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
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.

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.

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15 comments
  1. The whole point of the movement Habib is to highlight all the above mentioned righteous causes! If it takes a pair of boobs to wake up a minister and the whole governmental apparatus from its self imposed hibernation, then the issue is not the boobs getting the attention, but the incompetency and ineptness of these useless folks. The movement is a response and a cry from the people to show how retarded, dysfunctional and unqualified some officials are, and help in that way to refocus governmental interest and attention to the issues that really matter, i.e.; security, deteriorating economy, women abuse…

  2. As usual, very well documented piece. Yes, Habib we live in echo chamber of remnants of middle class and are mostly divorced from the reality of life (I include myself just in case people lash out on what I say). I think my reason to support Jackie Chamoun was simply because, if Lebanon advertised itself previously in Playboy no one is in a position to criticize anyone…. http://beirutntsc.blogspot.com/2014/02/jackie-chamoun-georgina-rizk-and.html

  3. Ok. But why do you question her intentions? Is it that hard to believe that it is liberating for a young woman to show off her body in open air?

    1. I’m actually more interested in what she did than what she thought. The questions are just away of putting the broader issues of representation into context and her role in contributing to/producing a sexualized image, whether she was conscious of that role or not.

  4. Thank you for this breath of fresh air of an article! Because I woke up this morning annoyed about about how much of my time this issue has taken and about how this -probably the same- part of Lebanese artists and re-surfing ‘activists’, previously ardently criticized TV personalities on how they participated in shows like Splash… or when the started a war against the infamous Myriam Klink or others… And thought, why is this same movement didn’t use its same slogan then?! weren’t these people free to use their bodies and show it off (and still are)?! ah well… pity the nation…

  5. The photoshoot happened in Lebanon, in Faraya, in a public place yes and if someone was shocked 3 years ago, we would have known about it.
    I believe the issue is judging the person on her private actions with respect to her sports representation. It’s like saying you shouldn’t represent your country because you got drunk once in your private home. Makes sense ? No

    Did she break the law? Let someone file a lawsuit against her. It’s not up to a corrupt olympic committee to launch an investigation into that because it doesn’t fall under their jurisdisction. Because again she did that in her private time and didn’t do her shoot at the Olympics while representing the country.

  6. I think the point of supporting Chamoun was split into three groups a) Those who didn’t have a problem with what she’s done but did have a problem with other people speaking on her behalf with self-righteousness and varyingly applicable self-moralising of sections of the media b) those who thought it was ludicrous that the act of Chamoun posing for photos would overshadow or somehow jeopardise the years of sacrifice and achievement she’s had in the face of the total uselessness and corruption of her national Olympic association (I happen to think the real story s NBC’s other look at how Lebanese officials treat the Olympics as their own personal shopping trips), or c) Just like to get naked. Which is fine, I guess.

    I thought StripforJackie was a little odd and quite possibly self-defeating as a form of protest. But I also think it’s got a good heart and it’s on the right side of things. It’s not aimed at objectifying women any more than they already are (since the majority of participants are men) and in that sense it goes a tiny way towards redressing the gender imbalances you mention in your piece. Although I think that’s a consequence rather than an aim of the initiative.

    I take the point of their being a classist element here. Sort of. I’m not convinced that people support Chamoun or not because of how well off they are. I think just something about the unfairness of the reaction to one moment of a career (to the ignorance of all the rest), as well as the fact that the whole debacle treated Chamoun first and foremost as a woman and not as a skier, just resonated with lots of people.

  7. I’m disappointed Habib. I was hoping you, of all people, would not be covering this. I have an honest question: isn’t it the role of the journalist to also deny these silly topics the coverage they seek, by purposefully shunning them out of the spotlight? I currently live in France where the mainstream media is distracting us with stories like “the president is having an affair” or “we should ban this offensive comedian from performing” instead of addressing real and painfully difficult issues.

    I get that you’re trying to convey a point that goes beyond the particular case; but count the number of lines of code pertaining to Jacky in your current article. It’s hard not to see this piece as a celebrity gossip.

