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I’m Tired Of Hearing This Muslim Beauty Stereotype




For some, a lipstick is just a lipstick. But for others, it’s a source of strength, creativity, and expression. In our series Power Faces, we’ll explore the relationship between strong women and the makeup they choose to wear — or not. Our third subject, Miski Muse, is a model and student living in New York City.

You’d be surprised by the amount of people who assume that you’re bald or don’t care about your appearance when you wear a scarf. There are so many people who are like, ‘Why do you even style or dye your hair? Nobody’s going to see it.’ That shows that you’re doing things for other people; I’m doing them for myself. I still want to feel good — who cares if no one sees it? I see it and that’s very important to me.

Because I cover my hair, wearing makeup allows more personality to show through. You take something, and you put it back; it’s simple math. I do think a lot of people equate modesty with being boring, though. After I was featured in Vogue, someone tweeted at me and said, ‘Nice to see a hijabi woman in Vogue, but it’s sad that you have to have all those pounds of makeup.” When did modesty mean not taking care of myself? There’s nothing in the Quran, which is our holy book, that says not to. It actually says that you should.

I think we’re all beautiful and there’s no reason for anyone to be looked down upon for wearing anything — whether that’s heavy makeup or not.

Family Values

Growing up, I had no introduction to makeup. My mother put on eyeliner, and that’s it. I started experimenting with colors and makeup in the seventh grade, and my mom did not get why I would wake up every morning and do that. She was like, ‘You are beautiful just the way you are.’ That’s always what my family would reiterate, so in the back of my mind, I know that I don’t need makeup, but I like it.

My family is not judge-y about me wearing makeup — they just don’t understand it. It could be a lack of communication, or the fact that they had a different kind of upbringing in Somalia. I think what they learned was that the less makeup you wear, the more beautiful you are. I didn’t grow up there, so I don’t even have that concept in my mind. I’m trying to balance both worlds, and, at the same time, be myself.

Escape Artist

For me, makeup is a form of expression and also how I combat my depression and anxiety. Some days, if I’m feeling down, putting on a little bit of concealer gives me that push that I need. Whenever I do a deep lip, I’m like, ‘What business are we handling today?’ As I’m applying, I’ll say, ‘You can do this and it’s going to be okay.’ Knowing that I put five minutes of my time towards myself instead of lying down or going through Facebook makes me feel good.

It’s not about being done up, because I don’t think that’s a prerequisite to feeling beautiful. But I like knowing that I’ve put effort into myself, whether that’s braiding my hair or whatever. It’s a form of self-care for me.

Feature Presentation

Growing up, I was hugely self-conscious about my lips and my eyes, because kids were mean. They would tell me I had owl eyes — that was my nickname throughout elementary school.

I used to get teased a lot for having darker eyelids, too. People would be like, ‘Why are your eyelids a different color?’ I wasn’t comfortable accentuating that, so I didn’t want to put on eyeshadow or draw attention to myself at all.

It’s funny, because those are the features that I love now. I would have done anything to have smaller lips or smaller eyes back in the day, but now I wouldn’t trade them for the world. It’s interesting the way that comes about. I think that it shows growth. Now, eyeliner makes me feel like I can conquer anything. It’s crazy how a little line can have that effect.

Mirror Image

You hear about how representation matters, you hear it, and you think, whatever. But people don’t understand how huge representation actually is.

When I was younger, I used to rip out every image of a Black woman who was featured in a magazine, which was no more than 10 pages per issue. I would pin them up and every month, they’d be on rotation.

To go from seeing someone who looked slightly like me in a magazine, to seeing someone like Halima Aden, who literally looks like me, on a cover — that’s a feeling I don’t know how to explain. I bought the magazine and was crying, and the cashier at the register was also wearing a hijab. She looked at me and we had a moment. It’s no longer just a dream now — it’s tangible.

Model Behavior

It’s still weird to call myself a model. I go to events and people are like, ‘What do you do?’ and I don’t know what to say. I’m getting better at it, but I feel like a fraud. I know that’s really dumb. I’ve done work and people tell me that I’m a model and in my head, I am a model. But then I’m like, Wait… but am I?

