Why I Love Oprah + Happy Birthday to Moi
June 19, 2011 § 1 Comment
Hello Readers, whoever you are, where ever you are,
This year, on my birthday I thought I would explore some recent changes for me, such as why I no longer have a TV. Well, I had been watching Oprah for years, if not decades, and as you already know, she stopped her talk show last month after 25 years. That seemed like an opportune time to kick the habit — Oprah being the only show I watched — and so when I moved across the country last month, I left the TV behind.
Many of us shed a tear as we watched her dramatic three-day farewell. These days were certainly over the top with glitz and glam and some people felt uncomfortable with the ease with which she allowed herself so much attention, affection, and admiration. We watched her on stage being serenaded and adored by countless celebrities. We watched her tears and decades worth of archival footage and images of her. We have questioned how much egoism might lurk beneath the facade, and for some of us that triggers resentments and even anger — “Who does she think she is, anyway!” If Oprah were a man, perhaps we would tell him to get off his high horse and take it down a notch buddy.
But Oprah is not a man. And for me, that is the point.
Oprah represents something larger that is brewing inside the hearts of women everywhere, which is a small and unprecedented glimmer of what I like to call the consciousness of deserving.
It was that spark – and then the flame — of the consciousness of deserving that ushered in the suffragette movement in our own Western culture, that smashed glass ceilings in the workplace, that reformed legal barriers to equality in marriage. There was a time when perhaps we thought we were done, that the mission of equality had been accomplished.
Oprah showed us that there was actually more work to do. There were other transgressions to be uncovered. She addressed sexual abuse and made it a public conversation for the first time in history, heisting women out of their secrets and their shame (she would later do this for men also), she created a safe international forum for women to tell their stories and experience healing and vindication. She addressed weight and body issues for women, and though she never really seemed to arrive at loving and accepting her own body, she made it clear to us that we should love and accept our own. She made psychotherapy, self-exploration and self-improvement mainstream, encouraging us to “live our best life.” She advocated for gay and trans-gender rights, validating people of varied sexuality as whole beings, and of course, she has been an invaluable roll model to African- Americans – a topic that is so important I don’t even feel capable of properly addressing. She exemplified empathy and caring, but in a way that always showed integrity; it emerged from a rare kind of self-respect she ebodies.
I love Oprah for all these reasons, but more importantly perhaps, I love her because historically women have not had this kind of example. Our histories as women have been largely buried and rarely in the past have we been validated as individuals with unique destinies. All to often we have been discussed in terms of our “functions” as providers of sex, meals, and offspring. It seems antiquated to speak this way when our Western societies have so clearly progressed. But have they? Yes, on the outside we have transformed the world for women and for men, and feminism seems almost an embarrassing anachronism of preachy morality.
What Oprah taught us through her example is that even when the outter world has transformed, there is still a part of the female heart that resists that spark of the consciousness of deserving. We are afraid of our successes, and we are afraid of other people’s reactions to our accomplishments. We are afraid of real love, respect, and kindness from our partners and of where that might lead, of the responsibilities that might entail. Mostly, we are terrified because this is uncharted territory and we aren’t sure we deserve it (our successes, our beauty, our fulfilment, our happiness) or will know how to handle it when it arrives. We don’t want to offend our mothers or our grandmothers by criticizing their unique female cultures – their very existence and how they lived their lives – and we don’t want to make them wrong. We are afraid of the losses we will have to grieve — for some of us there are decades of unmourned losses (loss of respect, integrity) and of feeling undeserving of love. We may therefore be afraid of our anger, and the sadness and grief below the surface. Finally, we fear that we could be annihilated if we rise up to meet our fullest selves. Could any one of us stand on that stage the way Oprah does and not feel terrified? Is there a part of our very cellular design that remembers the witch hunts of centuries ago, or how we were silenced through violence and rape, or through legal dictates, throughout history? Can we become our fullest selves and not feel the terror of how vulnerable we actually are?
So there is a part of us that wants to see a more humble Oprah, standing on stage, saying “Oh no, stop, this is all too much, I don’t deserve it.” The fact that she didn’t do that is why she is a role model. Instead, she opens her arms wide to the love and lets it move through her.
The world has made exceptions for Oprah to stand in this way because we understand she has been disenfranchised on the deepest level. She is Black, a woman, grew up in poverty, is “overweight”, was sexually, physically and emotionally abused as a child. As she herself says, it was nothing less than divine grace that put her here. Her example exists because there is something larger than us, within us all, that is telling us it is time. We want to see her succeed because we want to see women everywhere rise above these systemic prohibitions to our happiness. We want to say that just as we deserved the right to vote, to work, and to divorce, we also deserve love and freedom and kindness and flourishing – we deserve our destinies.
Last year at this time, I was exploring the work of Gloria Steinem and my birthday wish was that we all have the power to say “yes” to ourselves, to turn towards ourselves, to listen and to make choices for our happiness. So this years, in continuation with that theme, my wish is that we allow others to turn towards us too, and that we feel deserving of that love at the deepest possible level, that we find the strength and the profound courage it takes to let love move towards us and through us.
When Oprah stands like that, so noble and so open, so deserving, she isn’t only standing for herself, she is standing for all women in all countries in all times. She is standing for us. She is making it OK. She is allowing us to stand like that. She is telling us that now is the time.