Berlin, Apr 21: Sila Sahin has become the first Turkish woman to appear nude and on the cover of German Playboy.
The appearance of the Turkish-German actress in the May issue of Playboy magazine has created a hornets' nest in the Muslim world.
It's usually no longer a big deal when a celebrity or starlet takes off her clothes for the men's magazine. The unrelenting overexposure to sexually explicit images in the media, advertisements and the Internet has made public nudity so socially acceptable that we barely take notice.
But the 25-year-old Sahin, who plays "Ayala" in the RTL German soap opera "Good Times, Bad Times" (Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten/ GZSZ) managed to link her public exposure to the debate over a central socio-political issue: that young Muslim - in this case, Turkish - women are not allowed to make the same kind of decisions over their own lives and bodies that the daughters of the sexually revealing majority have been able to make for some time.
"For me, these pictures are an act of liberation from the cultural constraints of my childhood," says Sahin. "I have tried to please everybody for too long. With these images I want to show young Turkish women that it is OK to live the way they are; that it is not cheap to show skin; that you should pursue your goals instead of bowing down to others."
Growing up "with a father who is an actor and a very conservative mother, I am not speaking for everyone, but in my case, things were black or white. Sex before marriage was bad, you have to pray every Friday and so on." For a long time she "thought I have to do what the man says."
With Sahin's nude pictures framed as a contribution to the debate over emancipation of young Muslim women, the German Playboy builds on the historical tradition of the American original.
Its first edition, published in 1953 with a Marilyn Monroe centrefold, was undeniably the journalistic spearhead of a then still dormant sexual openness in a strictly puritan America.
Like no other magazine, Playboy stood for a liberal socio-political spirit, whose breakthrough in 1960s America it largely helped facilitate. The subsequent rise of feminist criticism of patriarchic structures of society largely discredited the political standing of the magazine and its founder, Hugh Heffner, who recently celebrated his 85th birthday.
Sila Sahin's campaign to use nudity as a means to self-determination teaches us that this criticism may well have been shortsighted.
Sila Sahin now faces threats not only from within her own family for her explicit pictures, but also from radical Turkish nationalistic groups.
By creating an attractive example of the self-determined, young Turkish woman who wants to live just as freely and unburdened as her German peers without immigrant roots, Sahin's pictures have the potential to set a symbolic counter point to the recent trend of the "girl with the head scarf."
The beautiful pictures are breathing new life into the values of the constitution and our liberal legal system that are too often just hailed in the abstract.