It’s not so much about the connotation; I really don’t care what people think. But I’m not the average model; I’m not six foot and size two. Even though I’m comfortable in myself, I’m still not seeing enough people who look like me to be like, I can be a model, too. And that’s some growing that I have to do internally.

In the end, if you wake up and you decide that this is what you want to do, then that’s what you’re going to do and no one can take that away from you. That’s your power and I’ve come way too far to put it in someone else’s hands.


Supermodel Iman wants widespread education and earnest activism



INTERVIEW MAGAZINE — When Iman arrived in New York, in the fall of 1975, the photographer Peter Beard hosted a press conference introducing her at his friend’s apartment. The crowd was surprised to hear she could speak English. Beard, who had discovered the 20-year-old college student in Nairobi, had returned to the States with his roll of film and slightly dubious stories about an otherworldly African beauty the likes of whom no one had ever seen. As it turns out, Iman, the daughter of a Somali diplomat, spoke five languages and was as intelligent and self-possessed as she was beautiful. While she went on to become one of the most sought-after models of the ’70s and ’80s—a muse to scores of photographers and designers—Iman has always been a cultural force all her own.

Despite retiring from modeling in 1989, her legacy in fashion endures. In 1994, she founded her makeup line, Iman Cosmetics, which introduced difficult-to-find shades for women of color. With her husband, the late music legend David Bowie, she lent her time, her voice, and her face to dozens of humanitarian causes, from AIDS research to education. At 62, Iman continues to run her beauty empire while also raising her teenage daughter. To be an activist, as she tells her friend, the actress Rosario Dawson, you have to be active.

ROSARIO DAWSON: I want to start by saying how much I love you, Iman, and how blessed I’ve always felt knowing you. I’ve watched you start a cosmetics company that was inclusive, and I’ve watched you work to save children and highlight the issues of conflict minerals with the Enough Project. Where did the drive to help people come from?

IMAN: My father was a teacher, but he ended up becoming a diplomat in the Middle East because he was knowledgeable about the politics of Somalia at that time. When my mom and dad met, Somalia didn’t have independence. I was born into a family that was very politically active. Growing up, the house was bustling with people; my parents were holding meetings and discussions, so I was constantly aware of what was going on. There were no barriers between men and women because everybody was fighting for independence. My parents used to say, “To be an activist, you have to stay active.” It’s not something you can choose to do when you want to or when it’s trendy.

DAWSON: You’ve proven that over and over again. Education also seemed vital to you—so much so that when you were discovered as a model, you traded being photographed for college tuition. You were studying political science at the time, right?

IMAN: Yes, I was. I cannot stress enough the importance of education, especially for girls. When I started school—this is how I knew how important it was for us—my mom sold all of her jewelry to put me in the country’s best school. My father taught me there was nothing I couldn’t do better than my brothers. That instilled in me self-worth, which has sustained me all my life. When people know that you can say no and walk away from things that aren’t right, they see your power. They see that you’re powerful.

DAWSON: I thought of you this past year when I was in Liberia and Sierra Leone for a month. It was so fascinating. Even after Ebola and all of the different things that have hit these places a mudslide happened in Sierra Leone just as I left—there’s still so much infrastructure that was being built and development that was happening. You could see a lot of progress. I couldn’t believe how many people had cellphones! There’s still such a lack of awareness around what they’re doing to communities in the Congo.

IMAN: I remember my parents used to make sure we didn’t drink Coca-Cola. They were dumping all of this Coca-Cola into third world countries in the same manner as cigarettes. Nobody smokes more than people in the third world. And the same applies to iPhones and all of that. At the end of the day, awareness is the most important part. A lot of people, especially young people in Africa, don’t understand what’s going on with minerals used in smartphones and how they’re affecting places like the Congo. People are kind of loaded up on unimportant stuff nowadays. I’m so glad about what’s happening with the #TimesUp movement. When people are aware of what’s going on, true change happens. And it usually starts underground. It does not happen from the top down. It goes from down to up.

DAWSON: It feels like a shift in cultural consciousness.

IMAN: People really need to pay attention. I’m worried about the new generation of young people who are not fully aware of what’s going on. They’re tuned in but not for the right reasons. “Oh, I’ll be nude and I’ll put it on social media.” Well, what’s your point? What are you trying to say? I love social media because you can showcase what you want to say, but a lot of times it’s just noise. It doesn’t matter, and it goes so fast; five minutes later it’s gone, and everyone’s moved on to something else.