    Again, speaking about the role of the journalist, I believe your best position is to ignore and keep tackling the “real” issues, as you usually do. It is specifically because your other articles are generally spot on that you, Habib, have elevated this piece to a matter of national importance when it didn’t need it. I find it ironic that the “Boobs over bomb” movement claims that there are more impending issues to address than Jacky, somehting you touched as well, yet they unwillingly did a lot of work to attract all the attention on the naked pretty lady. If anything, maybe the journalist’s role is to call out Al Jadeed (I believe it was them, right?) for intruding a private life in search of sensationalist headlines.

    I hope you’ll accept this criticism from a random stranger on the Internet(https://xkcd.com/386/) and would love to hear your opinion on the matter. Do you think this issue deserves the attention it’s getting? Am I missing something?

  8. Thanks for you input Joe. Funny cartoon as well. I’m a little bit uncomfortable with the idea that this story is not relevant or important. Nudity may not be an issue for some Lebanese, but I think it is an issue for many more who don’t find it okay in public place. That’s why I felt the need to comment, I felt the campaign ignored two things: the rights of those who don’t want to see public nudity and their right to be offended by it as well as the need to discuss the broader context of sexualized portrayals of women in the media, which is pretty ubiquitous in Lebanon and pretty serious and impactful in my view. I don’t think we deconstruct those media images enough and I actually think they can be as important as the public services and public spaces I often write about here. I also don’t think all of this is a minor incident that will just go away. I think the reaction speaks to much deeper, visceral issues Lebanon has been dealing with for a long time and as such is an important opportunity to discuss gender representations and the role of class in social movements and their coverage in the media, which had already been huge before I wrote this.

    1. though i understand your point of you Habib, i have to ask:
      did the photo shoot take place in a location where people are known to have disapproving opinion of such an action? or where they are offended? did she specifically target the lebanese society with this photo shoot?
      as far as i am aware the photos were taken for a calendar that was not targeted to be publish in a country where, as you say, the majority of the population is against public nudity. it was taken in a location where people witnessed the act and had no response to it; the shoot was three years ago and the majority of the lebanese population did not report it or report on it. the people that were there and had the potential to take their own photos and publish it on the social media did not do so.

      the uprising in support of jackie is not based on her. it strive from the frustration of the people that our government is simply a bully that tries to fight and highlight issues that it feels it can overpower and cowers away from those that it fears.

      i do not believe this topic required the limelight it received, and it probably wouldn’t have got the chance if the government had not interfered. it is the job of tabloids and media to comment on such topics not that of a government that needs to deal with poverty, corruption, national insecurity, debt, abuse and so on.

  9. “Lebanon does not want to ruin its reputation” , that comment made me laugh. Lebanon’s reputation was probably ruined when it first decided to call itself a country. Lebanon is run by idiots who would sell out their own country and people to make a quick buck. A monkey can run a country better than the Lebanese government. And the people of Lebanon aren’t any better, instead of standing up for themselves and fighting the government they fight and bomb each other. How pathetic are these people. Its 2014 and yet Lebanon can not supply its tiny country with 24 hours of electricity and yet a skier who models is ruining their reputation?……..these people can’t be serious no one will ever take this country seriously.

    1. peter griffin,

      I am sure that your hard struggle and dedication brought the privileges of a stable wealthy state that you enjoy. More probably, your country not run by monkeys benefited from years of colonialism, slavery, and/or exploitation of non-European resources. You sir are a true moniker of civilization. Thank you peter griffin for all of your hard work making your country the great place that it is today.

    2. Peter Griffin, Yes we don’t have 24 hours power supply. Yes we have corruption. Yes we still have mini civil wars going around, Yes we are not better than our government! But guess what, we still value humanity that you don’t do as it clearly shows from your ludicrous language.

    3. Peter Griffin,

      Yes, we do have corruption. Yes, we don’t have 24 hours power supply. Yes, we still have mini civil wars going here and there. Yes, our government is not functioning and currently we don’t have one! BUT guess what? We still value humanity that you don’t as it clearly shows in your ludicrous language.

  10. more international thinking? I think thats another way saying more european influenced after all they were a french colony.

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