Fashion says ‘hello’ to the hijab

You may not know her name, but you will recognize her face.

Nura Afia is CoverGirl’s newest brand ambassador — and its first ever to wear a hijab.

The video blogger from Denver, Colorado, is Muslim and wears the traditional headscarf, covering her hair and neck. 

Though by tuning into her YouTube channel, Babylailalov, where CoverGirl discovered her — she now has some 14 million views — it’s hard to tell that Afia, with her exotic beauty and captivating eyes, was once self-conscious about practicing hijab. 

“Honestly, growing up and being insecure about wearing the hijab, I never thought I would see Muslim women represented on such a large scale,” she has said.

Recently, however, the garment has been part of a universal fashion push to promote cultural diversity, particularly targeting Muslim women.

Earlier this year, Nike introduced its sports hijab, a lightweight, waterproof alternative for female Muslim athletes. Last year, Dolce & Gabbana unveiled its Abaya Collection, an assortment of colorful hijabs and abayas (a cloak-like, floor-length garment worn over clothing) in feminine prints and patterns. This same year, H&M brought in Mariah Idrissi, its first model to wear a hijab in its advertising, stating that the needs of its Muslim consumers are being heard — and answered. D’Jakarta, a high fashion brand designed by Anniesa Hasibuan, graced the runway at New York Fashion Week on Sept. 12, 2016, with 48 free-flowing, floor-length, pastel ensembles, all of which were outfitted with hijabs. Hasibuan was the first to feature a full collection that included hijabs with every look — and she received a standing ovation for it.

But designers’ efforts to incorporate hijabs into their collections — and hijab-wearing models into their advertising — are not aimed at reinventing the religious garment as a trend. Rather, it’s to promote equality, both inside and outside of the industry.

Such efforts have received their share of pushback. The burkini — the lightweight swimsuit designed by Aheda Zanetti that covers everything but the face, hands and feet — has been banned in many towns in France, which has particular rules about the public expression of religion.

And despite the growing population of Muslim women in the United States, they continue to fall victim to discrimination and harassment — and are even denied work — simply for wearing the hijab, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Sometimes, these women are forced to remove the headscarf in exchange for entry into certain places. For these women, publically removing the headscarf, a symbol of respect for their religion and the sacred text of the Qur’an, can be demoralizing. 

But people like Afia, Idrissi and Hasibuan are determined to break this cycle.

Afia, who began creating her videos as a pastime following the birth of her now 5-year-old daughter, today views the hijab as a symbol of empowerment.  Color coordinating her makeup with her hijab, Afia shares her posts with some 345,000 Instagram followers, some 221,000 YouTube subscribers and millions of tourists and New Yorkers alike who pass by the CoverGirl billboard in Times Square. 

Other women, like Muslim journalist Noor Tagouri, are taking a different approach. In October 2016, Tagouri posed for Playboy magazine while wearing a hijab — and black pants, a leather jacket and white Converse sneakers. She received some flack for this decision, but her message was that confidence has roots in modesty — and the hijab fully reflected this concept.

Salma Omar Bagadood, a Saudi Arabian graduate of Iona College, contrasted Muslim and Western fashion for her dissertation, “Public Relations & Communication: A Comparative Case Study in Avenues of Communication of Women’s Fashion in the West and the Muslim World.” The conclusion of her study compared the fashion motivations of American women with those of Muslim women — particularly those of Saudi Arabian women, who live in an Islamic state — and found common ground.

“Saudi women, in general, are not different from women in the West, in the sense that beauty for them is a goal, including the relation between the sexes,” Bagadood wrote. 

The fashion industry says the hijab is not something to be ashamed of. It’s a symbol to wear proudly.

And by the looks of these fabulous hijab-wearing women, it’s only speaking the truth. 

To check out Nura Afia’s makeup tutorials, visit her YouTube channel at youtube.com/user/Babylailalov.

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