Nothing Says Empowerment Like Sexy Face and an Oil Rubdown

Sila Şahin, a Turkish-German actress, shed her clothes in order to “free” herself from her conservative Muslim background. The Daily Mail says:

Ms Sahin’s declared intention was to used the controversial Playboy photoshoot as a call to action for other Turkish girls who suffer the effects of their strict backgrounds, where women’s choices are often limited, husbands are chosen for the girls and chastity closely controlled.

Sila Sahin

Sila Sahin

I am skeptical that this was actually about social commentary as much as it was about trying to advance her career. I do not have a problem with Şahin’s decision to pose nude. However, I do have a problem with the need to homogenize Muslim women and men in order to make such a story more sensational. Rather than being about courageously baring one’s breasts in order to make a statement against conservative men, I think that the reality of this story actually has little to do with Islam, and more to do with fame.

It seems to me that Şahin is not different than any other starlet in Hollywood that is trying to leave her young and innocent image in the dust. Touted as a brave and defiant decision, her exposé isn’t particularly empowering. If Şahin were actually interested in creating an open dialogue about the pressures faced by her peers, then she would have found a more constructive outlet for it.

A recent article in the New York Daily News claims that Şahin’s photo shoot is causing uproar in the Muslim community in Germany. The article alleges that Şahin’s life is in danger because of her radical departure from her “conservative” background. Assuming that Germany’s Muslim population is comprised of a single and tribal community, the article draws the conclusion that Şahin must have angered the leaders at large because of comments made online about her photo spread. Quoting comments made by users online about her photo shoot, the New York Daily News makes the conclusion that Şahin’s life is threatened. While the Internet is rife with commenters declaring war on the likes of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, the only reason why these threats are warranting articles is because of their ability to conjure images of bearded men plotting to stalk the German actress.

The article even casually mentions honor killings, despite the fact that Şahin’s family only showed shock and disappointment with her decision. The most drastic comment about her family is in regard to her mother, who has cut off all contact with her. In fact, The Daily Mail mentions that she has spoken with “her actor father, who expressed concern over the pressure she will inevitably face from those not only within the Turkish community in Germany, but from the wider Muslim community as a whole.” There is plenty of evidence that her family cares about her and feels hurt by her actions, but very little evidence that Şahin’s life is actually in danger.

Much like Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and other celebrities with images that were once spotless, Şahin’s decision to pose nude is actually less about trying to sever ties with a conservative background, and maybe more about a poorly veiled attempt to stir controversy and change her image.

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    I really do not find it rational how a woman can be “liberating” herself by posing naked in a men’s magazine. It’s like hello? you are reducing your self-worth in front of others by having them judge you simply by your appearance not by your level of character, intelligence, personality, spirituality, etc.

    And you’re right I believe this is all nothing but a poorly-advised publicity attempt by this actress. It’s so cliched and boring now though I mean I’ve lost count how many times I’ve seen some nice “pure virgin” (doesn’t matter if she’s Muslim or not) suddenly sexing herself up to become taken “seriously” in the entertainment world because she fears becoming irrelevant. Britney Spears is most famous for going that route and the latest to pull such a stunt is Miley Cyrus. The only difference between Sahin and the other aforementioned entertainers is religion but just swap out “Muslim” for “Christian” and see how many times the same old same old has been happening in entertainment.

  • Jihad-Punk

    I don’t care for Playboy and I find nothing empowering about posing naked for a men’s magazine, but she made the choice to do so, and I respect her right to do it.

    But I don’t like how she supposedly got naked in the name of Islam and announcing to the world that she’s doing it to rebel against conservative Muslims. LOL! No one cares, sweetie.

    However, when you bring Islam into it, yeah Muslims are gonna speak out about it. When you declare yourself a MUSLIM and announce to the world that you are a MUSLIM and you’re getting naked as a MUSLIM, yeah, Muslims are gonna react and respond.

