How Oprah Overcame Extreme Hardship

Oprah Winfrey, the queen of everything, has gone through a lot to get to where she is today. Against all odds, she worked her way up from severe poverty, climbing the ranks in the television broadcast world to become the host of one of the most successful daytime talk shows in history—and eventually owning her own network. Not to mention she publishes her own magazine with her own face on it every month. She is truly the best. Here are all of the extreme hardships Oprah had to overcome to be the badass media mogul she is today.






Just revealed this new cover of @O_Magazine – 1 of my faves ever – Let's talk about HAIR!


A photo posted by Oprah (@oprah) on Aug 5, 2013 at 7:30am PDT



She grew up very poor

Winfrey's mother Vernita Lee was a housemaid, and just 18 years old when she had Winfrey. Her father, Vernon, was a soldier. Neither could support Winfrey when she was growing up, so she lived with her grandmother in Mississippi, wearing potato sacks as clothes. She had pet cockroaches and made a doll out of dried corn cob. She says they had no running water or electricity at home.

She moved between family members as a kid

Winfrey's parents sent her to live with her grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee, for the first five years of her life. Her grandmother taught her how to read before the age of three, and introduced her to religion. Her grandmother later sent her to live with her mom in Wisconsin, where her mother's racist roommate made her sleep outside because of her darker complexion. As if sleeping outside wasn't enough, her mother soon kicked her out of the house altogether.

Her grandmother beat her

Winfrey was often whipped by her grandmother and then "wasn't allowed to have any emotion about it," she explained on her network in 2014. Her grandmother would demand that she "stop crying" while being whipped, and afterwards she'd be told to "put a smile on your face." Winfrey later realized that holding in these emotions affected her as an adult, giving her a "disease to please" even at her own expense.

She was kicked out of her house at 14

Years after she moved in with her mother, Winfrey was sent to a juvenile detention home, which happened to be at capacity at the time and couldn't take her. Her mother didn't even want her in the house for the two-week waiting period to get into the detention center, so Winfrey was sent to live with her father in Tennessee. Oprah says this moment "changed the trajectory" of her life.

She was sexually assaulted as a child

At the David Letterman lecture series in 2012, Winfrey talked about being brutally raped at the age of nine by her cousin, and regularly sexually assaulted from ages 10 to14, often by family members. Winfrey said that the tragedies she's faced make it easier for her to empathize with people on her show. "Everyone is looking for that validation," she said. "I know what it feels like to not be wanted...you can use it as a stepping stone to build great empathy for people."

She lost her first and only child

When she was 14 years old, Winfrey had a baby prematurely. The child, a boy, died in the hospital weeks later. Winfrey apparently named him "Canaan," because it means "new land, new life." One of Winfrey's relatives sold the story of her lost son to the National Enquirer for $19,000 in 1990, leaving Winfrey to publicly face a painful chapter from her past—and feel betrayed. Despite the horrific incident, she has no regrets about not having kids later in life, saying, "If I had kids, my kids would hate me. They would have ended up on the equivalent of the Oprah show talking about me, because something [in my life] would have had to suffer and it would've probably been them."

She was fired from her first TV job

Oprah was fired from her first television anchor job in Baltimore at WJZ. A producer pulled her off the air, saying she was "unfit for television news." She often laughed and cried during stories, being too emotionally attached to report the news. The qualities that made her a bad news anchor happened to make her a perfect host. Her firing turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as she was then hired to host a daytime TV show, People Are Talking, which went on to be a hit.

She's been sexually harassed in the newsroom

At the same Baltimore TV station that fired Winfrey, she says she faced appallingly inappropriate treatment on a regular basis. The media mogul later recalled her less-than-pleasant memories of anchor Jerry Turner, adding, "Oh my god, I was so sexually harassed." During her time at WJZ, Winfrey alleged that she was "humiliated" and "embarrassed" by the way she was treated.

She still has to deal with racist idiots

While visiting Zurich, Sweden for Tina Turner's wedding in 2013, Winfrey walked into a store and spotted a $40,000 bag she wanted to look at. When she asked the saleswoman if she could see the bag, the clerk replied, "No, it's too expensive." Winfrey asked two more times, and the woman refused to get the bag. "I could've had the whole blow-up thing and thrown down the black card, but why do that?" Winfrey told Entertainment Tonight. "But that clearly is, you know ... [racism] still exists. Of course it does."

Oprah for President

All of this is to underscore the obvious: Oprah Winfrey is strong as hell. Despite and because of all the adversity she's had to overcome, she is now one of the wealthiest self-made women in the world, with a net worth of about $3 billion. She's the world's first black woman billionaire. She made $70 million just by talking about how much she loves bread for Weight Watchers, has launched the career of countless big names like Rachel Ray and Dr. Phil, and eats breakfast with zebras on the regular like it's no big deal. Needless to say, she will never wear another potato sack.