Sexiness for Everyone (even Muslims)

Liaison Dangereuse, a German online lingerie store, recently released a new video advertisement.  With Arabic-sounding music in the background, a woman is shown getting out of the shower (we can see, from the back, that she has no clothes on), putting on her make-up, then walking (wearing nothing but high heels–to each her own, I suppose) to her dresser, where she puts on her underwear, bra and socks, all the while looking at herself in the mirror.  Last (anyone see where this is going yet?), she puts on a burqa.  The final scene is of her face at a window, with this phrase showing up: “Sexiness for everyone.  Everywhere.”

Warning: This video contains explicit images.

Some have suggested the add may be empowering (and, according to this one, especially empowering for “women in certain desert nations.”  I’m not even going to go there.)  As Dodai of Jezebel writes, with some reservations, “You could view the woman in the commercial as confident and self-assured.”  True.  Furthermore, unlike the major impression given in a different discussion about Muslim women’s lingerie, the confidence and “sexiness” that this woman displays are seemingly for her alone; she is not wearing this clothing simply to be attractive to a man.  We can perhaps even take from this an empowering message for everyone, the idea that we can all feel sexy, if we so choose, without anyone else having to see us or to think of us as sexy.


All of that said, the empowerment message doesn’t really hold up.  There is a whole lot of irony that these images are made so explicit in a public advertisement, given that they are supposedly valuing a sexuality that isn’t overtly expressed on the outside.  The public spectacle of an apparent private moment of expressing confidence in one’s own body obviously negates the privacy of that moment.

All the other arguments aside, it seems therefore pretty hard to argue that this ad is something positive or empowering, if it would probably be rather offensive and disrespectful to most of those who would presumably be the ones it attempts to empower.

And, although the message seems to be about personal sexuality, there’s definitely still a strong male gaze and sense of objectification (and exoticization) at play, and it’s pretty unlikely that this was irrelevant in the construction of the video.  One online response to the advertisement referred to its protagonist as an “exotic hottie” that the audience (and I’m guessing this is referring specifically to the heterosexual male component of the audience) is “treated to.”  Another says:

Welcome to Friday, gentlemen, a day when your mind drifts to thinking about risking surfing porn from your work desk. Well, here’s a video appetizer, via Berlin ad agency glow GmbH, for German online lingerie store Liaison Dangereuse. Tagline: Sexiness for everyone. Everywhere.” It’s got brief bare butt, and an ending twist that’ll make you Catholics feel a little guilty.

So yeah, sexiness is “everywhere” and “for everyone,” ready to be served up as your pre-weekend porn appetizer.  Great.

More important is the bigger context in which this ad appears – the fascination about Muslim women’s bodies, and the curiosity about what’s “behind the veil.”  In fact, this isn’t even the first time that Muslim women’s lingerie has been discussed on MMW; apparently, it’s a hot topic.  Why?  As I’ve said previously,

What could be a more titillating image than that of a Muslim women (presumably veiled, of course) picking out something sexy to wear when in her private harem home?  It might as well be proof of the Orientalist fantasy of the seductive, exotic temptress that exists within every Muslim woman, if only we could unveil her. (*shudder*)

Sadly, this isn’t even remotely new; see, for example, the kind of work that’s been done on the behind-the-veil/into-the-harem writing of colonial times.  Meyda Yegenoglu’s Colonial Fantasies or Malek Alloula’s work (summarised fairly well here) are interesting places to start.  The obsession with the veil (and with what’s under it) has a long history, and one that is intricately connected to colonization, racism, and sexism.  This advertisement does nothing to disrupt that history, leaving us with a character who is still being objectified, as a Muslim and as a woman, even when this is under the guise of female empowerment.

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    It’s terrible to see more women starting to be objectified in the West. Now along with other “exotic hotties” (Asian, Latina, Black) we have the “Muslim woman” getting objectified and dehumanized not just in mainstream media (as I’m assuming this ad is for) but also I’m presuming (but I’m not going to go look for) in the porn industry (remember when you guys did a post about pornographic pictures depicting Muslim women?)

