Aliaa Magda Elmahdy: A Girl and her Photo

Girl takes nude photo. Nude photo appears on the internet. What happens?

If you’re a porn star, people salivate and save it to their computers. If you’re a celebrity, the same thing also happens–and the girl either shrugs it off as “any publicity is good publicity” or she tries to sue whoever leaked the photo. If you’re Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, said girl get insults, threats, and worldwide debate.

Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, a mere 20 year old  Cairene student and activist, posted a nude photo of herself on her blog. The reason? She wasn’t trying to be a slut or flaunt herself, but she was definitely trying to garner attention: Aliaa was protesting freedom of speech and, I would say, people’s extreme views on sex in the Middle East. She is quoted as writing:

‘Hide all art books and smash naked archaeological statues. ‘Then take off your clothes and look at yourselves in the mirror, then burn your body that you so despise to get rid of your sexual complexes forever, before subjecting me to your bigoted insults or denying my freedom of expression.’

Words cannot describe how happy I was when I heard about this girl. My father had seen an article about her on AOL news. His response? “Well, Egyptian girls are rather attractive, aren’t they?” How radically different was his take on the photo from the many Muslims (mostly male, but there were women too) who poured hate onto her blog as well as her Facebook page, which I promptly added. The diatribes and hate people wrote were  sickening and disheartening. This girl is not a slut; she is not a whore. She is not a “crazy little bitch.” She took a picture of her body.

The profile photo for Aliaa Magda Elmahdy's facebook group "Aliaa Magda Elmahdy."

The human body is just that: the human body. Her comment as quoted above about people hating their own bodies is absolutely right: some people (particularly in the Middle East) are so hung up on sex that they have debased the human body. We all have a body, and who cares, quite frankly, if men’s bodies are slightly different from a woman’s body?

There is a tiny part of me that wishes that she had not taken the photo, and it is the part of me that sadly acknowledges the realities of life in Cairo, Egypt and that, as the Daily Mail article I read suggested, she may have done more harm than good. She took a radical step, and I’m not quite sure if Egypt was ready for such a bold move. Unfortunately, stripping down for this photo might have just reinforced people’s ideas that women are sluts and must be covered, otherwise they will go all out and bare all.

It’s unfair that, even in protesting, one should be prudent in taking care as to how one demonstrates. But the Daily Mail also pointed out another potential problem that could result from Aliaa’s statement: that her radical liberal approach might turn even lightly conservative people away from the liberal parties campaigning for office in Egypt. Egypt needs to maintain a “liberal,” open-minded and secular government. It will be such a shame if they replace Mubarak with extreme fundamentals who will certainly deny freedom of speech to a possibly even greater extent.

Despite the problems that her photo might cause for both her cause and for her personally (in my mind I see her cooped up in her flat, unable to leave for her own safety) I still think that, looking at the bigger picture, it needed to be done. She got not only Egypt’s attention, but the worlds!  She made her point clear: that one statement should not define a person, nor should one “statement” be enough to condemn her/him.

If I had to name my heros, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, a girl who I have never met and whose name I had never heard until today, would be featured on that list. To risk your life, social standing and possibly freedom to defend freedom is something worth honoring. The woman should be respected, not condemned.



  1. Aliaa Magda Elmahdy: Foolish act of bravery? Egyptian activist risks her life after posting full frontal nude shot online sparking outrage among Muslims” by Maysa Rawi, The DailyMail  UK, 18 November 2011.

5 thoughts on “Aliaa Magda Elmahdy: A Girl and her Photo

  1. Indeed it is amazing how crazy this couple of photos, of a completely natural phenomena, has gotten some people. I had no idea the traffic posting a link to her story would bring my blog, honestly, I just found it an extremely empowering statement, a statement I hoped those who read my blog might find interesting………. I averaged 4000 hits a day in the three days I had my post up before the CBS’s of the world finally tripped over the story……. i would have been happy to see an avg of 20 before that….

    1. I completely agree! Now the views chart is insanely skewered as you have this leaning tower of views and all the other ones are flat lines lol….I have a feeling that most people searching just want to see the nude picture, which I hadn’t included in my post. AOL covered it pretty early, and I saw that CNN did today and they had a great interview with her. I am proud that she is so brave, but worry for her safety–baby steps might be better next time for a place like Egypt, where wearing a tank top incites people to question your honor. -_-

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