Iraqi actress Enas Taleb sues 'The Economist' for depicting her as 'fat'

British magazine's article sparks debate about beauty standards and social norms for women in the Arab world

Iraqi actress Enas Taleb at the Babylon International Festival in 2021. She is taking legal action against The Economist magazine for using her image with a story about obesity among women in the Middle East. Getty
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Iraqi actress Enas Taleb is taking legal action against The Economist magazine after it used her image as a cover photo for a story about obesity among women in the Middle East.

The British weekly's story — Why women are fatter than men in the Arab world — argued that social barriers and a lack of access to jobs were keeping women indoors and preventing them from going to gyms or playing sport in public areas, leading to an obesity crisis.

At the end of the article, the magazine quoted some women as saying that one of the widespread social norms in Arab countries is that many men prefer them “to be Rubenesque”.

The magazine did not interview Taleb, but its story concluded with the line: “Iraqis often cite Enas Taleb, an actress with ample curves, as the ideal of beauty."

The picture leading the story was of Taleb on stage at the annual cultural Babylonian Festival wearing a custom dress inspired by the civilisations that inhabited Mesopotamia, now in modern-day Iraq.

When contacted by The National, Taleb said that she could not comment on the matter because of the legal action she is taking in the UK courts against The Economist.

'A great insult to the Arab woman'

The Economist has not commented on Taleb's legal action or the controversy the article caused, but ministers and influential figures have waded into the debate.

Earlier this week, she told the Arabic news channel, Al Arabiya, that the article was “a great insult to the Arab woman in general and the Iraqi woman in particular”.

The mother of two claimed that she is not as large as the photo depicts her, accusing the magazine of “manipulating and distorting” it.

“I have been facing bullying and offensive comments,” she told the station from Amman, Jordan, where she resides. Taleb is seeking compensation for emotional, mental and social damage.

She did not provide details about the lawsuit.

Born in 1980, Ms Taleb started her career in 1996 in locally produced TV dramas, plays and shows. The actress, who is highly respected and admired among Iraqis, has also appeared in adverts and music videos.

The article has stirred up controversy among Iraqis about beauty standards, leaving them divided over supporting Taleb.

With hashtag "the beauty icon Enas Taleb", former Iraqi minister of migration and displacement Evan Gabro said: “It is our moral and human obligation to show support to the actress Enas Taleb after the insult."

“The Iraqi woman will stay lofty and beautiful in the eyes of the world and persistent and successful in all fields,” Ms Gabro wrote on Twitter, posting photos of her Taleb.

However, Lina Musawi, an Iraqi researcher, does not agree with Ms Taleb for seeking to sue the newspaper.

Backing with the article, she tweeted: “We are living in a capital where there are no [proper] sidewalks for walking and there are no parks where women can walk.

“We are living in a society [that sees] the best place to go is the restaurant."

In its article, The Economist says that although obesity around the world is a problem for 15 per cent of women and 11 per cent of men, the gap varies.

The Middle East and North Africa has the biggest and most consistent disparity between the sexes, it added.

In the Middle East, 26 per cent of women are obese compared to 16 per cent of men.

“This can be dangerous”, it says.

“In 2019, eight Arab countries were among the 11 with the highest share of deaths attributed to obesity [mostly due to heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure]."

Updated: August 10, 2022, 2:21 PM