How the hijabi is represented in fashion and the media

The AINTNOTOKEN and #AFROHIJABI campaigns seek to acknowledge the diversity of representation of black Muslim women in the fashion and beauty industry

Zainab Hassan

Several years ago MUA, model and content creator Zainab Hassan started a campaign called #AINTNOTOKEN, which aimed to challenge the tokenisation and fetishisation of Muslim ethnic minorities in the beauty and fashion industries.

“True diversity, is acknowledging the categories within the categories. Take being Muslim, is there only one type of ethnicity, hair type, eye colour that represents the Muslim woman? No!,” announced Zainab.

“#AINTNOTOKEN focuses on individual characters within the umbrella of representation in the media. I wanted to show that a subset has a diversity of its own and I chose to use something close to me, to begin with, which is why I chose modest fashion.” 

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The model who also works as a make-up artist, told, “I found myself in one too many situations where my immutable characteristics were looked at in a negative light. As a makeup artist, I have seen it from the other side too, and have been in a situation where others have been made to feel that our modesty, for example, is hindering the bigger process. The truth of the matter is; that this isn’t the case and I figured it was a fear of the unknown.”

Founders of company Culturing Success, Rikki Knight and Rhianna Beaumont, noticed a separation between the black woman who wears a hijab and the one that doesn’t. “As if the hijab, a piece of material makes us somehow – different. And the lack of representation of black Muslim women within the media perpetuates this narrative,” said the pair.

One of the images from the Culturing Success viral photo shoot

Rihanna continues, “the birth of Culturing Success came out of frustration, the frustration of being invisible and along with this came our first campaign, #AFROHIJABI. The showcasing of amazing black Muslim women. A lot of the time our work goes unnoticed, but with the growth of social media we have the opportunity to showcase our many talents.

To our delight this shoot went viral, the response was amazing and we were left feeling overwhelmed with the flood of messages we received.”

“All of us understood the obstacles we face due to our ethnicities and religious beliefs and how we refuse to view them as a barrier. We are poets, we are athletics, we are doctors and we are mechanics. We are here, we exist and our voices will be heard! Each one of us paving the way for a better narrative.”

Model Halima Aden says the fashion industry has caused her to compromise her beliefs

Halima Aden, the Somali American model, who became famous for being the first woman to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, surprised the fashion world when she announced that she is quitting the catwalk because the industry has forced her to stray away from her religious beliefs. Her decision shows the fine line trodden by hijabi-wearing models and influencers who want to be visible and to represent their faith and community in an industry that treats them as commodities and doesn’t understand or respect their religious beliefs.

In a series of Instagram story posts, the 23-year-old spoke about how the job made her more detached from her identity.

Aden said that she became “so desperate” to represent her faith and community in the fashion world that she had “lost touch” with who she really is and would often put herself in compromising positions.

The model went on to explain that she sometimes missed prayer times and once agreed to having a pair of jeans draped over her head in place of her headscarf. After the shoot, Aden said she “sobbed” in her hotel room.

“I can only blame myself for caring more about opportunity than what was actually at stake,” wrote Halima, one of the first models to wear a hijab while representing mega fashion labels.

With the #AINTNOTOKEN, campaign Zainab aimed to give outsiders perspective, so in this instance, diversity through the eyes of a hijabi woman, while remaining true to their core beliefs. She said on Instagram, “I chose to use five Muslim girls, the aim was to create loud statement imagery… These models all have their own unique ideas of the meaning of modest dressing and exuding their unique beauty.”
Thanks to Zainab Hassan and Culturing Success with their help in this article.

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