Oprah Gail Winfrey
Lifespan development begins from birth and includes all happenings in a person’s life until their death. Oprah Gail Winfrey was born on January 29, 1954 in a small farm in Kosciusko, Mississippi (Krohn 4). Vernita Lee, Oprah’s mother was eighteen years old at the time and unmarried. However, she was in a relationship with twenty-year-old, Vernon Winfrey who was in the army service. At the time of Oprah’s birth, Vernita was still living with her mother and did not have a source of income. Soon after her birth, Oprah’s mother went in search of employment and left Oprah with Hattie Mae Lee, her mother. Life in the farm was not so pleasant as Oprah’s grandmother was poor. They did not have enough money to cater for their basic needs like food and clothing. Oprah’s grandmother knew the importance of education and taught her granddaughter basic reading skills at an early age. She was also introduced to the Christian religion at this early age and would often recite poems at the local church.
When Oprah turned six, she went to live with her mother Vernita in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which was an urban neighborhood as compared to the farm in Mississippi (Krohn 8). During this period, she did not get as much support as would have been required since her mother had to work long hours as a housemaid. Oprah had a hard time settling in this neighborhood and was raped by one of her cousins when she was nine years old. This case went unreported and she was sexually harassed by one of her mother’s friends and an uncle. As there was no therapy to help her deal with the trauma, she became rebellious and ran away from home at the age of thirteen. Subsequently, she engaged in promiscuous sexual behavior, which resulted in a pregnancy at the age of fourteen. However, her delivery was unsuccessful as she had a stillborn child. This added to her trauma and her mother sent her to live with her father in Nashville, Tennessee (Garson 9).
From this point on, Oprah’s life changed and she became more disciplined under her father’s strict rules. Additionally, her grades at school improved and her success could be seen from her participation in various contests in East Nashville High School (Krohn 17). Moreover, her career path started taking shape after she joined the speech team and won an oratory contest helping her secure a scholarship at Tennessee State University. Her teenage years were also characterized by her winning beauty pageants in her neighborhood. Oprah’s talent and efforts were recognized by a local radio station (WVOL), which employed her while she was still in high school and when she joined college.
At the age of twenty-two, Oprah wanted to pursue her career further and she moved to Baltimore. Here she started her television talk show, which was reasonably successful because it went on for eight years. After this, she was employed by a Chicago broadcasting company as the host of a morning show, which was an opening in her career as a TV personality. In 1986, and at the age of 32, the show was renamed to the Oprah Winfrey Show as it had attracted the attention of many Americans. The content being shown in the show changed in 1990 when Oprah decided to cover social issues that affected people. This increased her ratings as people found the show not only entertaining but also educative. The Oprah Winfrey show has lasted for twenty-five years and is expected to end in 2011.
Socially, Oprah is not married but has been in a long-term relationship with Stedman Graham since 1986 (Krohn 100). Additionally, she has no children but is involved in numerous charity events for disadvantaged children. Her contributions are distributed through the Oprah’s Angel Network. One of her most notable efforts is her contributions towards enhancing the lives of South African children affected by AIDS and poverty. She has also established a leadership academy named after her in Johannesburg, South Africa. Additionally, she is credited for her support to President Barrack Obama during the 2008 elections. She continues to be one of the most influential people worldwide. Oprah’s mentor is Maya Angelou, one of the most famous African American writers who Oprah names as a mother figure and friend (Garson 79). Her influence on how people react to different issues is profound and she is often called to give her opinion on societal issues.
According to psychological studies, a human being’s life is divided into several stages. Over the years, various theories have been brought up explaining the different stages that every human being must go through in their life. As much as these theories talk about the same thing, they have some similar and some differing points depending on era and personal views that they exhibited during their time. One of the most famous psychologists of the twentieth century is Erik Erikson who developed one of the most popular theories of human development. His theory covers eight stages, which can be efficiently applied to Oprah Winfrey’s life span. The stages are divided in reference to a person’s age and experiences and how these affect the future stages.
