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Behind the Scenes at the Refinery29 Shoot

Behind the Scenes at the Refinery29 Shoot

Have you seen us on Refinery29? If the answer is no, then the next question is: In what other ways have you been wasting your time? Followed by: Why don’t you love us?

If you have seen us, then congratulations on being our favorite reader. Please accept this totally platonic Internet hug. I hope that wasn’t weird for you.

In the year that I’ve worked for MuslimGirl, I didn’t think there would be a moment that felt greater than when I went from being a blogger to an editor. It felt as if the universe wanted that to happen for me, especially because I had the word “editor” taped to the vision board in my bedroom.

The shoot was super creative! Experimenting all the different ways we could be turned into fierce gifs was a lot of fun — Sam is an incredible photographer! – Nihal

But the day that our founding editor sent me the first text about potentially getting covered by Refinery29, I nearly shat my pants.

Amani, our fearless leader
Amani, our fearless leader

It would be one very long month before the final details and the list of participants were solidified. The most exciting part about getting closer to shoot day was realizing that I’d finally be meeting — in person — a group of girls that I speak to everyday. Before this, the only other person many of us had seen face-to-face was Amani.

Not only would we all be meeting each other, but we’d be getting photographed and plastered across the Internet by a huge publication. That’s a lot different than posting a couple well-chosen, overly-filtered selfies onto an Instagram account for followers that are mostly your friends and relatives. This meant putting ourselves out there, completely.

So before the day had even arrived, the pressure started to weigh in. Will the other editors like me? Will my humor translate how I want it to? Will my Resting Bitch Face (RBF) come across in all the photos? Am I going to have to actually brush my hair? Where is my brush anyway?

(Left to Right) Shanzay, Sara, and Sobia
(Left to Right) Shanzay, Sara, and Sobia

With all that playing on an endless loop in my mind, I was thoroughly unprepared for the alarming message that Amani sent to the group chat only two days before the shoot, “They want us to wear some color…”

Color?! Is midnight black on top of charcoal grey not considered colorful enough? And of course because we are all difficult divas, I wasn’t the only one who panicked at the idea of adding a color scheme to my all-black ensemble. The group chat started flooding with questions like, “Is grey a color?” and “What about flesh tones?” Everyone’s nerves were coming into play. We debated the merits of a black/white/cream aesthetic. Sara was the most poignant when she offered the explanation that, “white is the presence of all colors and therefore wearing just black and white would suffice.”

(Front to Back) Sobia, Shanzay, and Amani
(Front to Back) Sobia, Shanzay, and Amani

Personally, I got so nervous about the color conundrum that I dragged my cousin to a men’s clothing store to pick up a hot pink bowtie. I then exchanged several all-caps texts with our online editor, Jenan, about what an abhorrence having to dress up is — as I clutched my sweatpants close to my heart and cried. There’s a reason you don’t see me in the fashion section on this website. 

I really enjoyed this shoot. They made me feel comfortable and included into their creative space!! – Sania

The morning MuslimGirl picture day finally arrived and after a lot of selfie exchanges and deep philosophical debates about what “color” means, we had all figured out outfits and makeup schemes. Unfortunately some people hadn’t fully figured out how to actually get to Refinery29. Not that I’m pointing any fingers. And not that I’m using the following photo to suggest who it was that had the most train trauma. I wouldn’t do something like that.

Nihal
Nihal

Upon arrival to the R29 offices, my eyes beheld one of the best looking spaces I’ve ever seen. Everything was white, decorated with splashes of color and a few couches that looked comfortable to nap on — naps <3. The environment was instantly welcoming. Nihal and I walked down the stairs and heard Amani’s voice ringing from a back room. If you’ve never met her, Amani is loud. She’s like a lighthouse directing you to shore if lighthouses made noises instead of lights. She’s a soundhouse.

They made me feel badass and it was incredible to meet some of our team members for the first time – Jenan

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Anyway, — before I get fired again — we finally make it to the holding area and there was an enormous vanity set up with half a ton of makeup laid out on the table. One would think, looking at that table, that the makeup belonged to either Refinery29 or some kind of back room stocker at Sephora. Both of these guesses are incorrect. All of the makeup belonged to Amani. Prepared much?

Amani and Jenan
Amani and Jenan

Slowly but surely, the nerves began to melt away as we all sat and spoke with each other about life, the website and of course boys. I even got to deliver a coaching seminar on how to deal with a certain breed of gentlemen. We were all getting along.

Nihal, Jenan, and Shanzay
Nihal, Jenan, and Shanzay

The thing that really put the entire team at ease though, was the kindness shown to us by the Refinery29 staff and by the photographer, Sam. Upon seeing the setup with all the lights and the wires and the big computer screen, it felt like a scene from America’s Next Top Model, except no one had modeling experience. To be working with professionals who didn’t make us feel like we had no idea what we were doing was amazing. Their patience made for some amazing gifs and even more amazing conversations about what it was like trying to create a platform for Muslim women.

Oh hey, it's me!
Oh hey, it’s me!

This photoshoot was not only fun and amazing, but it also solidified a lot of things for me personally. When I first converted to Islam, I was completely alone. From praying, to fasting, to learning history, there was no one there for me to talk to. But today I sit here, with my phone buzzing and my laptop pinging all because of messages from my new friends; my new sisters. A group of Muslim women that I never would have met had I not taken a chance one day and sent a very short resume to this website.

Not only am I grateful to them for being around, I’m grateful to the staff at Refinery29 who created the space and opportunity, not just for us to meet each other, but for the world to meet us. And if after all this the world doesn’t like us — who cares, I’m a gif.

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Image: Refinery29

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