DAWSON: I think it’s unfortunate how nudity has so often been proliferated because of the male gaze. And it’s been about making it taboo or fetishizing certain aspects of it. I personally find it very empowering. I grew up around nudists. I heard a story about a teenage girl—she and her boyfriend were going to be intimate for the first time, and he freaked out when they got naked because she had a labia, and she had hair. In all of the pornography he had seen, there was no hair.

IMAN: [laughs] Yes, there’s no hair!

DAWSON: He was used to Barbies. So this moment that should have been really special between these two people who loved each other ended up turning into this crazy situation because we are so distanced from any kind of healthy exposure and acceptance and expression of our bodies and ourselves. I have been seeing a proliferation of art exhibits that are showing all different kinds of vaginas. I think that’s actually critically important. It’s not always perfect, but that’s what makes us human.

IMAN: That is art to me—showcasing what the body looks like, rather than posing and putting a filter on it.

DAWSON: I find how messy it all is actually kind of empowering.

IMAN: The world is messy.

DAWSON: There is no one right way to do anything. And what I’m just grateful for…Wait, my dad’s about to go on a 20-mile bike ride. [to her dad] I love you. Text me. Make sure you check in with me! I’m nervous. [laughs] Wow, what a great moment to interrupt.

IMAN: [laughs] The keyword is messy!

DAWSON: It is! It’s messy and complex. We’re seeing this as we’re getting more into #TimesUp and into #MeToo and understanding that it’s beyond people just telling their stories and healing—it’s work.

IMAN: Absolutely.

DAWSON: When you first started modeling, what was that like for you? You’ve joked about the fact that you were just like any other Somali woman. So how crazy was it to suddenly have to make all of these decisions about how to represent yourself?

IMAN: Somalis are actually considered some of the most beautiful people in the world—and we definitely think we are. [Dawson laughs] I was an average girl. Somali people still say, “If Iman can be a model, any girl in Somalia can be a model because we’re all that beautiful.” But for me, where I came from, beauty was secondary compared to your mind and your thoughts. I pushed myself toward education. I looked at everything in terms of politics. So when I came to the United States, it was all about the politics of beauty. When I first arrived, one of the top models was Beverly Johnson. At first, I had no notion that there was any competition between us, because I had never seen a fashion magazine in my life. But they actually pitted us against each other. I also compared myself to the white girls. They were paying white models more money than black models. I’d refuse to take those jobs. I’d say, “I’m providing a service. It doesn’t matter what color I am. My services should be paid the same as the white model.”
DAWSON: What are your thoughts about sexual and power dynamics in your industry, like the allegations against Bruce Weber and Mario Testino? How do we allow for body positivity within an industry that can prey on very young people? Where does the line get drawn around manipulation and freedom of expression?

IMAN: I stopped modeling in 1989, but I don’t think the industry has changed in any big way. In terms of being taken advantage of by a photographer, that never happened to me. But I can see how it happens, because it’s a power thing—because of the suggestion that if you are topless, it will make a better picture, and that if you don’t do it, somebody else will. At the same time, as you said, where does one control the artistic endeavor of the business? A lot of these models start very, very young. I started when I was 20, and I was clueless about what modeling was—but I was not clueless about life. I personally don’t know why anybody would allow their own children to go unchaperoned. It’s an adult business, and it’s very difficult to protect a child.

DAWSON: My very first film was Kids [1995], so there were a lot of young people. I was 15 when I did the movie, and my parents worked, so they weren’t there for my first rehearsal. They let me go and spend quite a lot of time with a bunch of strangers, really. I was a very body-positive person. I was raised with nudists and with a lot of activism; I knew how to speak up for myself. I was very comfortable in my body. But there were moments when that was exploited. I don’t necessarily think my parents did a bad thing by not being more present; they trusted me, and that was really important to me. But there were times I felt taken advantage of. And that’s why I find this moment so critical, because it is complex. It is a full spectrum.

IMAN: When I was 14, I could also make a decision for myself. But I know a couple of young kids, my daughter’s friends, or even my own daughter, who I don’t think would be able to be in those positions. My daughter might not know that she has the power to walk away from something.

