THERE'S ALMOST nothing

Oprah

Winfrey

can't do - whether it's helping a presidential candidate get elected, building a school for girls in South Africa, expanding her massive media empire, or inspiring millions of viewers to "live your best life."

But if after all these years she's still struggling to win the battle of the bulge, what chance do the rest of us have? Excuse the pessimism, but it's a little scary when you think about it. Winfrey can afford an army of trainers, personal chefs, nutritionists and whatever it takes to keep herself on track. And even with all her millions, that hasn't been enough for her to keep the weight from fluctuating. Winfrey blames her thyroid for her recent 40-pound weight gain, saying it makes her feel like not working out.

"I'm mad at myself," Winfrey writes in an upcoming issue of O magazine.

"I'm embarrassed," she says. "I can't believe that after all these years, all the things I know how to do, I'm still talking about my weight. I look at my thinner self and think, 'How did I let this happen again?' "

How did she let that happen? By being human, of course.

Just because she's one of the most phenomenal women on the planet doesn't mean that she doesn't carry around baggage like the rest of us. Who doesn't have a weakness? Even President-elect Barack Obama, who is legendary for sticking to his workout routine, has admitted to sneaking a cigarette occasionally. Maybe once he's in the White House, the Secret Service will catch him slipping into the Rose Garden for a furtive puff on days when the Nicorette isn't enough.

Perhaps I've read too many issues of O and watched too many episodes of Winfrey's talk show . . . I admit I'm an Oprahphile. But as I've watched Winfrey's weight creep back on - it was hard not to notice - I've asked myself: What's the lesson here? What can we learn from her situation?

I think it's that, maybe women need to let themselves off the hook a bit when it comes to their weight. Excuse the pun, but some of us need to lighten up. We can be so hard on ourselves. I'm not saying it's not important to maintain a healthy cholesterol level and to keep up a reasonable level of fitness. Studies have shown that maintaining a healthy weight decreases your risk of a whole range of health problems including diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Coming from a family where morbid obesity is pretty much the norm, believe me, I get that.

But health issues aside, I think there's a tendency to use weight to measure where we are in life. If it goes up, we feel like a failure. We struggle to be a certain arbitrary size, even though it may not be realistic given the amount of dieting and exercise it would take to get there and to maintain it. The real emphasis should be on being healthy - and happy with yourself.

To her credit, Winfrey now says she is no longer even trying to be thin. She wants to be strong, fit and healthy. On Jan. 5, she'll kick off a "Best Life Week" on her TV show and talk openly about her latest weight gain. But I'm hoping she won't dwell too much on pounds. Oprah is so much more than whatever her scale reads, and she's a helluva role model no matter how much she weighs. *