Student inspires nude movement

When twenty-year-old Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, a university student in Cairo, posted a nude photograph of herself on her blog, some stated that the photo served as a “scream against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy.”

While some Egyptians commended her bravery, many feared that the pictures could affect the Egyptian liberal’s image, making it seem to be pro-nudity — not a popular image in the conservative country. Elmahdy and her boyfriend were later charged with “violating morals, inciting indecency and insulting Islam.”

On Mar. 8 — International Women’s Day — 13 women from around the world released the Nude Photo Revolutionary Calendar in response to and in solidarity with Elmahdy’s initial photograph. According to its creator Maryam Namazie, the calendar is meant to serve as a response to the “obsession” that Islam and the religious right-wing have with women’s bodies, where nudity is seen as “an important form of resistance and defiance.”

The calendar has already received some negative feedback. One such response came from Iranian women’s activist Azar Majedi, who argued that “it uses women’s nudity to increase profits just like the tabloids” and subsequently does nothing to argue for the rights of women. Although the nude body can carry sexual connotations, sexuality is just one of many elements that can fall under the umbrella of nudity. This is still true despite the fact that sex has become the predominant idea associated with nudity as a result of the indoctrination at the hands of popular culture. Factoring this in, it seems clear to me that nudity can be used to speak out against the aforementioned social constructions of bodily shame without having anything to do with sex.

Looking at the pictures of the Nude Photo Revolutionary Calendar, the first word that jumps to my mind is not “sex,” but “strength.” Although the women in the calendar have had different experiences relating to their bodies than Elmahdy because of the cultural differences, both benefit from speaking out against society’s perspective on women and their bodies in their own way.

The calendar is a bold statement to promote respect for the body and to object to messages that your body is something to be ashamed of. By posing nude, the women send a clear message that they are not ashamed of their bodies which could not have been expressed as effectively had they been covered.

Looking at some of the horrifically sexist ads created by PETA, I will certainly acknowledge that sometimes it is used simply to attract any and all attention, which distracts from or trivializes the overall message. However, this does not mean that nudity can not be used as a very effective form of protest when the situation calls for it.

In an article in the Toronto Star, Vincent Mosco — an emeritus professor of sociology at Queen’s University and an expert in protest movements — noted that “nude protests are most powerful when there is a connection to the cause.” In other words, as long as nudity is used in protest in a way that there is a logical connection between it and the message, nudity can be a very effective tool of protest and should be embraced as such.

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