DAWSON: I love how travel is such a big part of your story. So many people in this country do not travel. They don’t travel city-to-city, state-to-state, let alone country-to-country. How do you feel that this is affecting the conversations that we’re having around everything? For me, travel is an education.

IMAN: I totally agree. There is nothing more educational than travel. The only way you will understand how other people think is by going to where they live. Somalia is a nomad country, so we’ve always been on the move. For me, moving is essential. Books are great, googling is great, but there is nothing that can replace traveling. I’m so surprised when I hear young people who are not really curious about travel. I started traveling when I was 9—without my parents. I went to high school in Egypt; I visited Beirut. I went to Syria. In my generation, we did the Peace Corps after high school. My parents always said, “You’ll have time in your adult life to travel to the west. How are you going to see Africa? You’ve got to see Africa before your 20s. You have to travel through Africa to understand where you came from.”

DAWSON: Your name means faith, right? My name means rosary. I feel like I worry about everything all the time. [laughs]

IMAN: It’s appropriate!

DAWSON: How has your name guided you?

IMAN: Funny enough, my given name, when I was born, was Zahra. Which is a flower of the desert. It’s an oxymoron: flowers and desert. But my grandfather changed my name to Iman, because I was the first daughter in six generations of just sons. I think if I were Zahra, I would be a totally different person. I am Iman. I am totally my name. I have big female and male parts in me. Iman in Somali is a man’s name; it’s not a woman’s name.

DAWSON: Rosario can be either-or, too. I’ve met a lot of male Rosarios.

IMAN: See, your name makes you. You’re outspoken and fearless; those are the qualities that they attribute to boys. When a woman gets a man’s name, they get that with it. I think if I were Zahra, I would be much more soft-spoken. I would be one of those feminine girls, which I’m not.

DAWSON: I’ve always been of the opinion that we’re all male and female. It takes a sperm and an egg to create a human, so we’re equally half. I remember I didn’t like my name when I was younger, and I’ve definitely grown to love it more.

IMAN: I was the same, because I was the only female with a man’s name in my country. I was the first girl Iman.

DAWSON: We started off with notoriety.

IMAN: All those things shape you. Tough things shape you, sweet things shape you, hugs shape you as much as tears shape you.

DAWSON: It’s women like you who make me excited about getting older, and hopefully one day also being able to proclaim that I’m wise. I’m not quite there yet.

IMAN: You will be.


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Muslim models take over runways at Milan Fashion Week



ARAB NEWS — DUBAI: From Somali-American star Halima Aden to lesser known beauty Amina Adan, hijab-wearing models and beauties of Muslim descent are taking Milan Fashion Week by storm.

Both models walked for Max Mara in the brand’s Autumn/Winter 2018 show on Thursday, alongside such fashion stars as Gigi Hadid and Cindy Crawford’s daughter, Kaia Gerber.

Aden sported a silky headscarf and skirt-and-trousers combination while Adan, who was raised in Denmark, showed off a grey checkered blazer paired with a black leopard-print scarf.

After the show, Adan took to her Instagram page to thank Max Mara for the experience, posting: “Thank you for this amazing experience, @maxmara.”

Far from being the only Muslim models to take Milan by storm, the pair were joined in the fashion-forward city by models-of-the-moment Gigi and Bella Hadid, both of whom walked in a variety of shows, including Missoni, Versace and Alberta Ferretti.

For her part, Imaan Hammam, a Dutch model of Egyptian and Moroccan descent, walked the runway for Versace on Friday, dressed in a figure-hugging, belted black mini-dress.

However, despite the two hijab-clad models and litany of international names garnering praise from pro-diversity fashion insiders, some critics are slamming Italian fashion house Gucci for outfitting white models with headscarves and turbans in the brand’s Feb. 22 show.

Actor and model Avan Jogia sparked debate on Twitter after he tweeted a photo of a white model wearing a turban, saying: “Yo, @gucci… I mess with you guys… but this isn’t a good look for you… could you not find a brown model?”

