What’s Oprah’s Problem with Aging?

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 . . .

8 thoughts

  1. Kudos, Mary Kaye! You, as normal, hit the nail on the head. What a shame Oprah never used her soapbox to address the ONE issue we will all have to deal with if we are lucky to live long enough. Maybe it’s not too late…SMMs could ask her to use some of her “retirement” time on the subject. You know we haven’t heard the last from her!

  2. Thanks, Pat ~ We are hoping she will address aging in the next chapter of her professional life at OWN. She sure has a lot of time to fill up on a 24/7 cable channel. Maybe just a sliver (half-hour) could deal with the many profound challenges of aging and caregiving for older family members. Everyone is aging, but only a tiny minority of people are hoarding, etc. Interesting, isn’t it?

    We’ll keep our fingers crossed!

  3. Bravo Mary Kaye!
    Thank you so much for calling Oprah out on this issue. It’s about time someone said something!!!! I have for years wondered why not 1″real” issue has been raised or discussed about the aging process that we all watch our families struggle with and a journey that ( if we are lucky enough) we will all walk one day ourselves.
    If she really stands for connecting people, improving human lives and exposing the truth, then she needs to really look into the pain, heartache and the complex issues that our older adults and family caregivers are dealing with on a daily basis. So many issues…financial, physical and emotional.
    Yes, we will hope that she develops a heart for older adults in the next phase of her career. I guess we’ll just have to stay tuned.

  4. Thanks so much for the kind words! Would love to hear your thoughts on other possible blog posts. Also, anyone want to be a guest blogger for the NASMM blog?

  5. Oprah has continuously been at the forefront of many social issues. I believe it is time to encourage her participation and media leadership in helping to relieve the feelings of isolation that so many caregivers feel, by doing what she does so well: reaching into their homes, on a daily basis, with guidance, humor, and camaraderie. Oprah has communicated on issues that fall within her personal experience and comfort zone. As one proud Senior Move Manager, and NASMM (www.NASMM.org) member, I volunteer to help guide her in understanding the challenges, joys, and needs of families supporting seniors, and the value of lifting the veil of isolation. Not to mention the opportunity to be at the forefront of yet another societal push to create a new model that includes this huge reality. We are all challenged to be the best we can be for ourselves and those who depend on us. And soon, we will be one of those depending… never too soon to plan. Oprah, please join us and throw the power of OWN into the ring!

  6. MaryKay, great post. You are probably preaching to the choir on this topic. You’re right. Given Oprah’s influence, her owning this topic will impact millions. So the question is, can we actually make a difference? Can we, as an organization and as members, actually get to Oprah’s producers to present this concern? Like most large enterprises, Oprah’s staff probably tracks mentions of her name on the net, including twitter and blog posts, so there is a possibility they will have seen our discussion, but it will be among thousands of other discussions about Oprah. Does anyone know how to actually get to her producers?

  7. I wholeheartedly agree Mary Kay. You DID hit the nail on the head. I read Oprah’s article, and I thought it was just about as shallow as it gets.
    How do we cope with death, and endless loss of friends and loved ones until eventually you are alone? How do we feel about being redundent politically, economically, socially? How do you manage to have an active social life if you’re housebound, hard of hearing, nearly blind? These are the things nobody tells you about aging! Its not pretty, but it needs to be discussed. And yes, even OPRAH can’t avoid getting old.

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