Sisterhood Blog

Bucking Tradition in a Bikini

By Elana Sztokman

  • Print
  • Share Share

For Huda Naccache, Israel’s 2011 representative in the Miss Earth beauty pageant, wearing a bikini is important for career advancement.

The 21-year old Christian Arab from Haifa has modeling ambitions, and in order to get noticed, she posed in a bikini for the cover of the Arab Israeli women’s magazine Lilac.

This may not sound like a big deal in a world where everyone from rock stars to child television icons seems to be willing to pose nearly nude for some photo or another. But in Huda’s community, such exposure for women is still taboo.

In fact, this is the first time that Lilac, a ten-year old monthly that bucks tradition and publishes articles for Arab women on fashion, careers and even sex, has ever had a bikini-clad woman on the cover.

The notion of the bikini as liberation for women is tricky. Certainly rules of excessive female body cover – whether in Muslim or Jewish or other religious societies – are oppressive to women and inhibit growth, development and physical movement. Women and girls wearing a burqa or a jean skirt cannot easily ride a bicycle, do gymnastics, or climb a tree. And anyone who’s ever been to one of the natural springs in Israel’s north during the summer has undoubtedly witnessed the frightening sight of heavily clad women of different religions trying to avoid drowning under the weight of wet clothes.

There is a professional cost to women’s excessive body cover as well. It’s hard to be the only one dressed this way in professional settings. Even wearing a straw hat in an office full of bare heads makes some women feel different.

The most glaring limitation, though, is clearly the inability of heavily-covered women to take jobs that require lighter apparel. Forest rangers, aerobics instructors, actresses, lifeguards and choreographers are some of the jobs that are off limits for such women.

But there is also a stultifying persona about being covered. A woman can’t really be covered and loud. Israel has yet to see a Knesset member or mayor dressed in layers and speaking forcefully from the pulpit.

There is a perhaps unspoken expectation that body cover comes with a certain quietness, an unobtrusiveness. Even a train conductor – being the kind of person who has to shout out orders and instructions to bustling crowds – would seem somehow incongruous with all that body cover.

So women willing to buck these conventions in order to pursue their passions, dreams and expressions of freedom are refreshing and inspiring. It takes courage, wisdom and independent-mindedness to unravel all the messages about women’s bodies and personalities and take the decision to live fully. Moreover, for some women in tightly religious communities, it can reflect truly life-risking daring.

Take, for example, former Miss Israel contestant Angelina Duah Fares, the Druze woman who received death threats and had to pull out of the pageant because of the community’s disapproval – and whose sister, Maya was then allegedly murdered by family members.

I cannot even imagine what it must feel like to a woman knowing that the pursuit of body freedom can cost someone’s life. At the same time, I also cannot imagine risking my life for the right to pose in a bikini.

The fashion industry, the modeling profession and the beauty pageant world are not good places for women. These are not cultures that are empowering and liberating. On the contrary, the pressure on young women to be starving-skinny, flawless, and almost completely exposed is as oppressive to their identities as the pressure to completely cover. Indeed, in both cases, the correctness of women’s bodies is dictated by a male view of women as sexual objects. To go from the hijab to the bikini is effectively going from one form of oppression to the other.

That said, I wish Huda all the success in the Miss Earth competition. I hope she wins, I hope she becomes rich and famous, and I hope she finishes her studies in Archeology and Geology at Haifa University and excels in a profession where she is valued for her mind and spirit.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Modesty, Modeling, Israeli-Arab, Burqa, Arab

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.