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Raised by Oprah: 25 Things I Learned Over the Past 25 Years
Oprah is a living presence in my house. We can see her (every day, 4 o'clock, channel 5) and although she can't see us, a fact for which she should be very grateful considering the state of cleanliness around here, Oprah's been presiding over my home life as long as I can remember. When her eponymous show went on the air in 1986, my mother was one of her first fans. At first we had Phil Donahue, Sally Jesse Raphael and Geraldo as our backdrop to laundry, homework and dinner prep, but once Ms. O came on the scene we were a one-woman family. It wasn't long before we were exercising, dieting, reading, finding out exactly what she "knows for sure" and oh yes, crying along with her. From bras to boys to international politics, Oprah was like a second mother to me, shaping my views and instructing me in all the things it meant to be a woman in our culture.
When you love someone so much it's hard to see their faults—you will never see me criticize Oprah—but I figure everyone else will cover the beautiful and important legacies she is leaving us so here's my list of 25 quirky things I learned from Oprah.
1. Every single person has a fascinating story to tell. This is perhaps the most wonderful lesson I learned at her feet. Whether you are a circus acrobat who learned to ride elephants before you could walk or the most average of Midwest teens who has never been farther than Iowa, you have a story to tell that is worth listening to.
2. There is nothing wrong or weird about having a really close bond with another woman.
3. Dark wash boot cut jeans are a girl's best friend.
4. When you're wrong, admit it. And in the most public way possible. There's nothing like having a public microphone the size of hers to get your version of the facts out there, but Oprah never abused her power. Instead she led the way in public apologies and the mascara-streaked (obviously she didn't fan long enough) teary make-up hugs.
5. Share your secrets yourself before someone else does it for you. People who know your secrets have power over you, live your life like an open book and you will be beholden to no one.
6. Don't be embarrassed by loving to read fluff. (And also, don't hide the fact that you love to read.) Admit it: you've a) read an Oprah-selected book and b) thought it sucked. It's okay, we all have. While some of her fare was heavy, intellectual, spiritual or educational (and a disproportionate amount talked about child abuse) a lot of it was fluffy. I believe she introduced us to the Chick Lit genre. Oprah loved them all with abandon.
7. Get fitted for a bra by a professional. Then when you put on your new bra, lean forward to get the cups situated before standing up. I believe she actually used the word "pouring."
8. Proper etiquette says that the appropriate response to being surprised is to scream in the dog-calling register and jump up and down like you were sired by a kangaroo (Next time on Oprah...). Anything less and the other party will feel rejected.
9. Giving is so much better than getting. Oh sure it had to have been a riot to be in one of her audiences during her epic Favorite Things episodes/lottery win, but did you see Oprah's face? Did you?? Pure joy.
10. Crying is good for the soul. I can't count how many times I cried during one of her shows (Was it the episode on the miracle babies? Or maybe the one about the mom who literally threw herself under a speeding car to save her 4 children from being catapulted off a cliff? Or the one where they rescued all those abused dogs?). Nor can I count how many times she cried. But the point is, we were crying together. At 4 o'clock in the afternoon in any given suburb.
11. If you find something you love, share it. If you find someone you love, jump up and down on a couch and shout about it.
12. As we age, we'll either become a "sinker" or a "sagger." Not that we can do anything about this. Not that it even matters. But isn't it nice to know? I'll be a sagger in case you are curious. Just like Oprah. See, it runs in the genes! (Also, in her age progression photos she is still wearing 1-carat diamond solitaire earrings. As she should be when she's 80.)
13. You can too wear white jeans. Yesyou.
14. Even if you love a person, you can still find their overly pampered dogs to be irritating. (Sorry Oprah!)
15. Don't ever apologize for being successful. While she generally owned up to her mistakes quickly, she never caved to the pressure that so many people—especially women—feel to make others feel better by denigrating themselves.
16. You don't need to push others down to bring yourself up. There is room for everyone at the top. Just like you don't need to put yourself down to make others feel better, you don't need to put others down to make your star shine brighter. Oprah always did everything she could to bring everyone up with her.
17. One friend who is a really good listener is worth more than all the Reality Housewives put together. How many "talks" have you had with Oprah in your head? Exactly.
18. Politics are not boring. The first presidential election I was old enough to vote in was George W. the first time around. But I was having too much fun in college and forgot to register therefore abdicating one of the most powerful tools given to me. Oprah was not pleased with me that day. She probably would have put me on the naughty stool if she knew I existed. And if that was the episode Super Nanny was a guest.
19. Kids are the best entertainers. They're unpredictable and talented and hilarious and, best of all, say exactly what they think.
20. Proper mascara application requires fanning your eyes with your hands. Every girl has to learn about makeup somewhere and the scene of her fanning her mascara (Maybelline Great Lash of course!) with her hands and commanding "Dry! Dry!" in her opening credits really affected me. To this day I do it even though I have no idea if it really helps anything.
21. You should trust your instincts. Oprah introduced me to Gavin de Becker and "The Gift of Fear." Before that show I was way more interested in pleasing people than acknowledging the misgivings in my gut. After that show I was still a commensurate people pleaser (but then so is she) but at least now I realized when something was off and trained myself to make contingency plans.
22. To prevent explosions at the gas station, touch something metal (NOT the fuel pump!) after getting out of your car to discharge any static electricity on your body. This was also the episode where I first learned to play the "Which child would I pull first out of a burning car?" game. Hint: Nobody wins that game.
23. Never go to the second location! If you are accosted, no matter what you do, do not go with the attacker to another location. Force them to shoot you in the parking garage where there are at least security cameras to record you bleeding out. It's better to die where people can find your body. But seriously, don't go with them.
24. Dieting is the great equalizer. She's down! She's up! She's down again! And up some more! I don't know a woman that can't relate on some level to Oprah's struggles with her weight but it's the honesty that really gets me. She never lied about her struggles.
25. Love first. That woman has met everyone from the last four Presidents to every celebrity this side of Jack Nicholson. But whether it was Tina Turner or a tiny child, she loved everyone. (Okay not everyone everyone, she could be very disapproving of evil people.) She didn't wait for them to initiate it or to love her first, she would stand with her arms open and wait for you.
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