Tag Archives: body image

Jasad & The Queen of Contradictions

Filmmaker: Amanda Homsi-Ottosson
Year: 2011
Country of Origin: UK, Lebanon
Format: Color, DVD
Running Time: 40 minutes
Languages: English, Arabic (subtitled)

This documentary from Lebanese director Amanda Homsi-Ottosson explores the controversy surrounding Jumanah Sallum Haddad’s magazine Jasad. Published quarterly, Jasad is an erotic cultural magazine that aims to educate and provide and outlet for Arab sexuality.  Haddad, a writer herself, decided to create an outlet for other Arab men and women to read, write, and discuss arts and literature surrounding ideas of the body.

Contradiction mostly focuses on the debate that has sprung up around Jasad, both between those who view the magazine as beneficial and those who find it to be inappropriate and shameful and between those who believe that it is not serving women in the way it should be. The documentary focuses mainly on interviews with Haddad herself, those who read (or wish to ban) her magazine, and various professionals whose lives are touched by the issues in covered in Jasad, such as a sexual health counselor.

Contradictions paints an interesting portrait of Haddad and her magazine.  The documentary begins with Haddad explaining why she was motivated to create Jasad and continues with street interviews about perceptions of the magazine. Reactions are predictably polarized, ranging from religious denunciations of the magazine to endorsements of the work by young men and women hoping to spread awareness and acceptance of sexuality.

The most interesting part of Contradiction comes when various Jasad readers explain the importance of having such a publication in the Arab world.  It is explained that it is common for Arab men and women to use French or English words for genitalia and sex acts, because the most common equivalent words in Arabic are either offensive or nonexistent. Jasad is portrayed as bringing back ownership of not only the body but the language surrounding the body to Arabic speakers.  The narrative of Jasad can be written as one of decolonization and reclamation.

Contradictions, although unconditionally supportive of Haddad and Jasad, does allow alternative opinions to be expressed through interviews. One in particular offered a valid and interesting critique of the magazine. Two Muslim feminists – one veiled and one not – argue that Jasad is pushing a certain kind of liberation on society. The women explain that there should be no shame in wearing a veil, and that they are “not represented in this ‘revolutionary magazine'”.

Related readings:
I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman, by Jumanah Sallum Haddad, creator of Jasad

Arresting Ana (Dir. Lucie Schwartz, 2009)

Country of Origin: ,
Running Time: 26 min

Format: Color, DVD

Arresting Ana is a film that, despite its short running time, grapples with a number of serious and troubling issues concerning the intersections of body image, free speech, and the Internet. The film centers around the pro-anorexia cyber movement, and follows Sarah, an 18 year-old college student with a “pro-Ana” blog called “In Search of Perfection, ” and Valerie Boyer, a legislator seeking to making websites like Sarah’s, illegal. The film describes “Ana” as a way for those struggling with the illness to personify the disease. In the film, Sarah describes “Ana” as a supportive and motivating force and even, a friend. The film depicts both the political and personal sides of this struggle, posing questions concerning free speech, along with the danger and efficacy of such websites. It considers both how these websites function for those suffering from the disease, and also what the impact of the Boyer Law might have on young women like Sarah.

The film, which takes place in France, also deals with how women living in a society so obsessed with food and thinness, might grapple with such opposing pressures. The film is interspersed with images of Paris—of it’s restaurants and markets alongside the advertisements of super-thin fashion models that permeate the country’s visual culture. The film, which focuses on Sarah’s perspective, shows how these websites, whose message can easily be construed as “morbid and perverse,” also serve as communities and outlets for those suffering with eating disorders to connect with others facing similar struggles. However, the film also includes screen shots of these blogs and sites, revealing the troubling imagery and ideology they often seem to promote.

Although the film focuses on the French legislation trying to ban “pro-Ana” websites, which would include up to two-years in prison and a 30,000 Euro fine, it also addresses the universal pervasiveness of this growing trend. As stated in the film, such websites exist in every language and every culture, a fact that underscores the disturbing growth and omnipresence of this disease. By providing the viewer with Sarah’s perspective, the film conveys a more complete sense of how these individuals view themselves, and how these online communities function for individuals struggling with eating disorders and body image.

For further information:

Film’s official website: http://arrestingana.com/

Overbeke, Grace (2008), “Pro-Anorexia Websites: Content, Impact, and
Explanations of Popularity”, The Wesleyan Journal of Psychology 3: 49–62

Norris, Mark L; Boydell, Katherine M; Pinhas, Leora; Katzman, Debra K (2006), “Ana and the internet: A review of pro-anorexia websites”, The International journal of eating disorders 39 (6): 443–447

Morris, Bonnie Rothman (2002-06-23), “A Disturbing Growth Industry: Web Sites That Espouse Anorexia”, New York Times, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F00E4DB123CF930A15755C0A9649C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all

Harris, Misty (2007-09-15), “Online anorexia videos prompt call for website restrictions”, Edmonton Journal, http://www2.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/story.html?id=8e8d21e0-c8da-4af1-b05c-01422ab6136d

(in French) Proposition de loi visant à lutter contre les incitations à la recherche d’une maigreur extrême ou à l’anorexie, Assemblée nationale, 2008-07-02, http://www.senat.fr/rap/l07-439/l07-439_mono.html

Schwartz, Lucie (2009-12-22), Outlawing Ana: French lawmakers battle eating disorders (http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/rough/2009/12/france.html), PBS Frontline