Album Covers Featuring Lady Gaga And Madonna Offer An Interesting Insight Into The Censorship Of Female Bodies In The Middle East

In a culture where women are expected to keep their flesh under wraps, it comes as no surprise that racy album covers of female pop icons Lady Gaga, Madonna and Kylie are censored in the Middle East.

Religious beliefs and traditions often mean that record labels have to present two types of album cover when they release a record: one presenting the original, more sexualised images of female artists and a separate toned-down version where flesh is covered.

Recent examples, as compiled by the Daily Mail, include Lady Gaga's 'Art Pop' album, where the star's legs are fully covered and the blue ball she's holding has been enlarged to cover the tops of her breasts and Kylie Minogue's infamous 'Fever' album, which sees her photoshopped into more clothing.

But why the need for such strict censorship?

Blogger, Susie of Arabia - who moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2007 from the US - tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle that while the censoring of female bodies happens a lot, it's also quite randomised.

"Magazines, product packaging, CDs, medical textbooks and other items that might feature photos of women are sometimes tampered with," she reveals. "But not always."

The Daily Mail reports that there are "religious police members" also known as the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), who are paid by the government to manually alter covers.

"I've seen black marker applied to dress-up the bare skin of women," Susie adds. "But what's confusing is that it is so inconsistent."

She reveals that in shopping centres, "large prints of women's faces are often pixelated or blurred or even just blanked out, while other times they are left untouched".

Sometimes the faces of children and men faces are blurred out too, but not as frequently as women.

And while she's never received any "satisfactory answers" as to why censorship in Saudi Arabia happens in such a randomised way, often religious beliefs are blamed.

Speaking exclusively to HuffPost UK Lifestyle, Lina Esco from anti-censorship campaign Free The Nipple, reveals that she's "unsurprised" that religion has such an effect on censorship in this case.

"Every culture and religion has a different view of what they think is pornographic," she adds. "I just wonder if this widespread fear of women's bodies will ever go away?"

Meanwhile, Amy Richards who writes for feminist website Soap Box Inc believes that the whole issue is a heavily "gendered".

"I'm opposed to censorship but I think this problem is deeper," she reveals. "It's directed specifically at women so it's a gendered offence, not merely a 'free speech/representation' issue."

"Would they censor male album covers in the same way?" she adds.

But, cultural differences aside, not everyone believes censorship is a bad thing.

In an internet thread showing before and after censorship shots of varying album covers, one person wrote: "Some of the alternate CD covers are a bit hilarious but it's good that their [Middle Eastern] culture is respected.

"After all there are worse things than to wear an additional pullover..."

Where do you stand on the censorship issue? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @HuffPoLifestyle

With photoshop...

Lady Gaga Before And After Photoshop