What’s Oprah’s problem with aging?
This week marks the end of an era. You’re probably aware that Oprah Winfrey signs off this week as the host of TV’s top-rated daytime talk show. In our fast-fashion, click-of-a-button culture, twenty-five years of anything is worth noting. As the New York Times states, “Oprah Winfrey has taped more than 5,000 episodes of her daytime talk show, transforming television and trying to teach millions of viewers how to live life with purpose along the way.”
Like many of you, I have traveled the last 25 years with Oprah. I began watching Oprah as a young 30-year old Mom of a one-year old little girl. I left a career I loved to become an at-home Mom, and Oprah became my friend, my hour-long refuge from the endless, tedious tasks associated with caring for a small child. No Tivo or DVRs in those days. I would schedule our daily park outings around the 9am time period (Chicago time), which Oprah dominated for all of the last 25 years. Oprah challenged my beliefs and sought my opinions as my co-workers once did. Oprah validated me at a vulnerable time.
Twenty-five years later, I have reinvented myself a bit. Now the mother of four young adults, I continued my education to obtain a Master’s degree in Gerontology at the age of 44. Still married to the same guy, I am no longer that anxious, isolated young mother who looked to Oprah for a window into the outside world. I am older . . . much older. So is Oprah. So are you. But you wouldn’t know it from watching The Oprah Show these last many years.
Oprah has provided her loyal viewers with teachable moments too numerous to count, leading the way with intelligence, compassion, and insight. She’s shared her legendary weight struggles, hosted town hall meetings on provocative topics like race relations, childhood bullying, sexual discrimination and campus violence. She has revealed profoundly intimate details of her personal life (how she was sexually abused as a child and the recent discovery of a half-sister). In its tribute this week, Forbes magazine notes, “Because Oprah can absorb people’s pain and indignities, her viewers don’t turn away when she shines a light on difficult issues. This ability has enabled her to probe the depths of human emotions in a way few others have.”
The Oprah accolades will continue long after the Harpo stage in Chicago goes dark on May 25th. Oprah has explored and examined pretty much every topic on the planet, with the single exception of aging. I mean real aging – the most hidden, yet challenging aspects of aging. You know what I mean – the problems that keep us up at night . . . as caregivers, family members, and aging folks ourselves. What happens to a 50-year marriage when one spouse no longer recognizes the other? How does it really feel to raise four children to adulthood, only to have them place you in a nursing home when your diabetes becomes too difficult to manage at home? That first day you wear Depends . . . do you cry? Or are you happy you can leave the house again? What happens when the assisted living community finds your Dad is too frail and confused to live there any longer, but he’s spent all of his money there? How can we possibly move Mom from her 4-bedroom home to a 400-square-foot independent living apartment? Who can help us with all of this . . . and more?
Hard-core Oprahphiles will likely dispute my assertion that Oprah’s afraid (or unwilling?) to deal with aging. It seems to me, however, her shows on aging really focus on anti-aging. A quick review of her website this afternoon offers the article, 6 (More!) Things Nobody Explains to You About Aging. The subtitle reads, “Are those leopard spots on your face? Why does your hair suddenly feel so brittle? And is that a turkey wattle? O’s beauty director makes sense of it all.” Oprah, we need to know more about aging than which moisturizer best massages our scraggy skin!
Seriously?! So many questions about aging have nothing to do with the way we LOOK. Ask us how it feels, and tell us how you feel. Why have you failed so miserably in this area, when you have given voice to every other possible situation we might encounter – hoarding, incest, addiction, mental illness, violence, poverty, and the list goes on. Why have you chosen to ignore The Great Equalizer – old age? The silver tsunami is upon us. Starting this year, 10 million baby boomers will turn 65 each day. Census figures indicate the fastest growing segment of the population is 85+. C’mon already.
You have your own network now, OWN. We ask you to be true to yourself and your denizens of dedicated viewers and use the broader, bigger stage of your own channel to help us through the next twenty-five years. Guide us into later life with your remarkable mind and extraordinary empathy. Help us grow old along with you. Aging – OWN it, Oprah, and we’ll love you even more.
Would enjoy hearing your thoughts on Oprah and aging . . .