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The Real Transformers

The Real Transformers
Spring 2010 | Volume 33, Number 1 | Features

Making History: Catalysts for Change

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey
Photo of Oprah Winfrey by John McConnico/Associated Press.

As an American media personality, Oprah Winfrey is influential in many spheres — television, film, books, and magazines.

While others pioneered daytime talk shows, she is credited with unleashing our daytime confession culture, in which publicly sharing intimate details of one’s life serves as a form of therapy. Her book club has shaped the literary taste of the masses. And to some, her role as an inspirational figure even helped to elect America’s first African-American president.

What about Winfrey compels people to follow her? As is often the case for transformational leaders, her life was shaped out of tragic experiences. She was born into poverty to a teenage single mother. Winfrey was sexually abused as a child, and as a teenager, gave birth to a baby who died shortly after birth.

These experiences give her an empathetic perspective. She knows struggle firsthand. Although Winfrey is now in a wealthy and powerful position, she can relate to her audience’s struggles, and they can identify with her. She doesn’t appear unattainable; instead, she appears grounded and approachable.

“She seems to be quite in tune with the needs and desires of a large portion of America, given her viewing audience,” says Boyd. “She addresses topics that are intended to help people become the best they can be, and she appears vulnerable and ‘real’ in herself. This helps increase people’s willingness to make her a role model for themselves.”

As a result, she has inspired hope and optimism in many people over the years. Her willingness to share her struggles and successes along the way, and her ability to make individuals in her wide audience of viewers and readers feel like she’s responding directly to them, have encouraged people to be more vulnerable and to seek ways to improve their lives.


Winston Churchill

Rosa Parks

Martin Luther King Jr.

Mother Teresa

Oprah Winfrey

Steve Jobs

Nelson Mandela

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