Boobs over sport. Is Jackie really a hero?

Lebanese skier posed nude on the public slopes for photographer Prince Hubertus.

By now everyone has heard of Jackie Chamoun–not because she is the lone woman representing Lebanon at the Olympics in Sochi, but because of her boobs. Lebanon’s minister of sports says she violated the law by posing nude at a public ski resort and he has vowed to open an investigation.

I first discussed the story yesterday in the beat-up cab of a flat bed truck as my car was being towed. “People don’t have money to eat and they are talking about this lady,” said the driver, a burly man in his 40s with a scruffy beard. “There are people who can’t buy a sandwich,” he added, shaking his head.

It’s hard to disagree. Not only is the rampant poverty in Lebanon often overlooked but also the culprits behind rampant suicide bombings and assassinations have largely escaped with impunity due to the poor capacity of investigations into those crimes. Amid such disarray, as well as extreme levels of corruption among Lebanese ministers and the parliament as a whole, are Jackie’s breasts a priority? Clearly not.

But also perplexing is the movement to support Jackie, which has literally sprung up overnight. Several men and few women have posed partially nude pictures using the hashtag #stirpforjackie. The hashtag was trending last night, an online petition by an international organization was created and a Facebook group was opened by local photographers who have volunteered to shoot nudes (the page already has over 13,000 likes). This follows an avalanche of international media coverage and dozens of pictures posted on Instagram and Twitter. Many were thin, athletic people happy to show off their bodies. Here are some samples from a storify created by Lebanese Voices:

Like the calendar Jackie was posing for, few of the models/supporters were hairy, unsightlty or overweight.

So what about that calendar? According to Middle East Institute’s blog, Jackie and another Lebanese skier “posed in a calendar for photographer/Olympic skier Hubertus von Hohenlohe, a German prince who is representing Mexico in Sochi (I’m not making this up).” When interviewed by NBC, Jackie seemed somewhat uncomfortable with the stunt:

Of course it was a strange feeling to be on the slopes of Lebanon and produce this calendar, but it was great to be with Hubertus and his crew. It was a great experience and a lot of fun.

When you say it was weird, what do you mean?

First because it was… I did photos before for a Lebanese magazine and advertisements but not these kind of photos. The other weird thing was that I knew everybody at the ski resort. I knew all the skiers who were passing. I could see other skiers. I could see the parents of other skiers. I could see my coaches, everyone. When you get there, you are like, ‘No, what am I doing? Maybe I shouldn’t do this.’ But then you go with it and have fun.

Was it a positive experience?

Uhh, yes.

Why the hesitation?

(laughs) It was positive for me. I don’t regret it at all. When I started my job, for example, people when they search for me on the web sometimes they can see these pictures directly so you think maybe it’s not the best thing, not the best image you can give someone of you. But, I don’t really care, though. I really enjoyed it and I don’t regret it. I like these photos. I have no problem with it.

I wonder though, is being naked in the snow really fun? Is having friends and their parents see you naked in a public place, fun?

And if not for entertainment, why did Jackie do it? Was it for the money? Was it for the fame and publicity that the prince could help bestow? If so, is it not sad that women so often need to show off their bodies to shed light on their careers?

Have a look at how women are presented in the media, particularly the local media. Many of the “successful” women appearing on Lebanese television have been dressed down to show generous amounts of cleavage. Local television stations like MTV and LBC are selling women’s bodies with abandon. And taking a page from misogynist US corporations, women’s bodies are even dismembered in ads run by local department store Aishti.

LBC show Splash


MTV’s Murex awards coverage

Aishti billboard

Now should we celebrate Jackie and Prince Hubertus’s contribution to all this objectification? To those many who have rushed to Jackie’s defense, do they also celebrate her athleticism or just her nudity? Do they know her statistics, do they know the scandals she has faced in the corrupt bureaucracy of Lebanese sports? None of this appeared in a small piece celebrating Chamoun today in leading online outlet NowLebanon with the headline: “Jackie is hot and she knows it.”

Free expression has often been the crusading talking point of activists. But is nudity free expression? Most countries ban it in public spaces and let’s not forget these photos were shot at a public ski slope.
There is a reason why nudity is illegal. Whether right or wrong, most citizens probably don’t engage or support it in public. Nudity is absolutely fine when we see it on websites like shemale hd, but it’s not something that everybody wants to be seeing every single day on the streets.

So do those taking up her cause also value the free expression of others–perhaps most Lebanese–who believe nudity does not need to be public? It seems at least Jackie, who has since apologized for the photos, realizes her actions are not exactly reflective of mainstream behavior and opinion.

Here’s another excerpt from her NBC interview:

Was it difficult to do in a country like Lebanon which is more conservative than a lot of other countries in the world?

Yes. If we were somewhere else in Lebanon, in a public place, maybe they would have shooted us. But we were on the slope in Faraya and it is an open space. The people who go there are people from Beirut who are open-minded, more international in their thinking, and also the jet-set of Lebanon so it wasn’t a problem there. It’s really open there, like in Europe. In other places we could have been in really big trouble.

How many of Jackie’s supporters belong to this elite group of Lebanese jet setters, isolated from the general public? Do any of those shooting nude selfies live in Lebanon’s poor neighborhoods? Do their parents have access to generators or do they face days long power and water outages? Do they have plenty of food to eat or do they barely get by, like Lebanon’s one million poor? Do they face the daily violence of suicide bombing in south Beirut or the mortar shells, rockets and bombs falling on poor and rural parts of the South Lebanon, the Bekaa and Tripoli?

It’s important to call out the hypocrisy of ministers, particularly since there are many other far more important athletic scandals that Mr. Karami could be investigating as shown in this report by Executive Magazine.

At the same time, when representing a nation, it’s also important to respect the multitude of views back home–in this case the majority of the population–who are not so well off and have other things to worry about. The greatest irony of all is that were it not for Minister Karami’s offensive investigation or Jackie’s self-objectification, many of those supporting her today probably would have never known she or the Lebanese Olympic team even existed at all.