The first stage in Erikson’s theory of development spans 0 to 1 years and is referred to as trust vs. mistrust or the oral sensory phase (Berk17). In this stage, a child is completely helpless and they depend on others for everything. In this phase, if the parent or any other caregiver meets a child’s needs, the child will develop trust. This enables a child to achieve comfort and reliance on the ability of the caregiver to provide for their needs. In Oprah’s life, her grandmother was the one taking care of her at this stage. Although she did not have financial power to cater for all her needs, she tried and thus Oprah developed a reasonable level of trust to move to the next stage. The second stage is called autonomy vs. shame and doubt or the muscular-anal stage. This phase of development takes place between one to three years. During this phase, a child is able to achieve some level of independence only if they are encouraged by the caregivers. A child in this stage has the ability to choose what she wants depending on the freedom granted to her. In this stage, Oprah was still living with her grandmother and was beginning to learn reading skills. This enabled her to achieve some sort of autonomy as she could choose whatever books she wanted to read.
In Erikson’s theory, the third stage is referred to as initiative vs. guilt or the locomotor stage (Sigelman and Rider 55). A child between the ages of three to five years is said to be in this stage. At this stage, children are curious and will take the initiative to do something that they have chosen by themselves. This may be a good or a bad thing. If the caregiver encourages the child to continue with the activity, it will be embedded in their behavior. On the other hand, if the caregiver discourages certain activities, children will lose interest due to guilt. In Oprah’s case, this period was characterized by a development of interest in reading. Her grandmother supported her and encouraged this behavior. Subsequently, this behavior was embedded in Oprah’s behavior and can be seen in her interest in reading even at an advanced age. The fourth stage is referred to as industriousness vs. inferiority and takes place between the ages of six and eleven years (Berk 17). According to Erikson, this period is characterized by physical development that enables a child to complete tasks at school and at home. Additionally, this stage is formative since unrecognized efforts may lead to the development of inferiority complex and low self-esteem. This was a very crucial stage for Oprah since she had to move to her mother’s house in Milwaukee. Due to the lack of support from her mother, Oprah developed feelings of being inferior to others leading to low grades in school. Additionally, the lack of attention from her mother could have led to her delinquency.
In Erikson’s theory, the fifth stage is referred to as identity vs. role confusion (Sigelman and Rider 50). This occurs between the ages of twelve to eighteen and is commonly known as adolescence. In this period, a person is developing physically and they are very conscious about self-image. Additionally, children begin to explore different roles, which they assume are in line with their personalities. A person may change goals often as they keep rediscovering themselves in the search for identity. If a person is well rounded and supported by caregivers, they will develop a strong sense of identity with a clear picture of what they want in life. However, if this is the opposite, a person will be in an identity crisis. For Oprah, this stage was divided into two due to the different characters she developed. When she was eleven to fourteen years old, Oprah was in an identity crisis, as she did not know who she was or what she wanted to be. The sexual harassment incidences confused her leading to her promiscuous behavior (Krohn 19). Additionally, the pregnancy and the death of the baby was the turning point as she went to live with her father. Due to the strict and supportive nature of her father, she was able to find an identity and improve her grades while understanding her talents in public speaking. In the years between her fourteenth and eighteenth years, she had developed confidence and retreated from the confusions that had existed when she was younger.
The sixth stage is referred to as intimacy vs. isolation and lasts between eighteen and thirty five years. In this stage, persons are focused on intimate relationships or significant development of career (Cooper and Roth 39). For Oprah, this stage was characterized by growth in her career, which lessened her focus on intimate relationships. The seventh stage is called generativity vs. stagnation and lasts between the ages of thirty-five to fifty-five. A person in this stage is actively involved with future generation as a parent or as a mentor (Cooper and Roth 40). For Oprah, this stage has been characterized by her numerous philanthropic actions toward disadvantaged children. Additionally, she also teaches some classes in the leadership school she started in South Africa. The last developmental stage takes place when a person is fifty-five years and above and is referred to as ego integrity vs. despair or maturity (Cooper and Roth 42). People in this stage focus on evaluating their life and accepting who they are and their life achievements. Oprah is currently in this stage and this can be seen from her ending the talk show and starting her own network. This shows that she has settled and is ready to take on a less active role in the business.
