What?! I’ve never told you about being on Oprah?! Well, it all started when my friend Mim was asked to be on the show. I met Mim when we were both dopey college students — we were on the same study abroad program in Austria.
Now Mim is Dr. Miriam E. Nelson, author of the Strong Women series of books about the benefits of strength training.
Mim had never seen an Oprah Show before. Honest. Remember, Mim’s a scientist. A researcher. An academic. She’s usually working when the Oprah Winfrey Show airs. So she asked if I’d come to Harpo Studios to lend some support.
My sister Cheryl came along, too, and when we checked into our room at the Omni (“guests of the Oprah Winfrey Show stay at the Omni Hotel….”) there was a message waiting for us. It was Mim, explaining that she’d just finished watching tapes of old Oprah Shows in her hotel room. “It’s amazing!” she exclaimed. “She’s like a goddess to these women!”
Mim ended up calling Cheryl and me four or five more times that night. Now that she understood how the show worked, she wanted to plant me with things to say from the audience. I didn’t mind at all being an Oprah patsy. Mim knows me well. I’m a ham. Her new book back then emphasized the emotional benefits of strength training. “If you could get called on and say something about that, it’d be GREAT!”
I never got a chance. Not during the regular show, at least. Oprah’s people screen audience members far in advance. The chosen ones know who they are long before they arrive at Harpo Studios, and they are escorted to special seats in the front rows. Cheryl and I sat in the back. Turned out Mim didn’t need me anyway. After she was introduced, Dr. Miriam E. Nelson gently patted Oprah’s shoulder and said, “You have beautiful arms!” She had Oprah eating out of her hand. The new book sold millions.
Mim made the news again this week, complimenting the arms of another famous Chicagoan: Michelle Obama. A story in Thursday’s New York Times introduces Mim as Miriam Nelson, the director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University. It touts Mim as the vice chairwoman for the country’s new physical activity guidelines, written by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and says she…
…has been thrilled to have Mrs. Obama and President Barack Obama as fitness role models.
Ms. Nelson said she and her colleagues celebrated Mrs. Obama’s official White House portrait, identifying the sleeveless look as a fitness trend that surpasses fashion.
“I can tell you, over and over again, whether it’s women 45, 65, or 85, when they do strength training and see the results, one of the first things they like to do is wear sleeveless shirts,” Dr. Nelson said. “They are proud of their body.”
Hmmm. I like to wear sleeveless shirts and dresses. Could that be just one more reason people think I look like Michelle Obama?!??!!
Enough of that fantasy. Back to my appearance on Oprah. Mim’s Oprah debut included one of those After the Show segments. From Oprah’s Web site:
After select tapings of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah continues the topic with guests and the studio audience in a casual after show.
I was able to give my emotional strength training comment then. You know, After the Show. A year later, when Oprah was on vacation or something, the producers put together an hour-long Best of After the Show segment to air during her regular time slot. My bit after Mim’s show was featured.
Oprah introduces my bit by saying that sometimes her audience members tell the naked truth. The camera goes to me, I say I lost my sight when I was 26, that I lost my job then, too, and also lost a lot of self-esteem. I tell them a friend read Dr. Nelson’s book out loud (careful not to call her Mim and get busted as her friend!). I say I started lifting weights (it’s true) and that strength training had given me courage to go out and look for a job again (a bit of an exaggeration, but hey, it’s TV). And then I ask the big question. “Know what I do?” The audience waits at the edge of their seats. “We live in a university town, and I model nude for art students.” The audience howls. Mim is pictured, leaning over, hands just above her knees, laughing. Oprah is incredulous. “Is that really true?” she asks. “Is that a true story?”
It is. I don’t model anymore, though — I quit once Long Time, No See came out. We moved to Chicago then, and my writing career took over. But now that I think of it, I sure hope those students down in Champaign enjoyed drawing my arms.