BEIRUT: In an unexpected twist, Lebanon’s online community has taken to social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to express support for 22-year-old Lebanese Olympic skier Jackie Chamoun. The athlete was criticized by Lebanese politicians and in local media Tuesday, after topless photos taken during a photo shoot for a calendar three years ago began circulating.
In the wake of news that Caretaker Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami has requested an official investigation into the photographs “to [avoid] harming Lebanon’s reputation,” and that Chamoun may be banned from future Olympic Games pending the decision of the Lebanese Olympic Committee, thousands of bloggers and social media users have expressed support for the young athlete's right to do as she pleases with her body. Many accused politicians of ignoring more serious concerns.
“Is showing boobs worse than supporting armed groups who kill indiscriminately? Get your priorities right,” Twitter used @sanleb posted Tuesday.
“As a Lebanese I am proud of this girl for having the guts to go after her dreams, though I am very dismayed with everything else that is currently happening in Lebanon. To all the Lebanese politicians I say: ‘Get a life,’” was one of thousands of messages posted on the Facebook page “Support Jackie Chamoun” Wednesday.
Hashtags including #BoobsNotBombs and #NotAScandal began trending on Twitter, while the hashtag #StripforJackie has also taken off, serving as a rallying cry for members of the public to post their own nude or semi-nude photographs in support of Chamoun, who says the explicit topless photographs and video circulating along with the more reserved calendar photographs were behind-the-scenes shots not intended for public release.
An apology issued by Chamoun on her Facebook page had attracted over 4000 comments Wednesday afternoon from supporters, many telling her she had nothing to apologize for.
Facebook group “Boobs 4 Lebanon” encouraged users to upload photos in solidarity with the athlete under the tagline: “Boobs unite us and bombs divide us.” Instagram and Twitter users also posted nude “selfies” and messages of support online, comparing the furor surrounding the photographs unfavorably with the scant attention paid to more serious issues plaguing Lebanon, such as car bombings and ongoing violence in Tripoli, a lack of legislation protecting women from domestic violence and rape, and water and electricity shortages.
“On average 15 women call KAFA’s hotline daily to complain of domestic abuse. One is killed every month. Our government, and our ‘educated’ and ‘liberated’ youth, choose only to react to an athlete’s boobs,” a handwritten sign posted online by Instagram user le_harlequin read.
The idea of stripping in support of the athlete was taken a step further by photographers Tarek Moukaddem and Carl Halal, who invited members of the public to pose naked or semi-clad for professional studio shots Tuesday and Wednesday as part of a campaign entitled “I Am Not Naked.”
In each photograph the subject’s genitals are covered with a yellow circle reading: “Strip for Jackie.” A banner reading: “I am not naked” is emblazoned across each photograph, under which subjects provide an alternative description of themselves: “I am a strategic planner,” “I am a film director,” or “I am a neuropsychologist.”
The most organized response to date, the page had attracted more than 6000 supporters just 14 hours after launching early Wednesday.
“Some women are beaten or killed, others are raped, and the media shifts their attention to a confident, talented, beautiful woman who represents her country at the Olympic Games,” the team behind the campaign write on the web page. “This is about telling our ‘peers’ to set their priorities straight. This is to fight censorship. This is for freedom.”
Cynthia-Maria Aramouni, who came up with the concept for the shoot, told The Daily Star that the campaign aims to highlight the misplaced focus of those who are now supporting Chamoun not because of her talent as a skier and her role as one of only two Lebanese athletes competing in the Winter Olympics, but because of the controversial photographs.
She points out that in the wake of the scandal followers of Chamoun’s official Facebook page increased from 500 to 11,000 in a single day. By Wednesday afternoon the number stood at more than 45,000.
“Everyone is supporting her for this now, even though they should have supported her because she was representing Lebanon as an athlete,” Aramouni told The Daily Star Wednesday. “So it's about who we choose to be defined as, not what we do with our personal lives.”
Others found black humor in the situation. “Start by stopping terrorism, will you? I would strip for that if it helps,” one blogger wrote on the site “From Beirut with Funk.” “If nobody wears clothes, nobody will have a place to hide the bomb.”