Orange is the New Black: In defense of Piper Chapman


She’s the character many love to hate on Orange is the New Black. But Piper Chapman has gotten an undeserved bad rap.

If you look on any number of Orange is the New Black websites, you won’t see a lot of love for Piper. In fact, some have gone so far as to say she shouldn’t even be on the show! Depending on your own life experience, Piper may seem at times whiny and privileged, which is pretty valid.

But for some of us, she’s a very relatable character. For some of us who struggle with the simplest things — like, say, germs, insects and anything gross — Piper’s difficulty adjusting to prison life without flip-flops makes perfect sense. Of course, those of us who relate to her may be whiners too and not even realize it.

That aside, Piper has many good qualities. Despite what some have said, the series wouldn’t be the same without her.

The point-of-view factor

Today, OITNB features a diverse ensemble cast, where many different perspectives are represented. But in the beginning, the story was about a white yuppie woman having to leave her comfortable life of diet cleanses and bath products to go to prison. Based on the true story of Piper Kerman from her book, Orange is the New Black, the show took us into prison life from her point of view. Just as it would be different if everything had been told from Tasha’s point of view, this is Piper’s story.

Even if OITNB weren’t based on a true story, her privileged background makes sense. From a writer’s point of view, this type of character would seem to have the most difficult time adjusting, creating endless opportunities for conflict and even comedy.

She could have been shopping at Pottery Barn one day and then found herself suddenly being strip-searched by a no-nonsense prison guard the next. Piper helps those of us who would have never given it a second thought to understand the isolation and dehumanization of prison life.

Her own brand of intelligence

In the very beginning, Piper makes an off-handed critical remark about Red’s food. So Red (Kate Mulgrew) begins to starve her. Meal after meal, Piper isn’t served.

As a result, Piper tries the only approach that has ever worked in the world she comes from: talking it out and apologizing. But this won’t work here. Red explains why, even feeling somewhat sorry for her. Once Red’s perceived as weak, she will be weakened.

So Piper has to do something nice for her, which will show Red’s followers why she deserves to be back in Red’s good graces. And Piper is resourceful. Using chewed up jalapenos (eek!), she’s able to make a lotion for Red’s sore back, something similar to what Piper had sold in her artisanal bath product line. It’s a long shot, but it works.


You have to admit that a woman whose biggest concern is the size of her engagement ring doesn’t seem a likely candidate to survive prison. But as with everything else, Piper is an overachiever.

So she tries on the tough persona to survive. Yeah, she goes overboard, but she’s doing what she thinks she has to. Speaking of overachieving, say what you want about her, but when Piper commits to something, she goes all in.

Sure, the nasty underwear business may have been ill-advised, but it does work! You have to admire her pluckiness. Even in season 6, she’s still trying to make the best out of a bad situation.


When straight society often only sees women who love women as butch, it’s nice to see a character who could be on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. Nothing teaches mainstream society more about LGBT characters than to turn stereotypes upside-down. Granted, Piper seems closer to being bisexual (despite Orange is the New Black‘s not using the term).

The object of Piper’s affection, the jet-setting lesbian Alex (Laura Prepon), might also not show up on anyone’s gaydar. Alex is a beguiling character who leans a little on the Goth side. Piper and Alex’s relationship is sweet, twisted, and frustrating, like so many real-life relationships.

No matter what anyone says, the sparks between these two generate enough heat to power the entire series, even if sometimes they make you want to bang your head against a wall.

The gateway

Piper is the intro character in season 1. Because of her, we go on a journey in subsequent seasons that includes characters not seen enough on either the big or small screen: black women, Hispanic women, women over the age of 40, LGBT women, and women with mental and terminal illnesses.

This is so important because we’re living in a pack-like society where your social media tends to be filled with friends who look like you and who share your political views. Granted, for some of us it would be too stressful to argue politics every day when all we want is to play Candy Crush.

But because of these packs, we tend to live in a bubble where our own ideas are constantly reinforced. Those of us who could relate more to Piper have had our eyes opened to others’ life experiences that differ from our own.

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So even though Piper is sometimes the over-the-top cheerleader amidst inmates who are trying to fashion weapons out of toothbrushes, remember that she has opened many viewers’ eyes to the realities not only of prison, but also of minorities trying to survive in this world.

For all of that, she’s a character worth rooting for.