Let's think for a second: How many hijabis have you seen on your favorite beauty brands' Instagram pages or websites? When was the last time you've seen a hijabi model as part of a skincare brand's campaign? If the answer you've thought about is rarely or never, it's because the occurrence is rare. It's the reality of hijabi representation in the beauty industry where, unfortunately, the Muslim experience goes unnoticed.
Growing Up as a Muslim Woman in America
It felt like the media had one message growing up: Muslims are terrorists. I watched movies and shows that stereotyped Muslim men as aggressive and abusive while showcasing women as oppressed and submissive. I knew I was different from others at a young age, and I classified that as wrong. I could see how my teachers and peers looked at me and my mother, a hijabi woman, and I could feel the disdain they felt for her. Despite that, I firmly believed in treating others with respect and kindness, anticipating the same in return.
However, once I started wearing a hijab, that mistreatment fell on me. I learned the harsh reality of how people like me were treated. Classmates told me that I was much prettier without my hijab. I watched my school peers stare at me oddly in gym class and had parents say their child shouldn't stand next to me. People told me countless times to go back to where I came from, all for being myself unapologetically.
My mother prepared me for the aggressions that would come with wearing my hijab. "Hajar, wearing the hijab isn't easy," she told me. Still, I felt beautiful in my hijab and assured my mother that I could handle the pressures of being a Muslim woman in America. However, it didn't make experiencing Islamaphobia any less isolating.
The lack of representation continues to perpetuate the negative perception of hijabis.
The Lack of Muslim Representation in Skincare
Fortunately, I soon became enamored with beauty. I wore kohl around my eyes, attempted a winged liner occasionally, and watched a plethora of DIY skincare videos. When I scrolled through YouTube, watching makeup videos that were far too intimidating to attempt, I found comfort in gathering my mom's turmeric and yogurt to whip up a face mask. But in my countless hours spent learning about beauty, I never saw anyone who looked like me.
I wondered if the lack of representation was because girls like me were told they weren't beautiful enough. I've heard my fair share of how pretty I am without my hijab. Did people believe hijabis didn't fit their aesthetic or standards of beauty? As I grew up, I expected more strides in the beauty industry to be inclusive of hijabis. Hijabi women also enjoy and use makeup and skincare. When I don't see people who look like me in advertisements, I wonder if it's because the people in charge are likeminded to the people I encountered in my childhood. Is it that brands would prefer to see our hair and not accept us for who we are?
My faith doesn't have a defined space within the beauty industry and the lack of representation continues to perpetuate the negative perception of hijabis. The scarcity of hijabi representation in the industry only fuels the narrative that we are timid and oppressed. Hijabis are more than what the world perceives us to be. We are doctors, lawyers, writers, creators, and some of the most powerful women I've ever met.
What Beauty Brands Need to Do
When I joined the skincare space as an influencer last spring, I noticed that I was one of the very few hijabis included in the space. The more brands I learned about, the more I noticed a glaring lack of hijabi inclusion in campaigns, social media pages, and PR lists. The flagrant lack of representation needs to end, and it starts with brands making changes.
It's important that Muslim girls see themselves—even in a skincare ad—to know they belong and are beautiful.
It's 2021, and Muslim women deserve to feel represented—especially in the beauty aisle. It's important that Muslim girls see themselves—even in a skincare ad—to know they belong and are beautiful. Hijabis aren't timid or oppressed people, rather beautiful individuals who belong wherever they decide to be.
Brands must be more intentional about being genuinely diverse and inclusive. Working towards inclusivity also means prioritizing hijabis in your brand messaging and not writing us off as an afterthought. Finally, we must hold brands accountable to do better because hijabis deserve to have space in the beauty industry. We are beautiful and enough—and deserve to be represented as such.