Rubab Zaidi argues that L’Oréal’s first hijabi model shouldn’t have apologised for her political tweets about Israel
The news of Amena Khan being the first hijabi model in a haircare campaign did the rounds a few days ago. Most of the western female Muslim world was over the moon that they would actually be seeing someone so relatable on their TV screens. Who would have thought…a woman whose hair we can’t even see would be featured in a shampoo commercial by a mainstream brand as big as L’Oréal. Muslim hijabi women were finally getting the representation they deserved and it was about damn time. Right?
Shortly after this news broke, more news followed that Amena had stepped down from the campaign after some of her tweets from 2014 resurfaced in which she spoke in support of Palestine, calling Israel a “sinister state”. She issued a statement apologising for those tweets and claimed that those tweets were against the “message of harmony” she was trying to spread.
I was underwhelmed by Amena’s news of being in the shampoo advert because after years of hoping for more from hijabi bloggers the internet, I have learned that some can just be superficial. Their hearts might be in the right place but their politics are all wrong, they either don’t know about the real issues affecting people especially women the world over, or they don’t care. Both are inexcusable in my opinion, if you call yourself a social media influencer, you can’t claim ignorance.
The news that Amena had apologised for her now controversial tweets, however, left me feeling extremely disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed because I was a big fan of hers or because I looked up to her as a role model. I was disappointed because as a Muslim woman in the public eye and certainly a role model for many young women out there, Amena had the chance to really take a stand and stick by what she had said. She had the opportunity to show integrity and the strength to look beyond the superficiality of a shampoo commercial and really stand up against unjust and unfair practices. She had the chance to stand up for something that mattered.
It was even more disappointing when just a few days prior to Amena’s announcement, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh also a hijabi model/blogger/influencer turned down an award by Revlon. She issued a statement explaining that she could not accept the award knowing Revlon’s brand ambassador was Gal Galdot, someone who had publicly supported Israel and worked for the IDF, supporting the illegal occupation of Palestine and the killing of innocent people. Amani further explained that she turned it down because feminism should include all women, including 16-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi who was detained after the IDF raided her home in the West Bank. Amani showed integrity.
This isn’t the first time L’Oréal’s intentions have come under attack. Last year model Munroe Bergdorf was dropped from a campaign because of a Facebook post where she spoke about the “racial violence of white people”. The difference between Amena and Munroe is that Munroe had the strength of character to stick by what she said, to defend her views which stemmed from first-hand experience and to stand her ground in the face of the racist backlash she received afterwards. Munroe showed integrity.
Women like Amena, Amani and Munroe work hard to make a name and a space for themselves in a world where women, especially women of colour are overlooked and often times treated unfairly and unjustly. For Amena to throw all that hard work out the window by apologising for something she should’ve stood by is disappointing, to say the least.
Munroe Bergdorf may not have got the financially rewarding L’Oréal contract and Amani Al-Khatahbeh may not have received the coveted Changemaker Award, but both of them spoke out against injustice and stood by what they believed in and ultimately, that’s what women the world over want and need to see more of. We need to see voices being raised against injustice and we want strong, influential women to hold their ground in the public eye and inspire others to do the same.
Women of colour, especially Muslim women who are given a public platform need to work towards influencing more than just fashion and make-up trends. They need to educate themselves and spread awareness on pressing issues and be a voice for the voiceless. They need to learn to identify when and how to break barriers and what tools to use to be able to do so. They need to do better.
‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter’ – Martin Luther King Jr.
Rubab Zaidi is sometimes a writer, mostly a reader and always a talker. She is currently working in the Higher Education sector and is a single mum to a beautiful boy who is her biggest fan. She tweets @Ruby2805.
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