I hate Oprah. There, I admitted it. What kind of curmudgeon hates the loveable, exuberant Oprah Winfrey? After all, there are plenty of valid reasons to like Oprah. Her triumph over her tragic childhood is inspiring. She tackles taboo topics. And her philanthropy is unrivaled by any other celebrity
Yet — at the risk of offending her mob of followers — there are also plenty of reasons to criticize, mistrust, disapprove of, and, dare I say, hate the most powerful woman in the world. Here are ten.
1) Her idea of happiness involves a lot of spending
Oprah supports her image as a modern enlightened everywoman with a lot of self-aware, self-help, positive-thinking rhetoric. But at the end of the day, her biggest contribution to the self-improvement landscape is her promotion of retail therapy — the idea that you can spend your way to happiness and fulfillment. Her “Favorite Things” can turn a company like Carol’s Daughter into an overnight success, and so retailers beg for her approval. Her Oprah store in Chicago sells the items she endorses, to go along with paraphernalia bearing her logo and even clothing she has worn. Go for your dreams! Buy an “O” notebook to write them in! Somehow, with a straight face, she makes the contradictory claims that happiness is available for everyone and that $25 pairs of socks are the way to get it. She’s an awfully expensive person to emulate.
2) At heart, her show is a gawk-fest
Oprah has worked hard to distinguish her program as more sophisticated than Jerry Springer’s, Maury Povich’s, Ricki Lake’s, et al. And although she presents it as an empathetic platform for discussing serious issues, at heart, it’s still a freak show. She knows her audience will react to the pregnant man and the woman whose face was ripped off by the chimpanzee. But there’s no great truth she’s seeking from these people, merely audience gasps and higher ratings. The only difference between her show and the low-rent versions is that Oprah gets the A-list freaks.
3) She fat-shames
As an overweight black woman, Oprah’s never looked like a typical mogul. The most powerful outsider ever to become an insider, she has the unique opportunity to show women that it’s okay to be overweight. But instead of leading by example, she’s punished herself with years of yo-yo diets, celebrating her low-weight victories by running a marathon, endorsing her chef, and famously bringing a wagon of fat onto her program. When she peaked at over two-hundred pounds a year ago, she declared herself “embarrassed” by how much weight she had gained. That may be so, but her self-hate and fat-shaming are a missed opportunity for her to show American women that they can accept themselves no matter what size they are.
4) She created the monster that is Dr. Phil
Among the army of experts that Oprah has launched into syndicated stardom, Dr. Phil’s fame is the least deserved. Why? He counsels strangers on their most important decisions in folksy catchphrases — perfect for sound bites, but nearly impossible to apply in real life. He’s given airtime to notorious anti-gay activists, legitimizing their bigoted views. And he used his celebrity to extend his brand into the lucrative weight-loss field, writing a diet book and releasing his own line of shakes, energy bars, and supplements. Oprah gave him his start, and his perceived authority relies on her endorsement.
5) Her perceived infallibility
Oprah’s been lauded as the world’s most powerful and most influential woman due to her millions of viewers, readers, and listeners, and no other talk-show host, celebrity, or world leader has the aura of authority that Oprah has. But while celebrity worship is nothing new, the “cult of Oprah” is on an entirely new level. Her most devout admirers watch her religiously, quote her as an expert, and scramble for every product she endorses or even mentions. The idea that Oprah expresses anything more valuable than her own opinions gives her a level of misplaced trust she doesn’t deserve. Anyone perceived as infallible is dangerous.
6) O: the Oprah Magazine
Oprah launched her eponymous magazine in 2000, and like her talk show, it’s enjoyed much success. Launching a magazine in your own image, devoted solely to the issues you deem important, takes a lot of chutzpah … or egomania. Originally the exclusive cover girl of every issue, Oprah finally shared the spotlight this year, once with Michelle Obama and again with Ellen DeGeneres. And her publicity team spun this as an act of newsworthy generosity. Really? There’s nothing wrong with a celebrity extending their brand, but having your own monthly is somehow even more egotistical than having your own talk show.
7) She treats celebrities as medical experts
Giving celebrities a platform to express their fringe medical ideas as fact is not only irresponsible, but dangerous. When Jenny McCarthy took to Oprah’s stage to talk about her belief that a vaccine caused her son’s autism, Oprah fueled a dangerous anti-vaccine conspiracy theory that had been building in the United States. And when Suzanne Somers raved about how a quite possibly dangerous hormone treatment helped her with menopause, millions of American women began inquiring about how they could receive the same treatment.
8) She endorsed The Secret and other pseudoscience
When Oprah became enamored with The Secret, so, of course, did everyone else. Its central idea — that you’re solely responsible for your own happiness — aligns with Oprah’s ethos, but it’s a dressed-up version of blaming the victim. When you believe that the universe rewards positive thinking, you must also believe the converse — that the universe punishes those who have negative thoughts. Negative thinking isn’t responsible for poverty, illness, abuse, or misfortune. Oprah didn’t rise to fame by wanting it more than anyone else — she worked hard and had a lot of help. To insinuate that success is based on sending good thoughts into the universe is junk science and offensive to anyone who has suffered a tragedy.
9) She popularized the word “vajayjay”
Oprah’s been using the term “vajayjay” for the past few years, bringing it into popular consciousness and even several e-dictionaries. “Vajayjay” implies that there’s something wrong with the word she’s replacing. There’s nothing silly, dirty, or wrong about the word “vagina.” A journalist should be able to say the word “vagina.” An adult should be able to say the word “vagina.” In using “vajayjay,” she’s dumbing down her speech and infantalizing her audience, and further stigmatizing a body part about which many women already feel embarrassed.
10) Retiring from her talk show will only make her more popular
After Oprah announced her plans to end her talk show in two years, every news outlet covered the big story. And, for the next two years, we’ll be subjected to much-hyped best-of and where-are-they-now? episodes, celebrity remembrances, and retrospectives. All the while, she’ll be celebrated for changing the talk-show landscape. The public vigil for her “retirement,” however, is premature. The truth is, she’s not going anywhere. Between her magazine, website, radio show, and her own network (launching in 2010), Oprah will remain just as inescapable as she is now.