I’ve been thinking about Oprah recently. It was nearly twenty years ago that I was on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
I’ll never forget the August day when I got that first phone call from Oprah. Well, not Oprah directly, but her executive producer. Even though it’s been that long, a call from Harpo Studios in Chicago is one you never forget.
More than that, what happened minutes after that phone call is one of my favorite family stories. You’ll understand why when you hear about the circumstances.
“40 Over 40 is a PR problem. No one’s interested in women over 40.”
A few short months before the Oprah people called me, I was in a meeting with the publisher. My first book was about to come out, 40 Over 40; 40 Things Every Woman Over 40 Needs to Know About Getting Dressed. My publisher had hired an independent PR person to create a book campaign, someone they use all the time. This PR person reported back to the publisher and told her that 40 Over 40 would be a PR problem, not a PR opportunity. Why? Because “No one in the media is interested in women over 40. They don’t associate women over 40 with anything glamorous or sexy.” This was the spring of 2000.
I was astounded. I could not believe that “the media” could be so willing to write off women over 40. I’m telling you this story while I’m now in my 60s, and I stand by the convictions I had back then: We ARE fabulous! We ARE sexy! I’d like to add the word vibrant. We’re vibrant.
Come on, people. How WRONG could they be?
Mad as heck and I wasn’t going to take it
You’ve never seen me as mad as I was when I received that news in that meeting. My belly was burning with fury. I was ready to take on the media and show them how short-sighted they were.
The book launched in April 2000. In August, word of 40 Over 40 was all over the front page of the Lifestyle section of the Chicago Tribune. They did a full-page spread about the “M” word (matronly) and how not to look matronly, which was the subject of Chapter 2.
A quick aside
When I wrote that chapter, I was concerned about women inadvertently looking matronly. At the current time, I’m less worried about that. I am concerned about that 40-year-old who is over 40 now feeling invisible or giving up on themselves. That will have to be addressed in a project I’m calling #sixtyoversixtystyle.
40 Over 40 gets legs despite the PR advice
I thought to myself, “Hmm. Chicago. Oprah is in Chicago. Maybe someone on her show will see this article.” Which is precisely what happened. Rita Thompson, an Oprah Winfrey Show field producer, saw the article and pitched the idea for a show at their next meeting.
Two weeks later, I got the call. Well, I got the message. Here’s what happened. My youngest daughter, Caitlin, was a hip hop dancer, choreographer, and head of the hip hop troupe at her high school. She had worked super hard all week getting the troupe ready for that Friday’s performance at the pep rally. She’d been fretting about it all week–lots of pressure. I’d been careful to tiptoe around her. I changed my client’s appointment that Friday to the afternoon so I could be at her school to watch her and show her my support.
So when my business phone rang that Friday morning, I didn’t answer it. There was no way I was going to get hung up on a phone call and miss the performance. I let it go to voicemail and then listened to the message: “This is the Oprah Winfrey Show calling, and we’d like to talk to you about being on the show.”
Calling the wise ones for advice
I saved the message, and then my index finger raced over the keypad: 1-218-758-2434. Dad answered. This odd sound was coming from my throat–half crying and half screaming. “Dad, The Oprah Winfrey show just called! What should I do?” Matter-of-factly, Dad said, “Call them back.”
“I can’t,” I told him. “I’m going to Caitlin’s pep rally.”
Mom got on the other line. She said, “Gee, I thought something had happened.”
“Mom, something has happened. OPRAH CALLED.”
Dad said, “Go to the pep rally and then call them back.” He added, “This is an answer to my prayers.”
I grabbed my keys and headed to the gym
I hung up and rushed out of the house. I got in my car and called my publisher. “The Oprah Winfrey Show called!” I said. “We know,” she answered. “We gave them your phone number. What did they say?”
“Well, I don’t know. I haven’t talked to them yet,” I said. I explained to an astonished publisher that I couldn’t speak to the Oprah people because I was going to my daughter’s pep rally. It got pretty quiet at the other end of the line. She wasn’t too pleased.
Watching the pep rally with pride
I got to the pep rally and watched the performance. Silent tears rolled down my cheeks. The dance troupe was in baggy camouflage pants and T-shirts. You couldn’t see her week of worry, only a lively, athletic performance to pounding music. That week of practice had turned into a wow performance.
I stuck around until everyone had left the gym. Waiting until the only people remaining were Caitlin and her friends, I told them how terrific their performance was.
Christina states the obvious
Then I said to Caitlin, “Something really interesting happened. The Oprah Winfrey Show called.” “What did they say?” Caitlin asked. “Well, nothing yet. I haven’t talked to them. I came to see you first.”
One of Caitlin’s friends dropped her mouth open. Christina turned from me to Caitlin, her eyes wide and said, “Oh-My-God, Caitlin. You’re more important than Oprah!”
She was right, of course. Caitlin was and is far more important to me than a phone call from Oprah.
Best PR ever
Being on the Oprah Winfrey Show was the best PR opportunity an author could hope for, and I’m thrilled that it happened to me.
More than the satisfaction that came from putting women over 40 in the spotlight, at a time when they were being ignored, was the fact that my daughter, through the eyes of her peers, knew just how important she was to me. That’s as they say, priceless.
You might get the impression that I’m stating everything was hunky-dory once I called them back. Oh no, it wasn’t!
And that’s another story that I can’t wait to tell you about.
From 40 Over 40
I invite you to zero in on the ordinary thing that you do everyday–getting dressed–and turn it into an opportunity for personal expression, peace, and joy beyond words.
I first wrote those words in 1999, and I stand by them today.
What’s something memorable that happened to while wearing an outfit that you could recall the details of today? Please share!
P.S. Now that Caitlin is a mommy, I’m tickled at the thought of where her little girl will take her on this journey of life. The beat goes on.