Fashion-forward first lady Michelle Obama is known as much for her charitable work as she is for her style choices, so it likely came as a surprise to many when an Iranian news agency photoshopped an image of her Oscars gown.
The first lady’s appearance at the Oscar awards on Sunday night, where she presented the Best Picture award to “Argo,” left some viewers miffed at her inclusion in the Hollywood event, but Iran’s Fars News agency apparently objected on quite different grounds.
Accompanying an article on Obama’s presentation of the coveted award to “Argo,” which the outlet described as a “controversial anti-Iranian film,” Fars News Agency ran a photo of Obama in which they altered her sleeveless Naeem Khan dress to include mini sleeves and added fabric covering everything below her neck.
According to the Guardian, the “semi-official” news agency’s photoshop alteration was performed in an effort to make the photograph “conform to Iranian restrictions on images of the female body in the media.”
Religious guidelines concerning the appearance of women in national media stipulates that Iranian women must only be seen wearing a hijab, a veil that covers their arms, legs and hair. The rules are less strict when it comes to foreign women, but the Guardian notes that it varies. Women traveling inside Iran are expected to conform to the same standards as Islamic women, but those only shown on television are “tolerated without the hijab, up to a point.”
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It’s reportedly a fairly common practice for Iranian censors to edit female outfits that are deemed too “immodest” in movies frame by frame, as well as from print and online images. That convention has extended at times, not only to actresses and celebrities, but to foreign dignitaries like the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, whose exposed clavicle apparently offended censors in 2011 and was edited to appear less revealing.
“She was properly dressed,” a spokesperson for Ashton later told the Telegraph of the incident. “It was not low-cut. Many women in Iran are in a complete veil. These were international negotiations in a third country.”
Obama also is not the first first lady whose image has been photoshopped to conform to the standards of religious media. In 2011, Brooklyn-based Hasidic newspaper Der Tzitung caused an uproar when it completely removed then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and counterterrorism director Audrey Tomasonout from a photo of the situation room. After receiving a backlash, Der Tzitung issued a statement apologizing for the photoshop job, writing, “In accord with our religious beliefs, we do not publish photos of women, which in no way relegates them to a lower status. ... Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging to women, which is certainly never our intention. We apologize if this was seen as offensive.”