    Just like when Saeeda Vorajee (“Sahara Knite”) came out to the British media years ago and declared herself UK’s first Muslim porn star, then Muslims are gonna have something to say about it.

    Otherwise, go ahead and make porn or get naked for Playboy, but don’t drag Islam into this, don’t declare yourself as the voice of Islam, or you’re gonna get a backlash from Muslims as a whole.

    Utterly childish and pathetic.

  • Susan

    I agree with Rchoudh and it appears Sila Sahin is using her Turkish/ Muslim background to provide that edgy, controversial aspect to her fame. Hey, nothing sells papers like the prospect of a whole bunch of men in beards frothing at the mouth, right? ( I am being sarcastic here btw).It is not only the sexualisation here, it is also using religious, cultural differences in a cynical way, reinforcing stereotypes against the Muslim community. If she was serious about breaking away from her conservative background, there are a million and one other things she could be doing. And yes that stunt of virgin child turning into wild woman is tired…

  • SakuraPassion

    Oh yeah, wanting validation from men is soooooooooooooo liberating. No but really, it seems she’s fallen prey to how women in entertainment end up choosing to pose nude. Though, it also plays into the virgin/whore dichotomy women can’t seem to break away from.

    I’m wondering if there’s a fetishisation thing going on here?


    @ Susan

    You made a great point about the cynical use of cultural, religious differences to perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Like Jihad-Punk said if she was going to go pose nude she should have done it without “othering” herself and dragging religion into it. The really cynical conspiracy theorist in me can’t help but think though that maybe her handlers hope she can gain publicity by riling up some irate Mullahs so that she can act like the perpetual “damsel in distress” and garner quick easy sympathy points from the German masses (as well as getting more attention paid to whatever movies/shows she stars in). Kind of similar to how some celebrities will try to air their dirtiest laundry around the time some movie/album comes out so that they can get the public on “their” side of whatever issue and get butts into theaters/concerts watching their performances. If this is truly the case with Sahin and her PR handlers I hope it backfires with everybody in Germany quickly losing interest in her desperate attempts to stay in the limelight…

  • Lara A

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Jihad-Punk – you have so summed up my feelings on this. I wish I could be more articulate, but you’ve worded something brilliantly that I’ve found hard to explain.

  • Duff

    @ Jihad-Punk

    Where does she drag religion into to it? Where does she say she’s getting naked as a MUSLIM? She acknowledges her ethnic background as a German-Turkish woman in the quote above and sees herself as an example for other Turkish women who grew up in similar circumstances as her, but as a MUSLIM, no. The muslim tag is being added by the mainstream media and by Muslimah Media Watch as if it is some ethnic designation that is tranferred by one’s parentage, and NOT a religious choice. Indeed many times, people in the public eye who hail from nominally ‘muslim’ families are spoken of as being muslim by default in the media, in fact articles (here and and elsewhere) take it upon themselves to expressly identify them as MUSLIM COMEDIAN/DOCTOR/MODEL whether they themselves identify in that way or not. Aziz Ansari and that NY times profile written about him is a good example (he never mentioned anything about being a muslim, yet the NYT called him one and was forced to retract that statement). I imagine Sila Sahin’s situation is similar.

    Articles on MMW make it apparent that unlike other women or people from other religious backgrounds here in the west, those born into ‘muslim’ families or hailing from muslim-majority countries, ALWAYS seem to be identified as muslim no matter how tenuous their link with the religion. They will always be written of as a MUSLIM foremost no matter what they do in life and no matter how secular/non-religious/atheistic they are; and if they don’t see themselves as muslim or want nothing to do with the religion, seems like someone always will portray them as such. I find it quite sad really. They are simply never afforded the chance to disassociate from the ‘muslim’ tag…why can’t Sila Sahin just be seen as the German-Turkish Playboy star she is. Why is she being called a muslim by the mainstream media when she didn’t call herself one in her interview? And why is Muslimah Media Watch insistent in mimicking the mainstream media and forcing Sila Sahin into the ‘muslim’ box?

