Oprah Winfrey "struggles with her weight. She overcame depression. She rose from a childhood marked by poverty and abuse. On all these levels she appeals to a Saudi woman. People really idolize her here," Riyadh spa owner Princess Reema bint Bandar al-Saud tells the New York Times in an article about Oprah's very devoted Saudi fan base. Socioeconomically diverse Saudi women are so enamored with Winfrey that they pass around dog-eared copies of O: the Oprah Magazine brought back from Western sojourns and watch Oprah's show religiously. What's interesting is not only that Oprah is insanely popular in Saudi Arabia, but also that she's popular for the same reason she's popular in the U.S.: she serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for many women who feel trapped.I wrote a story for the Times over the summer about a blogger on a site named Living Oprah who decided to live her life based on Oprah's counsel for a full year. Living Oprah, aka Robyn Okrant, told me that women "want [Oprah's] personal help, because they think she has the secret…She has a private plane and she came from nothing. If she's lifted herself up from the horrible background she came from, she's got the key. When she gives advice it's sort of like doling out some of that." And just like American women, Saudi women long for Oprah's personal touch. A Saudi woman named Nayla who was interviewed for today's Times article sends the big O-racle a letter once a month, and even though she has yet to receive a response, Nayla says, "I feel that Oprah truly understands me…She gives me energy and hope for my life. Sometimes I think that she is the only person in the world who knows how I feel." Oprah's influence has even inspired some Saudi women to stand up to their husbands in the incredibly male-dominated Saudi society. One woman interviewed tells this story: "I have a friend whose driver touched her in an inappropriate way. She was very young at the time, but she felt very guilty about it - and Oprah helped her to speak about this abuse with her mother." It's been pointed out by many, myself included, that Oprah's show has threads of materialism that are deeply problematic. However, articles like today's about Winfrey's positive impact on women from all walks of life are some of our favorite things. Saudi Women Find an Unlikely Role Model: Oprah [NY Times] Life In The Time of Oprah [Oprah]
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