Meanwhile, fashion photographer Faiyaz Kolia told Indie magazine that “Gucci got to pick and choose from cultural imagery all the things that are aligned to their ‘fantasy’ narrative without any consequences, and then so easily put on white skin… What message does that send? That it’s ok to wear a hijab if you’re young, beautiful, rich, and white but not if you’re actually a Muslim or a person of color?”

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Storm Management Signs Its First Hijab-Wearing Model, Shahira Yusuf



Storm Management, the agency which scouted Kate Moss when she was 14, has signed its first hijab-wearing model. Shahira Yusuf is a 20-year-old from London who has broken ground by becoming one of the first hijabi models to be signed to a major agency, following Vogue Arabia cover girl Halima Aden, who joined the IMG family last year. Yusuf joins Storm Management’s wide-ranging roster of models, which also includes Cindy Bruna and Alek Wek. The England-born beauty of Somalian descent, who was scouted at 17 (but didn’t pursue modeling until three years later) admits that although she grew up watching America’s Next Top Model and counts Iman, Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Alek Wek, Liya Kebede, and Lily Cole as inspirations, she was never interested in joining the fashion industry until recently.

Shahira Yusuf photographed by Ronan McKenzie. Courtesy of Storm

“Growing up, being slim and tall, I received the ‘you should model’ comments almost every time I met someone – I’m sure many tall girls can relate,” she tells Vogue Arabia. “I’d say modeling was something I did have an understanding of, in terms of what a model is, but I did not have a passion for the industry nor fashion itself. It kind of just happened for me.”

Despite renowned models like Iman, Yasmin Warsame, and Waris Dirie all hailing from Somalia, modeling is not a traditional career in Yusuf’s culture. Yet she says her friends and family have been super supportive. “I wouldn’t be modeling if it wasn’t for my friends and family constantly asking me to do it. When you have so many of your family, friends, and even strangers approaching you and asking you to consider modeling, it definitely does make you want to pursue it.”

Courtesy of Storm Management

Last November, the Somali beauty went viral on Twitter after posting a series of photographs sporting an oversized gray pantsuit paired with a neatly tied black turban and matching bum bag. “I ain’t [sic] no Kendall Jenner but I’m a black Muslim girl from East London that’s about to finesse the modeling industry,” she captioned it. The pictures garnered more than 57,000 retweets and 122,000 likes. Praise immediately began to pour in from users the world over. “So inspirational. I’m also Somali and from East London, so you’re very inspirational to me,” wrote one user. Another user quipped: “I will do whatever it takes to support you, you’re beautiful Mashallah.”

“I didn’t think the tweet would get that much attention,” Yusuf says. “Especially for it to be reposted so many times and get as much attention on other social media platforms like Instagram, too. I’ve received so much support and I’m glad I tweeted that because it’s very difficult to stand out in such a competitive industry.” Indeed, although the fashion industry has taken major steps to become more inclusive, the number of visibly Muslim models is limited. But Shahira is hopeful. “I do believe that it’s harder to make it as a hijab-wearing model as you have already filtered so many forms of modeling out. So for one, you have fewer opportunities. This is why I feel that it’s up to the fashion industry to create more opportunities for models like me. There is a huge modest fashion market, and more companies are starting to release modest fashion clothing lines.”

Shahira Yusuf photographed by Ronan McKenzie. Courtesy of Storm

She is excited to represent Muslim womanhood in a way she rarely saw growing up. “I’ve become a model at a time when society is more accepting of people of different ethnicities and religions. It’s about time we had an equal representation and moved on from just the majority. We know that there are aspiring models from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, so there’s really no excuse for the lack of diversity.”

Though she has yet to secure her first big gig, Yusuf recounts doing a spread with Marfa Journal as a career highlight. Her biggest goal? “To be the first hijab-wearing model to land the front cover of British Vogue. That would be amazing. Another huge goal of mine is to walk the runway for my favorite designer brands, Chanel and Burberry, in the future.” But most important is keeping true to her values. “It’s so easy to get carried away with the extravagant clothes and makeup in modeling, but I want to make sure I remain true to myself. And in that way I can convey myself in the most genuine way. My portfolio is a reflection of who I am and what I stand for. I love modesty, so I want my work to reflect that.”

Whether she wants to or not, Yusuf serves as a beacon of hope for a more inclusive world, one that offers a seat at the table for everyone, and not just those who conform or blend in.

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