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Wednesday, 05 October 2005

Oprah’s Ageism

category_bug_ageism.gif Jennifer at The New Charm School sent me out to the news stand earlier this week to purchase my first-ever copy of O The Oprah Magazine.

According to the cover touts, this October issue is devoted to “Age Brilliantly!” and there might actually be editorial copy somewhere in the 350 pages if it could be found among the approximately 320 pages of ads featuring 20-something models.

The real “brilliance” here is that the story pages are cleverly designed to look like the ads (and vice versa) so readers will be suckered into thinking pimple remedies (page 103) and multinational corporations selling such products as automobiles, insurance and blue jeans with pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness (page 117) are as equally deserving of attention as the articles.

A few wise words about getting older - buried among the youth-promotion ads - from Maya Angelou and Linda Ellerbee notwithstanding, the entire magazine reinforces our ageist culture’s demand to put a bag over our heads when the first wrinkle appears.

According to one story, aging beautifully - presented as the ultimate goal of aging - can be done in five easy steps: wear sunscreen, cut your hair, whiten your teeth, sleep and stand up straight. If I’m not mistaken, Seventeen magazine does this story every month.

But the longest – and most offensive – piece in the magazine comes from so-called comedy writer, Nora Ephron. Jennifer perfectly catches the essence of it on her blog:

“…Ms. Ephron declares without irony that she’s spent $20,000 on her teeth and that coloring her hair ‘costs more each year than [her] first automobile.’ She spends, she estimates, eight hours a week on what she daintily refers to as ‘beauty maintenance’ - and those eight hours that keep her from looking like ‘a homeless woman…with frizzled flyaway gray hair…a pot belly…dirty nails, chapped lips, and mustache and bushy eyebrows.’”

That’s what Ms. Ephron and – presumably – Oprah believe aging looks like. No wonder everyone in the U.S. is afraid of getting old.

A few nights ago, former model, Christie Brinkley, turned up in a television commercial for some cosmetic saying, “I love being the age I am. I just don’t want to look it.” And a movie star (Andy McDowell?) regularly shills for a hair coloring product warning viewers of the horrors of gray hair.

It is this daily barrage of negative messages about aging that perpetuates age discrimination in the workplace and the general disrespect for anyone over 40. Where is Oprah’s much-ballyhooed affection for the underdog when she talks about getting older?

Her October issue pretends to celebrate age, but she is no more than a captain in the youth and beauty police brigade reinforcing the insidious prejudice against old people – the appearance of youth is all that matters. Deeply buried in the magazine, from Maya Angelou, is the real issue Oprah, with her vast and adoring audience, should be supporting:

"The surface, the superficial, the way one looks has become valued too highly in our society. When the skin begins to sag, many women go for Botox. Why on earth would you let somebody stick a needle in your face just to get rid of a wrinkle? Here's the real question: What do we have to do to place more value on age? We have to value ourselves not for what we look like or the things we possess but for the women we are.”

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 03:49 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

I have long had a problem with Oprah Winfrey and the contradictory messages that she sends. She certainly does not, in reality, look like the air-brushed version of herself that graces the cover of her magazine every month. Many of her self-proclaimed 'favourite' products,listed in each month's magazine, are far beyond the economic means of most women and perpetuate the pervasive view, in North American society, that material possessions are the remedy for whatever ails us.
So much for this little rant. I do acknowledge that Oprah does have a definite social conscience and does a lot of good in the world. And...we all struggle with the contradictions within ourselves, I think.

TGB has become so much a part of my day, when I see the Christy Brinkley commercial I immediately snort, knowing that somewhere up north, a friend is snorting in unison!

The other big irony in all the commercial emphasis on youthful appearances is that it costs big bucks to look like Christy "at her age". It is one thing to be clean and well-groomed, but far another to be wrinkle-free and sparkly as a new born babe your entire life.

You only have to walk the concourse in my building at lunchtime to see how powerful this evil message is...

Enjoyed the post. I, too, have had problems with hypocrisy lurking within in Oprah. I have sworn off her show at this point. Like your take on her mag.

Amen Ronni...and that's EXACTLY why I don't watch Oprah....I've been uncomfortable with the hypocrisy issue for some time...and, I've NEVER bought her magazine. The shows about make-overs,dieting, and especially giving millions of dollars away in presents to audiences...just don't do it for me...and frankly, oog me out. Maybe it's just me, and maybe I'm feeling a little critical of her because I'm just a smidge sick of seeing her show-up everywhere for another one of her "causes"; but what she says and what she does...just doesn't always match up.

Joy, you made me laugh. "oog"? Do you think I can get away with that word in Scrabble game?

