Editor’s Note: This commented was emailed to me by a friend and reprinted anonymously with her permission (At my request).
I hope you are well. I am writing because I read your recent ChangingAging blog post about Oprah Winfrey, and I have to say I believe you are being too hard on her. That said, I will admit that I am a longtime fan of Oprah—I’ve been watching her since I was a wee twenty-something.
But here’s why I think she deserves way more credit than you have given her: She has done more good for women (and men), especially African-American women, than many other powerful public figures; she was among the first female talk show hosts to address such taboo issues as menopause, hormone replacement therapy, mental illness, and homosexuality; and she helped bring LGBT folks and their issues to the mainstream, before anyone dared to address it. And she did all of it while being candid about her own issues, such as weight gain and loss and the sexual abuse she suffered as a child.
I watched the video of Oprah talking about aging and I had no sense that it was laced with “anti-aging bias.” In fact, as someone who is knocking on the door of 50, I identified with her sentiments. Don’t get me wrong, I get what you’re trying to do. I get that you’re calling out folks who use language in a way that perpetuates aging biases, and I think it’s effective, but I think that Oprah is the wrong target.
I think it might be a little premature to criticize a 57-year-old black woman who grew up impoverished in rural Mississippi and had a baby at the tender young age of 14 for embracing aging in her own way.
Oprah is an easy target for sure, but wouldn’t it be more effective to ask her to change her use of the language of aging or align with her, instead of asking her to apologize for something that was more likely spawned by a clueless white-male-media empire that has been around far longer than Oprah?
Please know, Kavan, that my rant is aimed more at the camp of people who hate Oprah without knowing her history than it is at you. It’s just that I know you, and I know you’re a journalist who appreciates free speech and, hopefully, the cathartic benefits of an occasional rant.
Do I ever — if my original post (written at 1 a.m. in complete exasperation with Oprah’s video) wasn’t a rant, I don’t know what is. And I greatly appreciate my friend not pointing out the obvious glaring criticism — where the hell does a young man like me get off telling any woman how to think about aging? It takes a lot of cheek, and I’m counting on readers like this one to call me out if I step over the line.
Although I stand by my criticism of Oprah’s past and present anti-aging pandering, she deserves credit for the numerous and generous contributions she’s made to improving the lives of disenfranchised people. I salute her.
However… I believe older people, especially those living with frailty, dementia or other debilitating conditions, are the most disenfranchised people in our culture today. In most cases they are literally institutionalized against their will, shunned from society and void of dignity and worth. If I had Oprah’s ear, I would beg her to champion the rights of these individuals.