Where Oprah led, Robyn Okrant followed. The 37-year-old Chicago-based yoga instructor devised a novel pop culture experiment: What if she stuck to the gospel according to Oprah Winfrey, chapter and verse, every day for a year?
The results ran from the sublime (adopting a rescue pet and becoming involved in charity work) to the ridiculous (buying leopard-print shoes). Now the results of Okrant’s year of slavish devotion to the Big O are chronicled in her new book, “Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk.”
In her book, one part cheeky memoir and one part sociological study, Okrant writes that she followed Oprah’s words to a T. “I committed to taking all of her suggestions quite literally and would leave as little to interpretation as possible.”
It cost her 1,200 hours of her life and some $4,700 out of her pocketbook, but Okrant told Meredith Vieira live on TODAY that a woman could do worse than taking Oprah’s advice, even if it can be exhausting.
“I think one of the best things about Oprah is that her audience looks at her like she’s their BFF, so it doesn’t feel like she’s preaching; it feels like she’s sharing,” Okrant said. “But I do think it felt like we were this pack of high-schoolers that was looking to the popular girl for advice. We could all be part of this clique.”
Okrant’s all Oprah, all the time experiment began New Year’s Day 2008, and followed a three-pronged formula. She watched Oprah’s daily talk show, read O, The Oprah Magazine, and combed Winfrey’s Web site looking for directives.
Some of the advice Oprah put forth had little relevance to Okrant’s life, but she acquiesced. She bought a backyard firepit, even though she and her husband, Jim Stevens, have no backyard. She bought garden tools, although the apartment dwellers have no garden.
Okrant even bought leopard-print flats, which she calls “mortifying,” when Oprah listed them as one of 10 things every lady should have in her closet. “Maybe I should have left them in my closet,” Okrant joked.
But even worse than racking up her credit card bill with Oprah-advised purchases was following the media queen’s more intimate advice: Oprah’s tips on better living in the bedroom proved to be a dud for her and her husband’s sex life.
“It got a little bit boring, to be honest — I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Jim!” Okrant told Vieira while also addressing her husband. She added that in the year since she’s been off the do-as-Oprah-says program her marital relations have improved. “Now there’s more flair to it, that’s for sure!”
Some of Oprah’s suggestions did prove uplifting to Okrant when it came to trying to make the world around her a better place. The couple’s beloved adoptive cat, Selma (who sleeps in the otherwise useless firepit Okrant purchased), as well as her philanthropic work, have been a positive addition to Okrant’s life.
“I love Selma, and I actually think one of the best parts was this sort of hands-on philanthropy,” Okrant told Vieira. “I had my own book drive and gave books to women in prison, and that meant a lot to me.”
Okrant admitted she had a crisis of conscience when she decided to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary because Oprah was backing him. She had been juggling between Obama and Hillary Clinton, but eventually cast her lot with Obama in a decision she said “felt really heavy.”
She admitted she was little more than a casual fan of Oprah’s going into her experiment, but Okrant told Vieira she came out of her Oprah year learning more about herself.
“I think the point is that women are inundated with information about how we’re supposed to be happy, how we’re supposed to look to outsiders, and I think we buy into so much of it on magazine stands,” she said.
“I wanted to see what would happen if one of us actually put all this information to the test.”
Weaning herself off the media queen
Okrant spent much of 2009 penning her book, and told Vieira she now only occasionally tunes in to the Queen of Talk’s TV show. “I watch the big ones. I watch if she has Sarah Palin or Whitney Houston on. But other than that, I have quieter mornings now.”
She is sad that Winfrey is pulling the plug on her syndicated talk show next year, packing up her production offices in Chicago and heading to Los Angeles to concentrate on the liftoff of her own Oprah Winfrey Network. But Okrant also sees another life lesson Winfrey is teaching in making the bold move.
“I’m sad for Chicago: I’m a Chicagoan, and she’s an institution there,” Okrant told Vieira. “But I think she’s proving a great example for those of us who are in a rut and are people pleasers. All of her fans want her to stay, but she’s going out on top and so I admire her choice quite a bit.”
While Winfrey’s office issued a statement early on in Okrant’s experiment calling it “novel,” she hasn’t heard from the Grand Lady herself — or been offered a seat on her talk show to plug her book.
“Who knows? Maybe it’s sitting on her bedside table right now under her cup of tea.”