Arab Women Challenging Beauty Standards with #TheHabibatiTag

Young Arab women in the US are turning to social media to challenge our definition of beauty. Being fed up with Barbie-like role models, they’re sharing selfies to show the world another kind of beauty, beyond Western standards.

#TheHabibatiTag – Arabic for “darling” – was started by Twitter user @saradmahmoud and three of her friends. As young Palestinian Americans, they refuse to accept the Western view on beauty and the biased representation of Arabs in popular media. “We only appear in the news whenever there is an act of terror and the assailant has a North African background.” Sounds familiar? It shouldn’t. According to an article in the New York Times, since the attacks of September 11, homegrown extremists have been far more deadly in the US than Jihadists, having killed almost twice as many people. But apparantly, if you have a certain background, statistics don’t matter.

For most of us, terrorism isn’t part of our life. But television and fashion are. And although standards may vary on a personal level, the fashion industry uses a very strict definition of beauty. As a model, you must have a certain size and appearance. So let’s do a little test: how many black models do you know? Naomi Campell perhaps? Correct, even she’s stopped modelling. And how many Asian models do you know? If you answered Soo Yoo Park, you are either really into fashion or you have cheated by using the internet. Anyway, the internet is certainly what you’ll need when asked for a model from the Middle-East. See the problem?

But things are changing. Gradually. Two years ago, in Milan, designer Philipp Plein casted all black models for his spring/summer collection 2014. And as demonstrated by model Winnie Harlow, even a skin condition such as vitiligo – in which parts of the skin have different colours – can be to your advantage. Remember this year’s Desigual campaign? Of course you could argue all of these are nothing more than a stunt used to generate buzz. And you’d probably be right. But this is only the beginning. And as the success of the #TheHabibatiTag has demonstrated: at least some people are no longer willing to accept a narrow-minded view on beauty.

Values or fashion?

However, there is more to this story than just accepting cultural differences. According to the Washington-based Pew Research Center, by 2050, the Muslim population worldwide will have grown to approximately 3 billion people. That’s a huge market for any kind of business. And a lot of brands and designers are already adapting. If money is not an issue, Oscar de la Renta has some nice items nowadays. And if you – like most of us – are on a budget, you can also find special collections at Uniqlo, Mango and H&M who now, in its latest catalogue, even has a model wearing a hijab.

Perhaps, who knows, some day Islam-inspired fashion will eventually become mainstream in the West. The only problem is some people say that for instance the hijab is all about attitude, all about values in life, and that it shouldn’t be reduced to a fashion item. It certainly would be if worn by a non-Muslim. So it’s tricky. Because, on the other hand, this would truly change our global ideas on beauty, which is exactly why #TheHabibatiTag was created.

Source: New York Times, Pew Forum, Sarad Mahmoud

Written by Wim Deloof

Wim Deloof

Wim Deloof has studied audiovisual arts and continued in marketing and business administration. He's also into architecture and design.

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  • Ah now, this one gets a thumbs down from me.
    How do you start displaying pictures of our beautiful young Muslim women with disregard to any modesty in the name of promoting pride, positivity, love and respect inside of the Arab community as well as outside?

    As Muslim women regardless of your race (Arab or otherwise) your honor will come from following the straight path of Allah as laid down in the Holy Quran and doing righteous deeds. Allah says;

    If any desires honor,- to Allah belong all honor. To Him mount up Words of Purity: and righteous deeds lift them up. Those that plan evil,- for them is a Penalty terrible; and the plotting of such will be void come to nothing. Surat Fatir 35:10

    Do not try to dupe and seduce young Muslim women into displaying themselves on social media using sweet sounding words like positivity, pride, respect! This may not end well for you sisters! May Allah have mercy on you and guide you to see this before its too late!
    Except if you limit your published pictures to those dressed modestly may be? Allah knows best!

  • And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty …… And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may succeed. Surat An-Nur 24:31

    Dear sister in faith,If you need to succeed in this world and the hereafter, following this gentle advice from Allah may be better for you. And Allah speaks the truth and has power over all things!