    It seems European media is especially notorious for sexually objectifying Muslim women. I remember unfortunately coming across on Youtube two sexist and dehumanizing depictions of Muslim women in French media from their comedy circuit. One skit showed an Iraqi belly dancer blowing herself up in front of an audience of Western soldiers. Another one showed an Afghan woman wearing the blue chador with holes strategically placed around her private parts (so you could see she was completely naked underneath) so that she wouldn’t have to take her chador off for her doctor’s appointment/ha ha how hilarious NOT!
    I haven’t yet thankfully seen anything equivalent to these pornographic and racist depictions of Muslim women in US media (but I may be wrong since I hardly watch TV).

  • SakuraPassion

    I’m not surprised, it’s at the point now where it seems Muslim women are becoming a fetish of some sorts. So I agree with RCHOUDH, you can find porn that depicts Muslim women. It’s really quite, because womens’ bodies are just commodities.

  • TheLadyoftheHouse

    I have a problem with society deeming “sexiness” as somehow “empowering”. Why in order to be “empowered” we have to be “sexy” where “sexy” is defined by the Western media, usually using pornography as its sole reference? Wendy Shalit has written some interesting thoughts on this topic in some of her books.

  • Nissa

    This is not at all surprising but I can never get used to the way Muslim women are sexualised and commodified.
    I honestly don’t know what sexy even means- does it mean you feel desirable? does it mean you are desirable? does it mean flashing skin?
    How is overpriced overdone lingerie sexy anyway? The media decides what is sexy to sell us crap…
    fair enough she puts it on for herself, but the idea is to make people think what is under that veil…
    its cheap and obvious and lazy advertising.

  • Zahra (with a Z)

    This piece is such a great take-down and analysis of this commercial. They give us 45 seconds of stupidity, and you respond with 700 words of intelligence.

    Yes, it’s the same old Orientalist fantasy of the camera unveiling the harem woman. Please.

    I would add that the woman in the commercial doesn’t seem at all empowered; she’s not smiling or enjoying herself as she gets dressed; in fact, to me she looks worried about whether she looks good enough. I feel like I’ve seen similar ads using white or black American women in which there’s a lot of smiling, and pleasure–confidant expressions that telegraph “Don’t I look hot!” and “Lingerie is FUN!” (Not that that’s less demeaning.)

    But her relatively somber mien here makes me think that maybe there’s an “oppressed Muslim woman” undertone–this poor hawt thang, her culture won’t let her be sexy, but wearing our German lingerie is a furtive (dangerous) rebellion! Which once again posits “Western” consumption as the answer the poor downtrodden veiled masses need…

    And I realize that Liasons Dangereueses is the name of the store & a literary reference, but as someone not familiar with the chain those words at the end make a connection between the “danger” this “rebellious” woman is in and the company–oh, the frisson of a woman in peril!

    And I would love to ban all bad imitation Arabic music from all media ever.

    (Finally, who puts on high heels before stockings?)

  • Ayeshter

    I think Muslim women have been a fetish in the western mind for quite sometime. For me, this is just a technological update of the Harem paintings from the 19th century….albeit without any discernible artistic talent.

    It’s a typical marketing ploy. You find somthing people are passionate about, you play up on it. Ecology is another big marketing buzz word at the moment. They take legitimate concerns (like woman’s rights) and make a travesty out of them to sell some product.

    Buy fancy Lingerie….be empowered with your credit card! And…just ignore the abuse and low wages the women who manufacture it receive

  • syed saboor

    Hello, I am Syed saboor and on a radio show I cohosted,”America in Focus,” we spoke about the sexual objectification of muslim women as well. This goes back to Sir Richard Burton and his various travels he made to the islamic world, claiming all sorts of nonsense about how muslim women were just sex objects for male sexual gratification.