When this first popped up in my news feeds back in December, I rolled my eyes and breezed past it as I figured that it was a few partisan hacks trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. Jamaica’s Minister of Youth and Culture (and 1993 Miss World) Lisa Hanna posted a photo of herself taking a sea bath just after the Reggae Marathon in Negril which starts and ends near Negril’s famous 7 mile long beach. She was wearing a Bob Marley t-shirt and a bikini bottom.
So imagine my surprise when it popped up again this weekend after the respected Catholic priest and social activist Father Ho Lung tore into Hanna in the Gleaner, decrying her as the “Disappointment of the Year 2014.”
In a blistering piece, Fr. Ho Lung sharply criticised the government and IMF for being oblivious to the suffering and desperation of the poor in Jamaica. Absolutely understandable since Fr. Ho Lung is a man who has dedicated his life to alleviating the plight of the poor and is passionate about his cause.
But then the piece took a turn where he termed Hanna’s posting of the photo on her Instagram account as “the most disgusting of acts” committed throughout the year. Fr. Ho Lung went on to question:
“Why would the minister of youth and culture, just short of complete nudity, strip herself down and post herself on social media in an obvious cry to the public through the media to call attention to herself? It is a desperate attempt at ‘Me, myself, and I’, the ego fearing loss of being forgotten by the public, by which Lisa Hanna is given her breath and life.”
Iz all a dat? Or is it just a government minister showing her support and participation in a sports tourism event?
I am so genuinely baffled about this. How and why is this a big deal? It’s not as if photo had no context. It was – like other IG photos of her attending constituents’ funerals or art exhibition openings or youth forums – a behind the scenes look at the kinds of events and activities she participates in as a government official.
At least that’s how I saw it.
To my mind, it was no different to this photo of Barbadian Opposition Leader Mia Mottley, – also in the sea in swimwear. It was taken just after she and members of her party had met and spoken with beach vendors and water sports operators as part of their Rubbing Shoulders outreach where they met with workers in different industries. The photo did not cause any great stir.
I guess one could argue that the difference is that Ms. Mottley didn’t post the photo on social media and hence Ms. Hanna was more active in putting the photo out there – courting attention if you will. But the media was invited to the rubbing shoulders meetings and Ms. Mottley chose to hop on the jet ski and let her photo be taken.
Because…it’s no big deal. Sometimes in the Caribbean, your official duties take you to the beach. #ilivewhereyouvacation and all that. And they are both in normal beach wear doing the normal things one does at the beach.
Which is why I’m baffled. I wondered – is this kerfuffle strictly partisan politics which JA has aplenty? I don’t think that’s it especially since Fr. Ho Lung has always been outside of partisan politics.
Is it a function of Jamaica’s weird puritanical streak that pops up from time to time on very specific issues (e.g. homosexuality, oral sex)?
But then my husband reminded me of the similar kerfuffle 10 years ago when a new-to-stardom Rihanna made her first visit home since Pon De Replay went to number one. Riri stepped out of her hotel wearing a monokini and jeans and popped into the right-next-door Chefette to get a drink. The photo was published on the front page of the paper and people lost their minds, screaming about how inappropriate her outfit was.
It’s been so long that I can’t find the photo alas but I was out of the Caribbean at the time and I remember being just as baffled when a friend in another island asked me about the big controversy over Rihanna’s outfit.
Honestly, I looked for the outfit, saw the one they meant and kept looking because I presumed it had to have been something else far more outre to have caused such a storm.
It was not. And just like Lisa Hanna’s photo and Mia Mottley’s photo, Rihanna’s outfit made perfect sense in the context. Everyone in Bim knows the hotel and the restaurant are literally across the road from a popular beach and it was clear to anyone with a brain cell that she was either going or coming from the beach. Thousands of people go into that Chefette every year dressed in similar outfits or less.
So it made me think. Maybe the reason underpinning the Hanna and Ri-hanna (see what I did there?!) swimwear ‘controversies’ is critics’ inability to separate them from their obvious sex appeal which has played a part in their past (Hanna) and present (Riri) careers. No offense to Mia but no-one considers sex appeal as a factor in her careers as an attorney and politician. Lucky her.
Look I get it. To be Miss World, you have to be sexy. And for most, the same applies to being a pop star. It is a factor. But to act as if they are always ‘on’ sex appeal mode, as if their every action is designed as an “obvious cry to the public through the media to call attention” to themselves is absurd and says more about their critics than these successful islandistas.