A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, February 10, 2014

Lebanon Sent Two Athletes to Sochi and There's Already a "Scandal" About One of Them

If you've been watching the Olympics in Sochi (and it's pretty hard to avoid), you already know that this is not the Middle East's thing, exactly. Despite the famous Jamaican bobsled team, the Saudis don't do the luge, skiing is scarce in Libya. and nobody including me has a clue about curling. Of the 88 countries participating at Sochi, only two are Arab: Lebanon and Morocco. Israel. Iran, and Turkey are there, as are Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. who are all in the neighborhood. Some Central Asian countries are there too.

By an odd coincidence last week my staff was poking around in the Middle East Institute's attic and found a 1946 book in Arabic on "Winter Sports in Lebanon," and this post relates to the Lebanese Olympic team.

Jackie with skies and not much else
Lebanon sent two athletes to compete at Sochi: skiers Alexandre Mohat and Jackie Chamoun, Another skier who is in the Olympic delegation from Lebanon, Chirine Njeim, and who competed in Vancouver in 2010 but isn't skiing this year, and Chamoun, are the center of the controversy. Apparently last year they posed for a calendar in Switzerland for photographer/Olympic skier Hubertus von Hohenlohe, a German prince who is representing Mexico in Sochi (I'm not making this up), and in the stills from the shoot, Chamoun appears topless. I say "appears" because, in most of the stills at least, her hands,arms, or ski are strategically placed. We aren't in Playboy territory here but in Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue world, with hands, hair, etc. keeping things, in US movie-rating terms, PG-13 rather than R.

A Lebanese media site, Al-Jadid Sport reported today what was already apparently old news: that Chamoun and Njeim had  posed for the calendar, calling it a scandal, and so on. Bloggers aren't as sure, and part of the issue is what "topless" means, since Western models at least often pose showing parts but not all of their "top" and aren't  considered to have done nudity. (In the US at least the distinction seems to be, frankly, whether you can see nipples. If not, it's seemingly OK for broadcast TV.) (Of course it makes no sense, but don't complain to me.)

How scandalous exactly is this "side-boob" shot?
Jackie is clearly enough topless in this picture but not frontally so: is that as objectionable? Oh, EEK! She's topless! Yes, but showing only what the American tabloids call "sideboob," a useful if inelegant term. It's unclear as to why Americans seem to be OK with seeing almost all the breast except for the nipple before they complain "she's naked" (over here, "pastie" means something quite different than it does in Cornwall: a small application pasted over the nipple), but that's how it is. Europeans don't seem to obsess as much on the nipple, but Americans do. Chamoun is within the acceptable range in the still photos..

Hizbullah (less tolerant than even puritanical Americans) is not going to like it back home, but her name indicates she's Christian, and Lebanon has a tradition of sexual edginess.

In fact, she has already discussed the photo shoot with NBC, which handles the official US Olympic coverage:
Hubertus mentioned that you posed for his Ski Instructors calendar. What was that like and did you get the chance to talk with him at all about his Olympic experiences?

Hubertus is a good friend of mine. He came to Lebanon for international competitions and I also saw him at the World Championships in Val d’Isere in 2009 and the Olympics in 2010. We stayed in contact and he was in Serbia when I was there racing. He is a really good friend and he is very passionate about what he does, whether it is sport or the Olympics or photography. It is nice to see people who are older and still want more and don’t want to stop because they love the sport so much.

So, Hubertus came to Lebanon because he did a video show about Beirut and he also did this calendar. Chirine and I were in the calendar. We met him on the slopes. 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.

Was it difficult to do in a country like Lebanon which is more conservative than a lot of other counties 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.

What did your parents say?

My dad wasn’t happy with it at all (laughs). He didn’t want me to do it, but my mom was okay with it.
Fair enough, I'd say. Here, for the record, is her fellow Lebanese Olympian Cherine Njeim, also under-dressed for the weather:

Also, I feel, in the PG-13 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue range of objectionableness. 

To be fair to the critics, there is a "making of" video out there on YouTube which does appear to show more of Jackie than the stills do. I still think it's rather mild: there are a few shots, at some distance, where you seem to see her breasts fully, but unless you're really good at stop-motion screen shots, if this is the only way you can find nudity (with nipples: see above) on the Internet, you're doing it wrong. I find it innocent enough to post here.

I find this a teapot tempest. Like many attractive athletes before and since, Jackie and Cherine are teasing their fans. Hardly a "scandal."


Anonymous said...

What has happened to the Middle East institute? How is this anyone's business other than the woman above? Her body. Her business. You use this to bash an Olympic athlete just like your cheap attacks on Egypt recently to defend the Muslim Brotherhood, who presumably would never allow any woman to appear photographed in this manner.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Are we reading the same blog? I'm not bashing anyone here, just commenting on a public controversy. And if I've ever defended the Muslim Brotherhood, it's news to me.