It’s January 27 and do you know where your New Year’s resolution is? Remember, that goal you’d set for yourself in a drunken fit of festive cheer just before the clock struck midnight, back when 2010 was just a distant dream…?
Yes, that resolution. So imagine being Robyn Okrant, who committed to something even bigger than a resolution on January 1, 2008: she challenged herself to do everything that Oprah Winfrey told her to do. For a whole year. She called her project “Living Oprah” and she blogged about her efforts, of course. That blog was recently published as a book, also called Living Oprah and I just finished reading it.
Robyn Okrant is a writer, performer and yoga teacher based in Chicago (Oprah’s hometown). I related to Okrant on many levels, being part of the same demographic (mid-30s) and profession (that strange mix of writing, art and yoga). I have to admit that I wish I’d thought up this idea! A self-confessed pop culture junkie (as y’all know), I am fascinated by Oprah, for many of the same reasons as Robyn. I find Oprah’s rag-to-riches story, her rise to fame (based mostly on intuition), her influence on women and her mastery over the art of making a personal brand completely compelling.
For the whole year, Robyn made her choices based on Oprah’s directives. She heeded Oprah’s wisdom through a daily diet of The Oprah Winfrey Show, O: The Oprah Magazine and oprah.com. And 2008 was a particularly interesting year to take on such a challenge. Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth was the Oprah Book Club choice, one of the most exciting and relevant US presidential elections ever took place, and the global financial system collapsed.
In her book, which followed a monthly progression of time, Robyn reflects on her year, what she learned and how her life changed (for she, also, became famous, making countless media appearances and getting a book deal). She provides spread sheets of her actions, purchases and time spent. Over the course of the year, Robyn had spent over 1202 hours and $4,781.84 on her project. Under Oprah’s directive, Robyn bought leopard print flats, signed up for the Best Life challenge and went to a Celine Dion concert.
By writing about this project, Robyn exposes the inherent tensions of our pop driven culture. She notes the contradictions between Oprah’s words (“live your best life”) and her actions (a life of material extravagance and wealth). The project seemed to be incredibly difficult, but Robyn persevered, and kept it up for the whole year (with a lot of support from her blog readers).
Robyn devotes a lot of space to her thoughts on body image – the project had an impact on how she viewed her body and the women around her. Early in the project, she took note of how Oprah “devalues women by focusing so much on our bodies.” And it’s no surprise that Oprah herself is focused on her own body. Apparently Oprah’s 2008 weight gain was being used to promote the 2009 season of her show, and her weight struggle had become a marketing tool.
Yet, Robyn also points out that she gained some positive changes during the year, and felt better about herself in some ways. During the last chapters, she is open about how difficult it’ll be to conclude the project (which I guess it was because she continues to blog and write about Oprah). While the challenge was meant to be a critique of Oprah, Robyn notes that it’s also a critique of herself. She finds a balance between being critical and acknowledging the good that Oprah does, noting that she is “above reproach.”
Throughout the book, Robyn’s yoga teaching is briefly mentioned here and there, in the way anyone else might talk about their job (and there is no mention of her personal practice). But in the final chapter, she reflects on her year of Living Oprah with the wisdom of a yogi. She shares that she chose teaching yoga as a career because “it’s a journey-based practice rather than one of destination,” and she felt internal conflict because this project made her focused on results and clear-cut answers. In the end, she determines that her greatest lesson from the project is: “I know I’ll never discover my Best Life when I am trying to live up to someone else’s vision for me.”
Living Oprah is a great winter Sunday afternoon read: it’s light and quick, but also smart and thought-provoking. Robyn still blogs about Oprah (!) and her writing continues to be enjoyable, thoughtful and inspiring.
Below: the Black-Eyed Peas flash mob experience, which exemplifies my complicated and conflicted feelings about Oprah’s influence… I love it, I hate it, I love it, I hate it…