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Article on 'fat' Arab women using Iraqi actress Enas Taleb's picture triggers massive backlash. See here

An article in an issue dated July 30, 2022, of The Economist magazine about the prevalence of obesity among Arab women has triggered torrid criticism on social media. Taleb whose photo was used to illustrate how Arab women are more prone to putting on weight wants a public apology has begun legal action against the magazine.  (AP)Premium
An article in an issue dated July 30, 2022, of The Economist magazine about the prevalence of obesity among Arab women has triggered torrid criticism on social media. Taleb whose photo was used to illustrate how Arab women are more prone to putting on weight wants a public apology has begun legal action against the magazine.  (AP)

  • The word ‘fat’, which is now considered taboo, was repeated six times in the article, hence, managing to trigger torrid criticism on social media, with Twitter users blasting it as misogynistic, even as local rights groups issued denunciations

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The London-based magazine Economist recently published an article stating “Why women are fatter than men in the Arab world," while using a picture of renowned Iraqi actress Enas Taleb's picture to illustrate possible explanations of the obesity gap between men and women in the Middle East. The article has triggered torrid criticism on social media as well as garnered attention from local rights groups. Notably, Enas Taleb, 42, said she's suing the London-based magazine for defamation over the article.

To Enas Taleb, the headline felt like a spiteful punch line, “Why women are fatter than men in the Arab world," it read in bold, above a photograph of the Iraqi actress waving onstage at an arts festival, according to Associated Press report. The report further noted that the Economist article reportedly ran through possible explanations of the obesity gap of 10 percentage points between men and women in the Middle East, then cited Iraqis who see Taleb’s curves as the ideal of beauty.

The word “fat," which is now considered taboo in much of Western media, was repeated six times and the article managed to trigger torrid criticism on social media, with Twitter users blasting it as misogynistic, even as local rights groups issued denunciations and with some writers appalled by what they described as demeaning stereotypes about Arab women, the AP report said. 

It is important to note that while analysts acknowledge an epidemic of obesity in the Arab world and its connection to poverty and gender discrimination, Taleb’s case and the ensuing uproar have thrown a light on the issue of body-shaming that is deeply rooted yet rarely discussed in the region, the report said.

While the Iraqi actress Taleb reportedly told The Associated Press from Baghdad that, “if there’s a student who goes to school and hears mean comments and students bullying her for being fat, how would she feel? This article is an insult not only to me but a violation of the rights of all Iraqi and Arab women."

In the Middle East, the Economist report argued, the desirability of fleshy women may help explain why the region has experienced an explosion of obesity, however, the angry backlash over the article, and Taleb's horror that her photo was used to illustrate growing waistlines of Arab women, contradicts the oft-repeated belief that being heavy is widely seen as sign of affluence and fertility in the region, according to the AP report.

While the globalization of Western beauty ideals through branding, TV and social media has long given rise to unrealistic body standards that skew women’s expectations of themselves and others in the Arab world, research shows, the Economist article's depiction of men “shutting women up at home" to keep them “Rubenesque" touched a nerve, the report said.

The Baghdad-based Heya, or "She," Foundation, which advocates for women in media, denounced the report as “bullying" and demanded the magazine apologize to Taleb, while the Malaysia-based Musawah Foundation, which promotes equality in the Muslim world, said the backlash shows that “women in the region are building a collective discourse that rejects and calls out sexist, racist, and fat-phobic acts and their colonial legacies," according to AP report.

Meanwhile, Taleb, a star in blockbuster Iraqi TV dramas, said she had no choice but to speak up, noting, "they used my photo in this context in a hurtful, negative way. I am against using one’s body shape to determine the value of a human being."

“Women don’t get equal salaries. They don't get high-level positions. They are forced to keep silent when they are harassed. And in media, they have to be thin and beautiful," said Zeina Tareq, Heya Foundation’s director. Iraqi journalist Manar al-Zubaidi said the fat-shaming of Arab women comes as no surprise in a world where “most media outlets commodify women and make them into objects of ridicule or temptation. There is nothing to deter them," she added, except ever-louder “campaigns and challenges on social media," the report added.

(With inputs from AP)

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