There are at least three versions of this photo online. The one that is most prevalent shows the women with their heads covered and eyes slightly visible through a slit in their veils. The photo has been around at least since 2006, and like most viral content, resurfaces every few days.
It’s popularity even got it a place in the Bollywood blockbuster “3 Idiots!”
Another version from November 20, 2006 features the photo but with the faces hidden completely such that even the eyes cannot be seen. This can be traced back to a blogger by the name of Sharida Mohamedjoesoef who posted it with the caption “Say Cheese …Arab style?”. He also adds, “Got this picture through my cousin in Surinam. Looks like it was taken in Downtown Beirut or, a serious case of Adobe Photoshop.”
It seems like the photo was first posted online by a blogger by the name of Alex Santoso on July 21, 2006. This is the earliest version that can be found, and it was posted with the caption “Say Cheese”. This is what Alex Santoso had to say about the photo, “Or Not. What’s the point? Smiling obviously makes absolutely no difference when you’re covered from head to toe!”। In his version the woman at the far left has her face uncovered, although the rest of her body is wrapped in a burqa. Everybody’s eyes are showing.
It is difficult to conclude whether something found online is real or not, but it is true that everything can be edited, even after posting – this includes the publishing date as well. We could not find the original photographer who took this picture but we are certain that the July 2006 version is the earliest – and our decision regarding that is related to a comment published on the website www.neatorama.com where the photo is hosted. It is possible to change everything about a blog post – even the publishing date, but the date a comment was posted is hard to change. Even more interestingly, the comment addresses the fact that the woman on the left is uncovered. The comment is being published below:
It is despicable the way women are treated in most of the Muslim world… at the same time if they WANT to wear a head-to-toe burqa then go for it. And props to the honey on the left for taking off the veil.
That this photo was taken as a joke by most people can be understood by a comment posted by the Neatorama.com admin.
He might as well just download a photo and label it with his wives’ and daughter’s names.
or, as another visitor says
How are they going to know who’s in the picture?
A phograph is rendered redundant if it is not possible to recognise the people in it afterwards, as the commenters would say – and that is where the joke lies. The joke however is not complete with the woman on the left showing her face – and hence the photoshop warriors covered her up too.