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Monday, July 19, 2004

Ciao, Oprah

Did my usual 10 minutes with the PD this morning while my coffee was brewing and the dog was eating when I paused on the front page of Arts & Life (the one section I read/skim regularly).

Columnist Connie Schulz is always good for a chuckle or a cry, so when I saw something about Oprah magazine, I had to read on. You see I’ve had this love-hate relationship with O, The Oprah Magazine for a few years now.

Here’s the deal. It’s a huge, I mean HUGE, magazine. As editor of magazines, I simply drool over the photo and editorial budgets it must have—simply decadent. The “coffee-table-thunk” factor alone is enviable. Many more editors have to scrimp by on our wits and our resources to produce a good print product.

From time to time, there are articles I find moving, inspirational or helpful. But by and large, it’s disappointing to me as a woman and as a writer. While Oprah always looks smashing (and excessively wealthy) on the covers, there’s an inability to connect the content to her readers and fans. (I will never spend $75 on one single candle no matter how good it smells.)

The magazine relies heavily on articles written by “experts” in finance, relationships, nutrition, etc. The problem is, they read like articles written by experts and not by professional writers (you can see my bias here).

Here’s an example of how that doesn’t work. I was interested in an article titled, “Marriage Repair Kit.” Okay, kit implies there will be some steps to help me strengthen or fix my marriage. I’m game. I read on, only to learn that the article is really some psycho-yada-yada about how we marry our fathers. That’s fine and dandy, but not what the article’s title suggested. It was written by a mental health professional. If a professional writer interviewed that same mental health professional, then I believe the content would be more relevant to everyday readers.

A writer or journalist will ask the logical questions to get to the meat of a story. That’s why I think so many of the articles leave you saying, “Huh?” Or maybe you simply never make it past the second or third column. Oprah always has a Q&A with a celeb or notable personality, but it’s a virtual love fest, doesn’t get to the meat of who an individual is or what shapes their outlook. Plus, there’s too much of Oprah in the interview.

With apologies to all you Dr. Phil fans, I think the guy is a charlatan. His cheesy grin and Texas bravado give me the willies. Plus, I have this anti-facial hair bias wondering, “What are they hiding behind that beard or moustache?”

Suze Orman is certainly a successful woman, but does she even know what the rest of us toil in these days? My guess is no. Probably the most helpful suggestions come from the woman who gets paid to organize people’s homes, closets and offices. The best piece in the magazine is “On the Bookshelf,” a column that talks to celebs and others about the importance of books in their lives and includes a page on their all-time favorites and why they enjoy them.

But here’s where I’m in communion with Connie. When the buzz about O first started, I was hopeful that the magazine would tackle issues of importance to women like me. Serious issues. But I’m afraid that hasn’t been the case. We’re still hand wringing over how we can lose weight forever, how to find time to exercise for 90 minutes a day and where that perfect man is found. When they interview women (such as the stay-at-home mother of nine, who is a size 4 and lives in a HUGE home and is a deeply spiritual human, flawless in every way) there’s a huge disconnect between those of us who scream at our kids at times, live in average homes and question our faith on a regular basis. I’d like to think (and personal experience proves this to be true) that there are many more of us struggling with it all, but those stories apparently aren't what sell.

Most women have a pretty crappy relationship with their bodies, probably due in some part to what we see held up as images of beauty. I’ll be 37 soon. I've had three kids and, like Connie, I’ve never owned a bathroom scale, preferring to gauge my weight by how my clothes fit. In the past six months, I’ve managed to construct a healthier relationship toward food, which has led to weight loss.

I love to eat, but I’ve found a way to eat a lot less of everything and to get exercise into my life four or five times a week. As a result, I have a lot more energy (which I need these days) and a much better self-image.

I’ve not followed any prescribed regimen—Atkins, South Beach, etc.—I’ve only reduced my intake. I’m not saying I don’t have weak moments (this weekend, for example). But I’m not going to agonize, because I know what I need to do. And I know I’m not alone in my quest. Just talking to fellow moms keeps it all real.

And I quit reading magazines like Oprah. I find the New Yorker far more inspiring.

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