Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Arab world gets its first sexy magazine cover. But is this progress?

The Daily Mail reports that Lilac, a fashion magazine based in Israel but distributed to a broad Arab market in the Middle East, has decided to break taboos against showing female skin with this cover:

While it wouldn't get a second glance at the supermarket checkout in the West, this photo of 22-year-old model Huda Naccache would get you arrested in Saudi Arabia.

Lilac Editor in Chief Yara Mashou says it's all about women's rights.

"Since I established [Lilac] in Nazareth, Israel 10 years ago, I set out to break taboos regarding women in society... I worked on empowering and liberating [women].


I have been working for a decade on changing society so Arab women can have more rights and freedom in the Middle East."

The model herself, who comes from Haifa, had to struggle with her Christian Arab mores to take on the job:

"At the beginning, I was reluctant to appear on the cover in a bikini, because of concern to our society's norms.


Later I realised that if I want to be successful, I can't [sic] choose what I want, and I talked to my parents, who became convinced by my view. I would never do something without their blessing.

I consider myself to be bold and full of self confidence. I am not afraid to be the girl who takes the first step and opens the doors of opportunity to the other Arab models, to represent the liberal and independent young Arab woman."

I looked for conservative Muslim reaction to this, but I can't find any with my English Googling skills. Perhaps because the magazine is Israeli, and the model (who was also crowned Miss Israel Earth) is a Christian, it hasn't actually broken any serious taboos yet.

But religion aside, let's take the publisher's word for it, that this is a huge breakthrough. Is the objectification of a young model's body to sell magazines really social progress?

Where I live, some women's groups see these kinds of media images as our own form of sexual social oppression. The presumed typo in Huda's quote above, "Later I realised that if I want to be successful, I can't choose what I want" serves as a warning about the other side of the argument. Women choosing to exhibit and celebrate their physical sexuality is a wonderful freedom here; being coerced (subtly or otherwise) into doing so is an ongoing problem. Especially among the young.

Pushing the boundaries of women being able to own their sexual choices is important work in this part of the world. I'm just not sure that the fashion industry is the saviour they need.

1 comment:

  1. I just hope they don't go the "photoshop liberated" way and end up living in a world full of airbrushed supermodels with impossible bodies setting impossible standards for the rest of the female population.