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Sexy photo sends wrong message

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Recently I listened to a national talk show host discuss the presentation of a naked-midriff Jennifer Lopez poster to young Afghani Muslim boys. The more I listened, the more I became enraged at the comments of the predominantly male callers.

Many proposed that the display was "no big deal" and merely a conflict of "religious" difference between the United States and Afghanistan that made the picture offensive to the Afghanis.

This is not merely a religious issue, it is a universally moral issue about the value of women in general to society.

Several callers touted the freedom of American women compared to the deprived, veiled women of Afghanistan. They implied that the picture was a symbol of female emancipation. After all, women are so much more valuable in the United States because they can be sex symbols and walk around society half-dressed!

As a woman, I am offended that the picture of Lopez was shown to the boys — not because of my religious views but because it is demoralizing and degrading to the female gender.

Is a woman's most significant contribution to society her physical allure, her sexiness? Is the icon of femininity her belly and hips? Sadly, many think it is. And, ironically, this view is not merely advanced by the opposite sex. It is promoted greatly by women such as Lopez herself and Britney Spears and the women and girls who yearn to exemplify them.

If the correspondents truly wanted to show the Afghani adolescents a representation of the American woman, why did they not show a picture of first lady Laura Bush? They could have shown pictures of Oprah or Dr. Laura — both very attractive women who are also very influential in our society.

How about magazine pictures of mothers cheering on the sidelines of their children's ball games? They could have shown pictures of women teaching in schools, graduating from college, rearing children in our American homes. These would be pictures of freedom. These would be pictures displaying the amazing influence women can have in our country.

It is not religion that makes the picture of Lopez deplorable. It is the degradation of women in society as a whole — whether it be in Afghanistan where women are shrouded and stripped of ability to achieve or contribute; or in America where many women are persuaded to believe (by the media and pop culture) that their worth to society is largely based on their physical beauty and sex appeal.

We need to show not only Afghanistan but ourselves as well, that free women can contribute much more than a bare belly to the world. We have great ideas and compassion. We work hard in the home and the workplace. We bandage boo-boo's and hold public office. We can be significant leaders and vocal supporters.

We are Olympic athletes and volunteers in schools. We are CEOs of companies and struggling single-mothers. And, yes, we can even be beautiful and attractive as we serve and enrich our communities.

Hey, Afghani youth (and America!), the splendor of femininity lies neither in the veil nor in the belly ring — it is in the mind, heart and soul of a woman who is free to think, express, love, give and thrive.

Angela Huntington resides in Saratoga Springs with her husband and four children.