As I looked into the dark, almond-shaped eyes of a woman donning an American flag-themed hijab, I could not help but have mixed feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing the normalization of Muslims and women wearing head coverings, especially through a poster intended to protest the inauguration of the very man hellbent on ostracizing us. However, beyond the flag imagery — we’ll get to that in a second — my first impression was that the light-skinned, head-covered woman has become the token image of Muslims in America.
It is almost like the [Muslim] woman is having to overcompensate in her display of American pride.
The image is quite the stereotypical depiction of Islam in America. But in the Muslim community, we know that on a very basic 101 level, not all Muslims have the same skin color, nor do all women wear a scarf upon their head. Do these differences make us any less a Muslim? No.
In a conversation with Muslim Girl, the original photographer revealed that complexion was an important factor when he created the original piece. On the contrary, for Ridwan Adhami, he said it had to be a a darker girl.
“For me, it couldn’t be a white girl or a light-skinned Arab girl,” Ridwan explained. “Making it a girl with Brown skin added an additional layer of meaning.”
Then there’s the flag. It reminds me of tacky flag-themed clothing that borders on a violation of the U.S. Flag Code. It also brings to mind those cliché images of a middle-aged suburban white dad trying to identify with his son and prove he’s “cool” by wearing baggy clothes and a backward ball cap, using inappropriate and outdated slang to validate himself.
“For me, it couldn’t be a white girl or a light-skinned Arab girl.”
It’s hard not to notice that the Muslim woman’s image is the one that has to prove its patriotism the most. Not only does she have to literally have the symbol of our country plastered across her head in order to “belong,” but the meaning of the hijab has to be co-opted by the nation. The American flag is one that, for many people, has come to be known as a symbol of militarism, capitalism, orientalism, and neo-colonialism. All concepts that have harmed Muslim women in irreversible ways.
And yet, even the American flag hijab is not enough. Through a side-by-side comparison, it’s clear that not only was her skin lightened, but she was also slimmed down to resemble more Euro-centric features (check out those cheekbones!) and she was given bright red lips to top off her look. Even when overcompensating her display of American pride, the Muslim woman is sexualized and made to look more attractive to the Western gaze.
“[I] explicitly remember telling her nude makeup when she asked.”
While he might not have been originally motivated by these concerns, according to Ridwan, the idea he had in mind didn’t look like this. Not only was red lipstick never part of the plan, but he also said he even specifically asked the model to keep her make-up muted and eyebrows unplucked.
“[I] explicitly remember telling her nude makeup when she asked,” he said. “She intentionally didn’t pluck her brows.”
It’s without a doubt that the imagery is striking. However, it’s important to note that the posters that so many waved nationwide were a whitewashed version of their Muslim photographer’s vision. They were a lighter-skinned, high-cheekboned, thin-browed, and red-lipped image manipulated in an effort make the Muslim woman embraceable.
This was the original photo:
This is what Fairey created:
I would have loved to see a less sanitized depiction of a Muslim woman being used, giving a real push back to the status quo of being Muslim and American. At the same time, it’s interesting to wonder, how do we know that the images of the woman with a flower in her hair and the other with dreadlocks were not also Muslim? Because… they surely could have been.
At the same time, it seems as though that right now, at this moment in time, this is the type of imagery capable of resonating with the American public. Despite feeling like yet another token Muslim image has been created, it’s still a point of pride that the original photo that became a symbol of the largest protest in U.S. history was taken by a Muslim photographer. Let’s celebrate the milestones, but never allow ourselves to stop asking questions about symbolic representation.
Edited by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh and Naaz Modan.
I dont think we have to make an issue out of everything. Its our biggest problem. The photo was beautiful and once i saw it i understood the message. What happened on women’s match was amazing dont focus on the unnecessary things. Dont make an issue.
I agree!! We argue too much and let go of the main idea and the kind support to argue over skin color, plucked eyebrows blah blah blah.. Who cares what the girl looks like,… the whole not all muslim women wear scarves,.. bleh okay whatever but they all do when they pray.. isnt that the purest and most perfect presence of a human being in his life, when he is praying to his lord? and what do ALLL muslim women wear when they pray? The image is clearly also not propagandizing one skin color to muslims, the editors clearly were not emphasizing anything other than muslims, hijab, america and WE THE PEOPLE ARE BIGGER THAN FEAR..
Agree with you too. We’re making a mountain out of a mole hill instead of focusing on bigger issues. I, for one, didn’t see a white woman in hijab. In my minds eye, she could be any women of any background and she represents all women not just Muslim women. I don’t think the colors that were used were not meant to white-wash – it was just an artist’s use of color and contrast. Having high cheekbones, and narrow features with red lips could represent any ethnicity. And if she was painted as white, then so what? Yes the model is a brown skinned woman but what does it mean to be Muslim or to belong to the Islamic faith? Islam and Muslims are not homogeneous – we do not come only in shades of brown.
Just a little detail that bugs me 🙂 “She intentionally didn’t pluck her brows.”’ Oh, honey. Any girl- whether she plucks her brows or not- can tell a pair of plucked brows, lol, and that’s one.
Racism in the Muslim community is a huge problem. Why not a wide variety of posters of all kinds of Muslim women – Black, Brown, Arab, White, hijab-wearing and not?
Because they wanted one single iconic image I guess?
Did she look white to you? I thought she was meant to be Arab (I didn’t see the original photo before I saw the poster, so I didn’t know what the original person’s ethnicity was). And I know Arabs usually represent all Muslims to most people (and it’s not helped by the many Muslim websites, newsletters, mosques, everywhere, that have Arab Muslims as their only or main spokespeople — I even see this on this site). I am a Bosnian Muslim who doesn’t wear hijab now (used to… may again someday) and I don’t feel like anyone in the Muslim community sees me, or the white converts/reverts, as Muslims really. The same I think is true for Muslims who are Black – lot of racism and no recognition.
I would have preferred a poster with a Black Muslim to better fight the racism in our own community. But really, I would have preferred a lot of different posters to represent our diversity. Well it is what it is.
You make some excellent points
He did not “ostracize” Muslims. He is blunt, and many Muslims got emotional and completely misunderstood his statements. His concern, just like everyone else’s, is about RADICAL ISLAMISTS. You know, the ones who want to murder us, and any Muslim they deem not Muslim enough. And its not his fault, not yours, if most radicals like ISIS are ISLAMISTS, and not Buddhists, or Christianists, or anything else. What he wants is to stop RADICAL ISLAMISTS from entering the country, not “regular” Muslims. And this so-called “ban”, is not actually a ban, it is a ‘semi-ban”, it is extreme vetting, so radical Islamists (or “innocent citizens” like the Afghan men who murdered Farkhunda Malikzada) cannot enter the country so easily, while legitimate refugees will still be allowed to stay after vetting. It is to keep all Americans, including Muslim Americans, as safe as possible.
The “Women March” was funded by Globalist George Soros, using foundation to overthrown governments to build a “One Liberal World Government” base on Political Control like China similar as “Sharia Law” Against woman freedom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJkFQohIKNI
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