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Provocative Modesty

What a wild ad! A provocative political statement in a fashion magazine?

–More pictures after the article below–


By: Julia Rubin

More often than not, fashion editorials serve a purely aesthetic purpose. But sometimes they make a political statement, and that’s when wereally pay attention.

We came across a Lior Nordman-lensed editorial for Israeli fashion magazine Belle Mode viaTrendland last month. Nordman photographed female models in provocative twists on modest dress — one wears a see-through full-length skirt, another bears a breast through the keyhole of a long-sleeved blouse — surrounded by men in traditional ultra-Orthodox  Jewish garb on a public bus. The images are striking, to say the least.

To understand the heft of this editorial, you need to understand the cultural context. Public buses have existed in the Israeli capital of Jerusalem for nearly a century, and those serving the small ultra-Orthodox community (which comprises about 10% of the country’s population) have been segregated for the past 14 years. Yes, segregated — not by race, but by sex, with women being relegated to the back of the buses. As the community has grown and people have moved beyond their isolated neighborhoods, the number of segregated bus lines has increased, and the nation’s liberal majority has pushed back.

A ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court in January of last year stated that forced segregation was illegal in the democratic state, but the buses could continue to operate for a year on a trial basis. Conflict was ignited once more when the year period came to a close. Several incidents — one in which a female soldier refused to go to the back of bus, another in which an 8-year-old girl was harassed by ultra-Orthodox men who found her modest clothing not modest enough — drew international attention, though it is unclear what will become of the segregation issue in the new year.

Nordman’s editorial is a clear critique of the ultra-Orthodox community’s treatment of women; one female model even has her mouth taped shut. “We are highlighting all these aspects of the restrictions of women, such as segregation on the bus, limitations in singing, and we’re touching upon the fine line between restriction and sexiness,” Belle Mode editor Maya Pollak explained in a video interview. “I think we are working with a population that’s very weary about facing their own desires. Even people who I work with who dress very provocatively know how to respect and guard themselves.”



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