Body Is The Message

January 20, 2012 at 9:15 PMJan (Activism, Media, Musings, Soliloquy)

Golshfiteh Farhani

Golshifteh Farahani, an Iranian actress has been banned from returning to her country for having posed topless/naked (with her hands covering her breats) for a French news magazine and a French video titled ‘Body and Soul’. As one can expect there is a lot of ink being spilled in the virtual space condemning the actress. At the same time the news about Golshifteh Farhaani has received a communication from the Government of her asking her not to return to her homeland. She was told that her “services” as an actress is not required in Iran. Amidst all this, Golshifteh Farhani has announced that her posing nude for a news magazine was her dissent against the restrictive Islam codes.

One can remember the blog entry by the Egyptian blogger Alia Elmahdy of her own nude photograph as a mark of protest against conservative culture which restricts freedom and views women only as a sexual object. Aliaa Elmahdy like Golshifteh Farhaani received a lot of criticism and threats for her dissent.

Parking aside the issue of Veena Malik, for now, with the dissent of Golshifteh and Aliaa in focus I remember the way several women in Imphal stripped naked and staged an angry protest on 15 July 2004 against the rape of Manorama by Assam Rifle. These women held a banner saying “Indian Army Rape Us.”

The current Islamic government in Iran pursues Hejaab with police enforcement but also by organizing Hejaab festivals and celebrations. Leila Mouri says, “We, as young Iranian women, were lectured by the government to be pious women with veiled bodies that would represent the state’s identity to the world.” The case in Egypt wouldn’t be much different, it appears.

We all remember how a Canadian police held women and their clothing responsible for rape cases. In a world where women are themselves blamed for “inviting rape” through their dressing, though I do not endorse, I can understand the idea of the Hejaab. At once and at the same time one also needs to understand that there is not much of a difference between the mindset expressed by the Canadian policemen and the idea of Hejaab which forces itself on women and snatches their rights from them. So as a mark of protest against the comment by the Canadian police SlutWalks were organized in various parts of the world and as a mark of protest against the restrictive Islamic codes people like Aliaa Elmahdy and Golshfiteh Farhaani go nude.

15 July 2004, Imphal, Manipur

In the year 1934 Reza Shah ordered compulsory unveiling and 45 years after this Ayatollah Khomeini reverted it by compulsory veiling. Leila Mouri, in an article, writes that none of the two did actually ask for women’s opinion. Both veiling and unveiling were “ordered,” which reflects the environment divorced of freedom in which these women live. In such an environment, where two extremes are imposed, dissent also comes in an extreme manner and both Aliaa Elmahdy and Golshifteh Farhani are an example for dissent stemming from such an environment where extremes are imposed.

While it can be argued and to an extent also tre that these forms of dissent plays to the omnipresent male gaze what needs to be understood is that the focus is to be not on the act of dissent itself but the environment which pushes individuals to express such an act of dissent and the kind of future the act of dissent holds in its imagination. When the women of Manipur go naked and say, “Indian Army Rape Us,” it reflects the history which led to the protest. Similarly the acts of Aliaa Elmahdy and Golshfiteh Farhani are communicating to us the history that has pushed them to their acts of dissent. And these acts of protests are not an end in themselves. It is an act to begin the journey to liberation, which needs more and more political actions shaped by political imagination.

Instead of getting into arguments on whether the mode of dissent is right or wrong, progressive or regressive, imaginative or unimaginative one should see the acts of dissent as “word” uttered in suffocation. Be it the women of Manipur or Aliaa Elmahdy or Golshifteh Farhaani their acts of dissent are “words” which say something. Their body is their message.


  1. CHAITHRA said,

    what a woman wears(or does not wear for that matter) is her personal choice. what rights do politicians or govt have to pass a bill or irresponsible statemnts on anybody s clothing or life style..
    for men who think its right, learn to shut ur mouth n control ur hormonal surge

    • Meghna Vinod Hegade said,

      History talks of the Anglo Saxon, Lady Godiva, who is known to have ridden naked through town as an act of protest against the improper taxation imposed by her husband. Vastly different from the message these women wish to communicate, it shows that despite changes, society and times still require women to shed their clothes, to be taken seriously.

      This paradigm also includes convincing women across the globe, that should take those of their own kind seriously. Its not just the men who put the restrictions. There are women out there who also curb the freedom of other women in the name of religion/culture/society-accepted-behaviour and other such mundane reasons.

      All that Alia Elmahdy or Golshifteh Farahani wish the world to know is that they have a right to live life their own way. In my opinion, given the day and digital age we are in, they shouldn’t have to any such thing. They should been born into the freedom of living their lies as per their wish.

    • shafiqpenworks said,

      If a woman can wear or shed clothes, then why are different governments of different countries are prohibiting the ABAYAH and HIJAB? Are all becoming racist? Or just because they are in power, then can do what ever they wish to!?

  2. Hestia said,

    The body, with or without clothes, Sir, is always a message.. Clothing too, has its politics..! The truth is, women’s explicit expressions have always been threatening..

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