What’s a poor girl to do?
Should she wear a burqa — or should she wear very short skirts and a low-cut blouse?
Should she wear a headscarf and a shapeless, floor-length garment — or should she pose naked for Playboy magazine?
Do either of these extremes exemplify free as opposed to forced choices? Is either clothing extreme an expression of independence, resistance, or individuality?
In the last year, three Muslim women have posed nude or nearly nude in the media.
In April, Sila Sahin, a Muslim Turkish-German actress living in Berlin, posed nude on the cover of Playboy magazine. She claimed, “I did it because (I) wanted to be free at last. These photographs are a liberation from the restrictions of my childhood.” As a result, her family has cut all ties with her. Sahin further intended her photos to draw attention to the normalized gender inequality in immigrant Turkish communities. One might ask whether she hoped to achieve this by objectifying herself in a Western media outlet that is inherently sexist?
I am not challenging her right to do so. I am wondering whether she has escaped one noose only to find herself about to be hung in another way.
More recently, in December Pakistani actress Veena Malik posed nude (or nearly nude and was photoshopped) for FHM magazine in India. Again, she hoped to use her photos as a feminist platform to criticize gender bias in Islam. Why not pose in a t-shirt that says “Equal Rights for Women”? “Sexy” is nearly always sexist.
But in November, Egyptian blogger Aliaa Elmahdy posed topless on her Facebook page and blog. This photo was not sexualized and managed to remain tasteful. In an interview, Elmahdy said, “I am not shy of being a woman in a society where women are nothing but sex objects harassed on a daily basis by men who think nothing…about the importance of women.”