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How Oprah has changed the way we live

By Megan Clifford, CNN
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Oprah's influence
  • Oprah Winfrey has left her mark on our culture
  • Her talk show opened discussions about race in this country
  • Winfrey has said her message is: "You are not the product of your circumstances"

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(CNN) -- From "aha!" moments to "teachable" moments, in 25 years "The Oprah Winfrey Show" has not just become a part of our popular vernacular, it's shaped our culture. Whether you've tuned in each weekday afternoon or preferred to tune her out, "Lady O" has left her mark.

Here's our list of the top five ways "Oprah" has changed the way we live.

Weighty issues

Over the years, Oprah has chronicled every step of her personal weight struggles. Remember the red wagon full of fat she wheeled onstage?

From fasting and fad diets to embracing exercise and lifelong lifestyle changes, Oprah's candidness about issues surrounding weight created a cultural dialog that got us all talking about "living our best life." With countless health tips from Dr. Oz and Bob Greene's frequent weight loss and diet suggestions, "Oprah" has served as the personal training team for legions of followers.


Oprah got people walking, and reading. During the 14 years of Oprah's Book Club, fans bought millions of copies of Oprah's 65 selected reading suggestions. A lit pick by Oprah guaranteed additional printings and big paychecks for publishers and authors.

Controversy colored her 2005 choice of James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces" when the author was forced to admit he had made up large sections of the story of drug addiction and recovery that he touted as nonfiction.

Nonetheless, it made for great discussions at Oprah-inspired book clubs across the country.

Race relations

Oprah has always credited the sacrifice and service of the men and women involved in the civil rights movement for paving a path for a poor African- American woman from the South to transform into a beloved billionaire businesswoman. In turn, Oprah's success has inspired millions more.

"Oprah" opened discussions about race in America. During her first season, Oprah taped a show in Forsyth County, Georgia, where not a single black person had lived for 75 years. Her presence inspired conversation and slow change. Twenty-five years later, 7,000 African-Americans call Forsyth County home, and millions of Oprah's diverse fans see commonalities where they once saw differences.

iReport: How did Oprah affect your life?

Give big

In 1997, Oprah invited viewers to help make a difference in the lives of others by donating their spare change. Remember all the tear-jerking episodes of school children collecting pennies and donating the proceeds from their lemonade stands?

This simple request grew into a charity known as Oprah's Angel Network, which gave funds to hundreds of organizations around the world dedicated to improving access to education and basic rights. Oprah's Angel Network closed down in 2010, but her desire to create awareness and "give big" continues to inspire her fans to pay if forward.

Taboo topics

Issues like abuse, infidelity and addiction weren't often talked about openly before Oprah became a household name.

Oprah's willingness to share her own experiences with childhood sexual abuse and other struggles, combined with her ability to attract guests willing to reveal their secrets, made it seem safer for the rest of us. Oprah's personal journey to overcome her past, shared in small moments with her viewers over countless episodes, is the essence of the show.

When reflecting on her 25th season, Oprah recently told her best friend, Gayle King, that the message of her program is: "You are not the product of your circumstances. You are a composite of all the things you believe, and all the places you believe you can go. Your past does not define you. You can step out of your history and create a new day for yourself. Even if the entire culture is saying, 'You can't.' Even if every single possible bad thing that can happen to you does, you can keep going forward."

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