Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.

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Too many toys

Q: How hard is it to stay grounded when you've had as much success as Oprah? Kitty Kelley's new biography discusses her charitable giving and her big-time indulgences. Should anyone begrudge her $500 mink eyelashes or $365,000 Bentley? And why do we love reading about the foibles of the rich and famous?

Dorothy Height had her signature hats. Oprah Winfrey has her $500 mink eyelashes. Dr. Height's elegant "crowns" bespoke her iconic role as the queen of the civil rights movement. Oprah's conspicuous consumption belies her carefully cultivated public image as a generous everywoman.

Dr. Height's life's work made Oprah's life's work possible. In many ways, Oprah's huge success is a triumph in this nation's endless quest for civil rights, women's rights and equality.

Oprah is living proof that this nation has arrived at a point where a woman can overcome circumstances of birth, poverty, racial prejudice and sexism to become one of the wealthiest and most influential people on this planet. She is a media star, a corporate mogul, an opinion leader. She is not modest in her personal style nor in her professional ambition. People should not be surprised that she likes her toys.

But Oprah is no Dorothy Height, not that she aspires to the comparison. Dorothy Height's entire life gave witness to the self-sacrifice and deep sense of service that motivated her commitment to advancing the cause of justice. Oprah's life is all about enjoying the fruits of showbiz success, and she's entitled, of course. We just should not confuse her amazing business success with real moral leadership for the common good.

While Oprah is entitled to enjoy her success, she certainly must be aware that her influence touches millions of people who cannot imagine even one small slice of her vast personal wealth. Although she is truly philanthropic and has given substantial charitable gifts to great causes, she needs to be mindful that her personal choices are also under scrutiny.

Those $500 mink eyelashes might be nobody's business, but now they are part of the Oprah lore. Her extravagant possessions and fits of pique, albeit not surprising, are somewhat disappointing. We want her to be so much more than just another wealthy diva.

Thinking about those eyelashes made me think about my own possessions. Hmm. What do I own that's more expensive than Oprah's eyelashes? My house, my car, my computer, my camera. Okay, my kayak. Everybody needs some toys. But most of us don't need half the stuff we have somehow accumulated. Oprah could do the world a great deal of good by using her powerful influence to downsize her own lifestyle, thereby inspiring others to do the same.

Oprah may not ever take over Dorothy Height's many crowns of righteous leadership, but with more personal restraint she could improve her moral standing, even if by only an eyelash.

By Patricia McGuire  |  April 22, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  The lush life Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Ninnayaye and Beingsensible,

Why don't you leave the poster's weight out of this discussion. Those kinds of jabs are rude and meanspirited and have nothing to do with the topic at hand.

Posted by: softrefrain | April 26, 2010 4:07 PM
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I find it quite arrogant for the author to make such judgements or castigate Winfrey for $500 eyelashes or 'consipcuous consumption'. She may consider Winfrey a diva, I just simply consider her someone who has worked hard, gotten a few breaks, and done extremely well. I don't consider her a 'diva' nor do I scrutinize her perchases from cars to eyelashes. I am amazed the author seems to think in that manner... jealousy? Who knows. She acknowledges that Winfrey has been very generous in her contributions. What else does she want? The author seems to be the one trying to categorize people or placing them in 'boxes'. Does she realize her kayak to many would also be considered a luxury they might never be able to obtain? I've never watched 'Opra', it's just not my thing. But it's the author that seems to have the problem, not Ms. Winfrey.

Posted by: todaysopinion | April 26, 2010 3:42 PM
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1) I think the comparison between Dr. Height's hats and Oprah's eyelashes is just silly. Dr. Height's hats were her signature. How many people knew of Oprah's $500 eyelashes before the release of this book?

2)I have read that Oprah makes over $350 million annually. If this is true, her $350,000 Bentley is a reasonable expense. How much does the average new car cost? Lets say $20,000 (though I suspect it is much more). So if you make $50,000 per year the cost of your car is 40% of your annual salary. In Oprah's case the Bently is less than 1% of her annual salary. Why shouldnt she have one?

3) "Oprah may not ever take over Dorothy Height's Dorothy Height's many crowns of righteous leadership, but with more personal restraint she could improve her moral standing " I don't think Oprah needs to improve her moral standing. I suspect most people think that all the good she does is more than enough for her to be labled a good person.

4)I'd be very curious to know why the author chose to compare Oprah to Dorothy Height. I can't make any sense of it.

Posted by: Meeks3 | April 26, 2010 3:40 PM
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So I'm reading this to mean that you believe because Dorothy Heights is Black and Oprah is Black, Oprah has to limit her richly desires to hats? And because you're fat and Oprah is fat Oprah has to limit the cost of her eyelashes to whatever it is that you have that cost as much? Patricia, you're no Oprah, you're just a lowly paid WAPO columist, so there's probably very little that you can compair of your worldly possessons to those of Oprahs. Heck, there's probably very little that you can compair of your worldly to those of mine, LOL...believe that--I know a few WAPO columist.

Posted by: Beingsensible | April 26, 2010 2:05 PM
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It is interesting that the author has assumed the authority to declare Dr Height's hats to be integral to the civil rights movement while Oprah's eyelashes fall under the category of less lofty conspicuous consumption.

Certainly Oprah cannot complain since as a public figure you are open to criticism from all corners. But I am always baffled by the hypocrisy that comes with such commentary. All over the city, I see women in false eyelashes, ranging from the $3 kind they glued on themselves to the $25 affair done at a local salon to those that run even more if you get them done in upper northwest. So does it surprise me that the eyelashes in the billionairess price range costs $500? Not really. I'm sure the sellers of the $500 lashes have other customers in addition to Oprah. Sure not all wealthy people lavish money the way we think they would - expensive cars or private jets. But they do indulge in ways that appeal to themselves - travel, horses, whatever. And that's ok.

And I have to laugh at the idea that Oprah's living her life in her price range is somehow misinfluencing the good people of America. Downsize to inspire others to do the same? Are you for real? How and why is it Oprah's responsibility to do any such thing??? Is this the responsibility of all celebrities, or the richest ones, or the female ones or what??? So Oprah is generous - all the shiniest celebs are - George Clooney, Brangelina, etc. Sure she has a platform where others dont but I dont think Oprah has yet cast herself as Mother Teresa.

The comparison to Dr Height is the biggest mystery of this commentary. I'll say no more.

Posted by: chyn9 | April 26, 2010 9:03 AM
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ms mcguire it is unfortunate you chose to compare ms winfrey to a deceased lady.could it be cause dead or alive all blacks think alike, vote alike and have the same temperament.
i would never compare you with another white lady who knows her food intake limit.
ms winfrey made her millions and thus has the right to spend her money as she sees fit.if she throws it in lake michigan that is her prerogative.
and just because you are a billionaire does not preclude you from acting like a spoiled diva.
you people's green eyed jealousy of any black person that does not have to ask you for anything is quite obvious.
live your life and let the black people with money live theirs.

Posted by: ninnafaye | April 25, 2010 4:00 PM
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