that way.”

Discourse around the weight of female celebrities was particularly toxic in the 90s with many female celebrities harming their bodies trying to reach unrealistic beauty standards.

Last year, Steps singer Claire Richards admitted she underwent a shocking 900-calorie per day diet in the 90s after comments about her weight.

But the harmful attitude persists to this day, with Bridgerton star Nicola Coughlan also having to confront body-shaming discourse since appearing in the Regency-era Netflix drama.

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