To Gather Together
by Samuel Tafreshi & Omar Alhashani
Chime for Change’s upcoming issue joins in the fight against child marriages.
You can almost hear Olivia Newton-John in the rhinestone gleam and blinding platinum wig adorning Nahed Sater. The image is contradictory-caricature personified: clear plastic heels and beauty pageant kitsch meet a dirty old gym—a tire, weighted bags—brought together by 80’s popular culture. The images are dreamy, playful, even soft, but the juxtaposition of her bedazzled bikini with the bleak, old-fashioned gym function to illustrate a series of not-so-subtle frictions in Lebanese society.
The photo series of Nahed Sater, the first Arab woman to win an international bodybuilding title, explores these tensions and demonstrates the ever-shifting position of women in this male-dominated sport. As bodybuilding has continually grown in popularity in the region and women have begun to compete more often, the photos raise the question of what gender equality could look like in a sport defined by performative masculinity. By contrasting Nahed’s high heels and long red nails with Bruce Lee posters and duct-taped bags, the photographer—Editor-in-Chief of Cold Cuts magazine and veteran photographer of Lebanon’s queer communities—Mohamad Abdouni complicates gendered notions of bodybuilding by presenting an expression of performative femininity.
Upon first look, a viewer might simply believe these photos represent how a woman in the bodybuilding world is out of place, juxtaposed by her surroundings, but upon further inspection, one begins to see that this isn’t the case. While the dichotomy is undoubtedly present, there is something both in and out of place about Sater in the gym. On the one hand, the glitz and glamour of Nahed is conspicuous in the space; there’s a manufactured fragility to her poses. The high heels she wears, the long nails grasping weights, and the weights themselves being curiously small all generate a feeling of precarity.
On the other hand, Sater perfectly exemplifies the nature of the sport itself. Bodybuilding is about the aesthetic development of muscles, not the practical use of them. The poses themselves are the competition, and it would be odd for any bodybuilder to be performing with weights that match their physique. Bodybuilding is not weight-lifting. The heels, moreover, augment the striking nature of the pose, emphasizing strength. The bedazzled bikini fits perfectly within the scope of bodybuilding attire which is most often defined by tiny shimmering speedos. The jewelry and wig, rather than being incongruous with the image of a bodybuilder, serve to convey trends within the sport that could emerge and signal a movement away from the male-centered perspective.
Nahed Sater represents what a new era of women bodybuilders looks like as they reach unheard-of levels of success and carve out a more permanent place for themselves. Women’s professional bodybuilding is a sport set only to grow and expand as more of the world compete and the historic international Ms. Olympia competition is revived. Ms. Oympia, formerly the highest-ranking international women’s bodybuilding contest and counterpart to Mr. Oympia, took place annually from 1980 until it was canceled in 2014. The discontinuation of Ms. Olympia and the subsequent 6-year hiatus speaks to the boundaries women are pushing in the sport, and how it hasn’t been a clear path for most professionals to achieve their success. The return of Ms. Olympia in 2020 indicates that many of the binaries that have defined the sport are being challenged, not only in Abdouni’s photo series but globally.
The photo series by Mohamad Abdouni is published in the upcoming issue of Chime for Change and implicit in Abdouni’s work is the issue’s larger campaign for gender equality. How do you create something that you can’t imagine? How do you work towards a goal that you can’t describe? These are the driving questions behind Chime for Change’s latest issue: To Gather Together. Its pieces that range from identity and masculinity in South Africa to an entire sub-issue challenging cultural norms in Brazil.
A global campaign established as a joint project between Gucci, Salma Hayek Pinault, and Beyonce Knowles-Carter, Chime for Change aims to gather, unite, and amplify the voices speaking out for gender equality. The project aims to inspire participation in a collective community, to join those together who have been purposefully kept separate, and to establish bonds across borders and generations in the fight against oppression.
In collaboration with Academy Award winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage campaign, and Equality Now, this issue sheds light on the reality that faces so many children who make up the 12 million girls married in childhood. Through education and action, Chime for Change is pushing back against the institutions fueling child marriage. The issue highlights this issue as it works hand in hand with the previously mentioned groups to make long-term sustainable efforts to empower girls, mobilize communities, and pressure governments to enact and uphold the laws which could prevent child marriage and #LetGirlsDream.
The struggle for equal rights in Brazil is of equal importance in this issue, highlighting and celebrating 40 years of tireless resistance and achievement by the unified black movement and the LGBTQIA+ movement. As Vitoria Regia Da Silva writes in the zine’s introduction:
In Brazil, we are proud of our heritage, dedicated to our country and honor our ancestors—truly believing that we stand on the shoulders of giants…
After colonization, we became the last country in the western world to abolish slavery, and the ramifications of both eras are still felt today. In Brazil a young black man dies every 23 minutes. We are the country that murders the most transgender women a year. Tired of living inside their own closets and on the margins of society, black people, queers, and women have claimed their space and rights in the country. And we join forces with those who came before us to keep on fighting...
We exist and we will not back down. It is not by chance that our motto has been: “If it hurts my existence, there will be resistance.”
In a society in which history represents power and is the subject of dispute, the rise of divergent groups is essential. We no longer accept being invisible. We possess our own histories and they are first-person narratives. There are many stories that deserve to be told, and we have gathered some of them here.
Chime for Change presents an incredibly varied and necessarily complicated look at the battles against entrenched gender hierarchy and oppression taking place in shifting forms all over the globe. The issue transports its audience to Mexico, USA, Lebanon, Canada, South Africa and Brazil to make tangible what unifies struggles that seem disparate at first glance.
This review was directly solicited by Gucci’s Chime4Change. It was written by multiple members of the Khabar Keslan editorial collective. If you’d like more information, please contact us at editor[at]khabarkeslan.com.