I took a subscription to Oprah's magazine when it first came out, but after the first 3-4 months I was ready to toss it and I did not renew. I do think she does some good in the world, but I too believe that her actions don't always follow her words. I loved your line about Seventeen doing that story every month.They sure do! LOL

No uh - no "oog" in Scrabble ...

I became disenchanted with Oprah the day she rolled out the little red wagon with about 40 pounds of fat meat in it and said that was how much she had lost on her latest diet.
Then she had Steadman on to tell her how much her weight loss meant to HIM.

However. I personally see nothing amiss with trying to look our best at any age. Just because I am 75 does not mean I must stop wearing make-up or cutting and coloring my hair and dressing as nicely as I can. Why you ask. Because I feel better when I look better.

Exactly. I don't watch shows like Oprah, because I'd rather be forging my own path in life, than sit and watch someone else dictating what the world should do. It's like bowing to the religion of Oprah.

Yes, Oprah has done some positive things for others. But do we need to follow like an insecure high school clique?

No.

I saw C. Brinkley and, yes, if we had tons of cash and choice, we could all look forever young.

But why are women expected to poke their faces, etc. in order to gain respect and credibility?

That's just plain nuts.

I like looking good, but will not play with my face (surgically) to suit some magazine standard.

Thanks for your thoughts about this issue of O. A friend suggested I pick it up for its good articles on ageism. Outside of Maya Angelou, I was disappointed and bewildered. Same old same old....

Tamar is right Ronni. I'm afraid the Scrabble Gods would throw the dictionary at you....NO "oog." Great word though, huh?

I just found your site - through the link on Cowtown Patty's. Very insightful commentary. Other than AARP magazine, most "women's" mags seem to be written by the advertisers. As a 50 pluser myself, I cannot imagine wasting my time on such frivolity. However I do bathe regularly.

What about the issue of wanting to attract men, or keep the one you have interested? For me, it took finally being single-by-choice to stop worrying about looking older. Now I'm free to focus on being as fit and healthy as possible and, like Kate, bathing regularly.

I think everyone of you should forward your opinions to Oprah herself. I have finally seen in writing from your posts what has irked me for years about her. I think she should hear this side of people's opinions. I probably could have put it into words had I given it enough effort but... frankly, never thought it was worth the effort :) I will say this though - she is so consumed with self righteousness and so impressed with herself that anyone who does not agree with her or her beliefs is brushed off, almost not worth talking to. Her source of energy and fuel are from those who worship and adore her. Crazy, crazy.

JL


I think there's a huge difference between trying to look your best and trying to look like something you're not. I was shocked when I saw that Christie Brinkley commercial. How could she not see how offensive that is? What's next? "I love being Jewish. I just don't want to look it!"

Ronni, found my way here by way of Andy Hardy Writes a Blog. I enjoyed this post...Have you ever seen Oprah without her fabulous makeup and lighting? Quite different from what you see on her show or cover of the magazine. I lost respect for her when she recently had the president of Hermes on her show to publicly apologize to her for not allowing her into the Paris store (when it was already closing!). It was the most arrogant thing I've seen. Her audience is trained to explode into thunderous applause for everyone and everything that happens on that show. SNL did it best when their skit showed audience member's heads literally blowing apart as they applauded with glee for Oprah! Somewhere down the line, she began to buy her own publicity...and a women who was once a great role model, has become a characiture of herself.

Well, my hair's not gray, but I have "a pot belly…dirty nails, chapped lips, and mustache and bushy eyebrows." ( I'm an introvert, so I don't notice this stuff.)

I'm two years most happily married to a man who's happy every day that I gave him two kittens one Christmas, my daughter and grandson want to build in my backyard, work is inventive and interesting and my biggest bitch is lack of sleep.

I might look homeless to Nora, but a lot of people around me don't gussey up either (and around here we're a little suspicious of the ones who do).

Hi Ronni, I turn 50 this November 2nd, but I'm not going to wait until then to comment, so this is my early birthday present!

I picked up the Oprah magazine while in the checkout stand the other day, but put it back down, so I didn't get a chance to read it, but I appreciate what you're saying.

I've always looked younger than my years, considerably. On one hand it's fun, but on the other I'm starting to feel more and more strange about it, because it's starting to feel like when I was in my youth, and people would exclaim that I didn't really look Chinese, that they thought I was White. (I'm interracial, half Chinese, part Native American and French). The thing is they almost said it reassuredly, like somehow to look Chinesey or Native Americany was something I might be embarassed about, and that I should be flattered...or relieved, that I could pass for White.

Well, yeah, being part White is what I am and I'm proud of that, but it's no more special than the rest of me! And certainly, being part of other races isn't something to apologize or feel bad for.

Now, when people tell me I don't look my age, it has that same feeling...like being my age is something I shouldn't want to be, and thank goodness I can pass for White...I mean younger...you know, look like the better race...I mean age.

