Friday, July 18, 2008

Living Oprah

I was listening to All Things Considered the other day on my way home (because my nerdly side truly loves me some NPR. Especially Marketplace, because it comes on at 6 PM while I'm usually driving home and keeps me apprised of all the latest financial happenings in the world. I like to know what the CEOs of Freddie Mac are up to these days, as I will soon be relying on them for a mortgage. But I digress...)

This particular day, however, I'd missed Marketplace, and All Things Considered comes on right afterwards at 6:30 PM. While Meee-shelle Norris' pronunciation of her name does bother me slightly, I listened anyway, and I caught the beginning of an interview of Robyn Okrant. She's 35, she lives in Chicago, and for one entire year, she's decided that she will live Oprah.

By "living Oprah," Okrant means that she will spend every single day doing everything that Oprah says to do -- in her TV show, her books, and her magazines. If Oprah says you should do it, Robyn's going to do it.

The most interesting part about the interview was when Robyn explained why she'd decided to live out Oprah's directives for a whole year. She posted a brief explanation on January 1 in her blog, but she expounded a bit further in the radio inteview. When asked what inspired her to do this, she responded:

"I was feeling really strongly about the fact that I think women do not ask why enough. We are told we have to dress a certain way, we are told we have to get flat abs in two weeks, we are told we're not allowed to get old. And we follow these programs sort of blindly, without asking why or is it important to us. And I think Oprah is the most influential person in media today, and that's where we're getting a lot of our information. The tag line of her website is "Live your best life," and I think those are pretty strong words. So I wanted to see what would happen if I did everything Oprah said, if at the end of this year I would be living my best life."

How's it going so far? She's exhausted. According to Robyn, Oprah tells you how to shop, how to dress, but she also tells you how you have to feel -- for example, you have to be "content" every time you walk in the front door. She says it's very tiring.

Tiring and expensive. And so far she's spent $2,000 but she still has quite a list left of Oprah-recommended purchases. She's tracking the costs to see just how much money it takes to do-as-Oprah-says. The goal, Robyn says, is to challenge women to consider how we place celebrities on a pedestal and then look to them for answers.

I think it's even deeper than that. I think the real issue to glean from her 365-days-of-Oprah experiment is what she said in the beginning of the interview -- that women don't ask why enough. Someone tells us that we should wear a certain color, and we go out and buy a wardrobe's worth in every shade. Someone tells us that we should avoid eating carbs, and we head straight for the meat aisle. Advertisers tell us that we need certain things to make us feel better, to make our lives more complete, to make us and our children smarter, happier, healthier, more beautiful. We don't ask why we should buy this or do that -- we just do it. And then we wonder why we feel stretched so thin?

So I'll go ahead and ask it. Why? Why, as women, are we advice-collectors? Why do we constantly seek to hear what other people think we should do about our hair, our wallpaper, our future? Do we fear feeling inadequate if we can't live up to the collected advice of glossy magazines and TV personalities? (I personally think that Martha Stewart is another huge offender in making women feel like they just can't quite measure up.)

Maybe its time for us as women to realize that we can stand on our own two feet. Maybe its okay for us to say, "Thanks but no thanks" to the never ending lists of must-do beauty routines. Maybe we can just be strong women with strong opinions, instead of blindly following the latest "gotta have it." Maybe we can decide to let our houses get a little messy, let our venetian blinds gather some dust, and leave those leopard-print flats at Neiman Marcus where they belong. Maybe if we stopped trying so hard to live up to Oprah, Martha, Rachael, Gwyneth and the rest of them, we’d realize that our own ideas, feelings and viewpoints are uniquely valuable. And maybe we’d start to understand that sometimes your “best life” can include refusing to do anything other than what you think works best for your life, and not what Dr. Oz, Bob Greene, or Nate Berkus thinks.

Besides, I’ll bet you Oprah can’t drive home from the courthouse in a Mazda with a broken windshield, change out of her suit pants into jeans with a ripped knee, prune a tomato plant and then eat lemon sorbet and drink cinnamon coffee while watching the Twins game nearly as well as I can. So there. :)


Dad said...

I SO agree!!! And, yes, Meshelle's pronunciation has always given me pause (though, I am also an NRP junkie :-).


tracy said...

Dan always calls me "the Wolf" (from Pulp Fiction) because my girlfriends, mom, and sister call me on a daily basis to ask my advice in solving their problems. I am happy to dispense advice and I LOVE being consulted. But when Dan wonders why they ask ME for help, I couldn't figure it out. After reading your blog today, I am thinking it has less to do with the quality of my advice and more to do with our unwillingness to trust our own instincts. Look at the reality TV shows like American Idol, America's Got Talent, etc: there are always judges, telling us what is a good or bad performance. It is very hard for us to make our own decisions when there's plenty of outside advice to rely on, everywhere we turn.

The Mulvihills said...

I think what you are speaking of is due partly to the nature of our culture today. So often people are looking for something or someone to follow. If it isn't Jesus, it becomes Oprah, Martha, sports, career, etc.

When Josh's mom was alive, she had a subscription to O magazine, because she said that Oprah is the #1 influencer of women in both Chrsitian and secular society. Her take was that if she wanted to minister effectively to women and meet their needs in tangible ways, it was her responsibility to know the culture.

That being said, as believers it is always good to be reminded that we are called to something higher than what culture and media dictate to us. Romans 12:2 tells us not to conform to the patterns of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. This verse is a continual reminder for me to keep many areas of life in check. Oprah lately is telling us to be transformed by her own philosophies and even has gone as far as advocating for the belief in past lives. UGH!

Now, you know me. I love Martha!! But does this mean I live according to her every word. No way! I'd be exhausted. I can see the point that Oprah and Martha tell us how to live our lives, but so do many, many, many others in more subtle ways. My take is that all that we do should be done in light of eternity and our goal is to help those around us do the same.

Great post, Heather! :)

Jenny said...

Look at you, girlie! All grown up and speaking your mind and whatnot. Seems like you turned out relatively normal as well. ;-) Enjoying the blog quite a bit. You're a great writer! Keep it up!