Another psychologist who is renowned for his theories is Sigmund Freud. His theories on lifespan development focus more on a psychosexual perspective as opposed to that of Erikson. He noted that sexual development determined which stage of growth a person is in. This led to the formation of a phased out theory, which explained child development depending on the source of pleasure. The first stage is referred to as oral and occurs from birth to one year. At this stage, a child learns how to suckle the breast or the bottle and this is the mouth represents a source of pleasure and satisfaction. During this period, a child expects the caregiver to meet his or her oral needs adequately. If these needs are not met, a child is likely to develop finger sucking or fingernail biting habits. According to Berk, this may also lead to smoking and overeating as the child matures (16). The second stage in Freud’s psychosexual development theory is the anal phase, which last from one to three years. During this phase, caregivers focus on toilet training as a form of physical and cognitive development. In this perspective, caregivers have to start this training at the right time and give children the chance to develop. If they are too strict, children may fail to develop this important skill.
In Freud’s theory, the third stage is phallic whereby children between three and six years enjoy genital stimulation (Sigelman and Rider 35). Additionally, this period may lead to the development of Oedipus and Electra complexes. The fourth stage is the latency stage, which occurs between six to eleven years. Children in this stage lose interest in sexual activities and focuses on same-sex friendships. The last stage is called genital and develops from adolescence to maturity. In this stage, people focus on mature sexual behavior, which may lead to marriage and childbirth (Sigelman and Rider 36). Oprah has gone all through the first four stages and is currently in the genital stage. Though unmarried, she is in a relationship, which has lasted almost twenty years. However, the early pregnancy may have led to her lack of interest in child bearing.
Jean Piaget is renowned for his theory on human cognitive development. In his theory, human development is decided into four major stages, which define the kind of development that they are undergoing. The first stage is called sensorimotor and last from birth to two years (Berk 19). During this stage, the thinking process is restricted to what children see, hear, touch and taste. As the child develops further, they are able to solve simple problems like how to hold a bottle so that they can suckle. The next stage is called the preoperational phase which occurs at two to seven years of age (Berk 19). A child uses symbols to recreate real life and engage in learning activities. Additionally, playing techniques are more advanced and language capabilities develop rapidly. This is the stage where Oprah learnt to read. With the help of her grandmother, she was able to discover the use of language as both an entertaining and educative tool.
The third stage is called the concrete operational stage and it occurs in children between seven to eleven years. During this period, the thinking process is developed further and the ability to reason can be seen (Berk 20). Additionally, children attend school and are able to understand the different concepts taught at school including some mathematical problems. However, children in this phase are limited to thinking about issues that are related to real life situations. The last stage, which extends to adult hood begins at seven years of age and is called formal operation (Berk 20). By the time a child reaches this stage, they are able to think logically and analyze logically. Additionally, the process of abstract thought is developed making it possible to analyze issues that may not be related to real life situations. Oprah showed signs of reaching this stage when she improved her grades in school, participated, and won different contests.
Charles Darwin is considered the father of human lifespan development studies. His interest in studying evolution led to the development of different theories to explain stages of human development. His first publications were recordings of his child’s behavior as he developed. Charles Darwin understood that over time, people change hence the importance of studying the different phases of development. Additionally, he introduced the idea of continuity in behavior, which meant there was an intricate relationship in the different stages of development (Cooper and Roth 50). The theory of natural selection can be applied in Oprah’s case, since her life exemplifies some of the ideas expressed by this theory. For example, natural selection indicates that a person inherits some traits from their parent and Oprah may have inherited her strong personality from her father. Additionally, the theory also shows that the outside environment highly influences these traits modifying them to fit the society. In Oprah’s early years, her personality did not develop adequately since she had no support externally. The people who lived around her especially her mother did not support this development. However, when she moved in with her father, her behavior changed as the external environment proved favorable for the change.
As seen from the discussion above, various theories can be used to understand Oprah Winfrey’s lifespan development over the years. Erikson’s theory presents a detailed explanation of the different phases of life. Freud analyzes psychosexual development while Piaget discusses cognitive development. As for Darwin, he serves as the introduction to developmental studies. Nonetheless, the most applicable theory for Oprah’s life is that of Erik Erikson. This is because it is more detailed and perfectly fits into Oprah’s lifespan development.
Berk, Laura. Development through the Lifespan. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2010. Print
Cooper, Troy and Ilona, Roth. Challenging Psychological Issues. Milton Keynes: Open University, 2002. Print.
Garson, Helen. Oprah Winfrey: A Biography. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2004. Print.
Krohn, Katherine. Oprah Winfrey: Global Media Leader. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 2009. Print.
Sigelman, Carol and Elizabeth, Rider. Life-span Human Development. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009. Print.