When people tell me I don't look my age in that way now, I tell myself they mean well, but I take those "compliments" with a grain of salt. I, also, tell them if the trend continues and I'm blessed to be 100, when someone tells me then I look 20 years younger, I'll still look 80...and then what?

Do I suddenly stop feeling good about myself, lower my head and apologize for daring to look old?

No, I don't think so. In fact, I'll be so alive, so vivacious,the character that I will have then by living my life with awareness and passion now will turn heads...of those who have eyes to see.

And for those who don't? I won't waste any time trying to force sight onto the blind. Are you kidding? At 100, I'll be showering every moment on those I love and things I truly care about...just as I'm learning to now.

Demian,
~DreamSinger

Well, I just caught this site. Wow!
Randi, you said it all. Sadly, Oprah has become a caricature of herself as you said, even if she does do a lot of good.

By the way, all that audience noise and clapping is mainly because they were told to do so. Somebody is probably holding up an "applause sign" or there's some electronic signal. I'm annoyed by all the hollering and screaming on so many of the TV shows. We all know it's not genuine ... don't we? Whatever happened to just plain ole applause?

I'm so disappointed in what her show has become; seldom ever see it, or care to now, though I made a point to watch her first show and occasional ones over the ensuing years.

I recall many years ago attending a conference for women sponsored by a Calif. political figure at which Oprah was the featured luncheon speaker. I had never heard of her at that time. She was only known in Chicago; hadn't made network TV. I was really impressed so was not surprised she went national.

Maybe she's just trying to put in the remaining years of her contract, do what it takes to keep the ratings up to attract sponsors, and make the company money. I don't know. I'm jaded in my thinking when it comes to TV any more.

I thought it was just me! My sister got me a subscription for Christmas, and I want to give her money back if I could cancel it now. Suzie Orman says to live within your means, but the next page shows the next best blouse, on sale for $458. A dying woman says to live for the now, but next page says don't eat ice cream and hamburgers (some of us can). Be thin! oh wait, no, be yourself. Wear makeup. No, wait, be natural.

If I watch TV during her showtime, I can choose between Oprah and Ellen. With the following upcoming topics on Oprah, I think I'll laugh with Ellen.

Upcoming Oprah topics: Is an unusual ADDICTION ruling your life? Know someone who needs help with an ADDICTION? Are you a COMPULSIVE SHOPPER? Are you addicted to PLASTIC SURGERY? Do you have a problem throwing things away? Did You Cheat On Your Spouse? Are You Friends With Your Husbands Mistress? Are you a MOM who's addicted to CRYSTAL METH? Are you in a sexless marriage? Do You Have a Story of Betrayal? Did your Marriage turn out to be a Deception?

Are guys allowed to comment? I hope so.

When I first saw the Christie Brinkley ad, I couldn't believe the blatant contradiction. And here's a super-model that's spent her life (and a fortune, I'm sure) maintaining her appearance, and now she's, God forbid, 52!! It's obviously another ploy to make women feel insecure so they'll spend a bunch of money on products. She should be ashamed of herself for contributing to that mindset. And if that's really how she feels, then ... well, she's lucky she has her looks to get by on, because she's not very bright.

The Oprah hypocrisy has bothered me for a long time, as has the self-righteousness. If you're going to Africa to give presents to kids and build a school, great -- more power to you. If you film the experience and air it on TV to raise awareness, fine. But the closeups of Oprah's tear-stained eyes are manipulative and, again, it's all about Oprah. (It's reminiscent of the William Hurt scene in 'Broadcast News.')

Oprah's insensitivity regarding aging(and the question of making loads of money from advertising, from companies selling products that the "editorial" content is essentially promoting) is exceeded only by her insensitivity to people with weight "problems." I put that in quotes because I do NOT believe everybody carrying around a little extra padding has a problem, or should be brainwashed into thinking they do. I (and a LOT of males I know) like women of all shapes and sizes, and I know women who are active, healthy, extremely attractive, and, yes, large -- the type of women Oprah would use as "before" pictures. That Oprah herself was once heavy, and has admitted that ultimately no diet was a "fix," but engages is this sort of manipulation, is deplorable. She talks about her struggles (she who can afford a full-time nutritionist, makeup assistant, and personal trainer), but continually harps on the subject of weight.

The most healthy thing a person can do for themself is have a positive attitude about who they are. If I'm not mistaken a recent study showed that people (or maybe it was specifically women) with a few "extra" pounds actually live longer than people who are the "correct" weight.

If Oprah is so insecure that she needs a magazine and TV show to continually remind herself (and us) that she's beautiful, that's her business. But she (this example of what a billion dollars can do for what was once an ugly duckling) shouldn't point fingers.

Could you make the verification-code letters any HARDER to read? Jeez!

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