In conversation with our 22nd Anniversary Issue cover star & global icon, Oprah Winfrey
"That's my ultimate goal: self-actualisation. And I want that for everyone."
Oprah is an emotion. She is one of those rare single-moniker icons who is synonymous with strength, passion, optimism, and above all, kindness. She radiates an intelligence that is intuitive, and an unstoppable hope. In a candid conversation with Supriya Dravid, she talks about the power of detachment, staying true to your core, and how self-actualisation can be empowering.
ELLE: How can we teach young men to be better feminists?
Oprah Winfrey: You can only teach what you truly believe. So, when you believe your daughters are equal to your sons, then you raise them in a way that there is equal respect for all genders, and they come to know it. But if you, as a man, are raised in a household where all the women are considered inferior, and that they are there to serve you, it is kind of hard to then grow up and be told something completely different, because your brain has been wired to believe something else. So, I think it starts at home, with a new generation of boys being raised to believe that girls are their equals, and sometimes, their superiors.
ELLE: How do you get along with people whose political beliefs are different from your own?
OW: Oh my gosh! Listen, I live in a neighbourhood where lots of people believe different things than I do. But I think the most important thing is to understand that although we can all have different political or religious beliefs, we can still have the same core values. Do we respect the right of others to believe what they want to believe, first and foremost? Do we accept that every human being has certain inalienable rights? Do we hold the opinion that everyone has the right to pursue what they feel is their own path to success? I don’t have a lot of friends who feel as I do, particularly when it comes to politics. But we have the same fundamental core beliefs about what really matters in the world.
ELLE: How does one stay positive when it feels like the world is in turmoil?
OW: I think you can’t stay positive unless you have a deeper core understanding of relationships—your own, other people’s, and other living things’ with the “greater thing”, by whatever name you choose to call God. So, if you are just thinking about your own little world, and your own stuff that is going on, of course you can feel overwhelmed and hopeless. But if you understand the bigger picture—that no matter what crisis we are going through at any given moment, there has always been a bigger one prior. Know that whatever is happening, this too, shall pass.
ELLE: In the last five years, what new habit has changed or improved your life?
OW: I would say that in the last five years, I have refined the habit of being fully present at any given moment. I learnt meditation around ten years ago, and then became an avid practitioner. That was life-transforming, because it allows you to recentre every day and understand that you are not the centre of the world. It also allows you to connect to the Source, by whichever name you call it. But I would say that the greatest practice is not even meditation. It is being fully present in whatever moment you are experiencing. It is giving you my full attention in this interview and then moving to whatever the next thing is, and giving that my full attention too so that I am wholly, one hundred per cent engaged in whatever I am doing at any given moment.
ELLE: What is the most important lesson that you learnt from your childhood?
OW: The most important lesson that I learnt from my childhood is that there is indeed amazing grace. Because if you look at where I was born, how I was raised…in such really, you know, very poor circumstances—no running water, no electricity, in rural Mississippi at a time when it was an apartheid state— the chances of me being who I am, where I am…nobody would have believed it was possible. So yes, the lesson is that amazing grace does exist.
ELLE: Does it seem unbelievable that women still have to fight for equality in 2018?
OW: No, it does not seem unbelievable. It seems kind of miraculous that we are as far along as we are, considering where we were at the turn of the 20th century, when, you know, we actually got the right to vote. We are further along, particularly in the United States, than in a lot of other countries. It seems like it is a part of the human condition. That’s how it seems to me. So I don’t feel like it’s a case of “we should have been further than we are”. I feel like we are exactly where we are supposed to be in this moment in time, and all of us who can raise our voices should use them in such a way that we can make part progress; you will do that in your lifetime, and then the next generation will do that in their lifetime. So, we are exactly where we are supposed to be in this moment.
ELLE: Is empowerment an overused phrase in the conversation around feminism?
OW: No, I don’t think it’s overused. I think that it’s sometimes misused. Because what you actually want is actualisation. You want the actualisation of this empowerment. So, I think the word gets thrown around whenever anybody is making any kind of speech about women. But what I strive for is self-actualisation. And I want to help both women and men see and experience that for themselves. That’s my ultimate goal: self-actualisation. And I want that for everybody. I don’t want to just be empowered; I want to be actualised, actually empowered.
ELLE: So if you are scared to do it, it’s usually a good sign that you should?
OW: No, I think if you are scared to do it, then you should listen to that inner voice. I used to wake up in the middle of the night, scared to start the network. And that was my inner GPS soul system trying to fire me up to say: wait, wait, wait. So if you’re scared to do it, when you have a doubt, it usually means don’t. Until you know what to do. When you don’t know what to do, and you’re scared, wait until you’ve calmed down enough and feel like, ah yes, I can take that leap. Fear is there for a reason, and I don’t believe that if you’re afraid it means you should do it. Fear means think about it. It means caution; it means pay attention to what you’re feeling until you have clarity about moving forward.
ELLE: How do you harness your spiritual energy?
OW: I understand what the French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, and know it to be true: I am a spiritual being having a human experience. And not vice versa. So, I live my life like that. And that’s why a lot of things that upset other people don’t upset me—I feel one-step removed from it. I feel like, oh that’s what these humans do. Many times, when I am driving across the George Washington bridge, coming into New York, I think: look at all these humans, everybody fighting, everybody arguing, you know, in our space, in our culture where differences make people feel one-sided or feel like they are better than others. It’s just humans being human. And it makes me think, maybe humans have been doing this for a long time and still haven’t figured it out. So, I feel onestep removed in knowing that it’s the human way to have yin and yang. That’s what the planet earth is all about: darkness and light. And sometimes, people are moving further in the direction of darkness than I would prefer. But there is always light, and it only takes one candle to banish the darkness.
Oprah seen here with Mark Seliger’s goldendoodle, Willie Seliger Velvet kaftan, made by special order, Sabyasachi. Rock crystal, ruby and diamond earrings, price on request, Hanut Singh. Tourmaline ring, rubellite ring; both prices on request, Marie-Hélène de Taillac. Gold-plated bangle, price on request, Amrapali
Oprah seen here with Mark Seliger’s goldendoodle, Willie Seliger
Velvet kaftan, made by special order, Sabyasachi. Rock crystal, ruby and diamond earrings, price on request, Hanut Singh. Tourmaline ring, rubellite ring; both prices on request, Marie-Hélène de Taillac. Gold-plated bangle, price on request, Amrapali
Photographs: Mark Seliger
Styling: Malini Banerji
Hair: Nicole Mangrum
Make-up: Derrick Rutledge
Manicurist: Mary Soul / Dior Beauty using Dior Vernis
Set Design: Todd Wiggins / The Magnet Agency
Production: Alexey Galetskiy and Ryan Fahey/AGPNYC
Fashion Editor: Rahul Vijay
Fashion Intern: Aparna Phogat
Flying partner: Singapore Airlines
Assisted by: John Kelsey and Davis McCutcheon (Photography)