  • Rochelle

    Like Duff, I found this article and the commentator’s incredibly judgmental tone to be hypocritical. So its okay to bring in one’s religious/ethnic/personal heritage into the conversation at all times, except when doing something controversial? Something Muslims don’t like? Why are some individuals able to speak as a Muslim and others aren’t?

  • N.

    Agreed with both Duff and Rochelle. For a Muslim feminist site, MMM sure is hypocritical sometimes.

    You mean, like the niqab? Ya know, that degrading garbage bag that passes off as clothing? Good grief, how could any rational woman choose to wear such a thing?! It strips her of character, intelligence, personality, by reducing her to an object!

    Please refrain from judging a woman’s rationality by what she wears. That is her CHOICE, regardless of her religious background. You’re no different from those who judge Niqabis.

  • Sara

    @Rochelle: Perhaps this wasn’t clear in the article. What I was critiquing was the media attention surrounding this issue, as well as the idea of posing nude as a form of ‘empowerment’, something I am critical of, no matter what the cultural background is of someone. Seeing as how Sahin comes from a very secular background, it is ludicrous to actually associate her with a religious Muslim background:

    Which is what the articles that are mentioned in my piece did. They mention the threat of her being honor killed.

    I do not see how I was ‘forcing’ Sahin into a Muslim box. In fact, I was treating her like any other hollywood starlet that decides to pose nude in order to advance their careers, something that I am pretty critical of (as I mentioned before).

  • Sara

    @N: If this is about choice, I respect Sahin’s choice—which is something that I explicitly said in the article.

    She decided to use this as an opportunity to free herself from the conservative pressures of her Turkish background, but doesn’t really define what that necessarily means. The media filled in the gaps with Islam. I was explicitly saying that this doesn’t really have much to do with religion. However, even though she ISN’T a Muslim woman, she is being identified and represented as a Muslim woman.

    I don’t think MMW is hypocritical for a ‘muslim feminist site’. The definition of what it means to be a ‘muslim feminist’ is in no shape or form singular , much like the term feminist. There isn’t a single view here. MMW represents a wide range of perspectives, and that is the great thing about it.


    @ N

    “Please refrain from judging a woman’s rationality by what she wears.”

    Please follow your own advice first before advising others because you just negatively judged women who choose to wear niqab, capische?

  • Krista

    @ RCHOUDH: I read N’s comment as being sarcastic – that if it’s okay to judge women’s decisions to pose naked (as your earlier comment did), then it should also be okay to make the judgemental comments that N was making.

  • Krista

    And, obviously, that the overall point is that ALL of these judgements are not okay, not that there should be a free-for-all in judging each other!


    Just to make clear I wasn’t judging Ms. Sahin in terms of condemning her and saying she’s incapable of changing (only Allah knows what each of our ultimate fates will be).
    What I was saying was that I think her act of posing nude was nothing more than a publicity stunt like it is for most other female celebrities today (Muslim or nonMuslim). And while her comment about serving as a role model for Turkish girls didn’t mention Islam, she and her handlers had to have been aware of mainstream media inserting Islam into the mix, in which case it would have helped if she stated later that religion has nothing to do with her choice, she’s not talking about serving as a role model for all Muslim girls. And maybe she shouldn’t have brought in even culture into the discussion, she could have just gone for stating that her actions are the result of proving how much of a “strong independent” woman she is for posing nude, much the same way as how other celebrities have justified their stance.

  • N.

    Why does it bother you so much that’s she roped in her culture as a reason? Is it not possible that her culture MIGHT be hindering her independence? What is it with some Muslims- when a (nominal) Muslim feels restricted and openly talks about it, Muslims everywhere will complain, “he/she shouldn’t blame Islam, it’s their culture” and then when that person actually points to their culture, “he/she shouldn’t blame their culture (because it’s Islamic?)”. Make up your mind.

    For many people, culture restricts their personal freedoms. I know mine does, so I sympathize with Sahin.