There’s no other way to say this — Dina Tokio/Torkia is a don. That is, if The Godfather told the story of hijabi fashion, she would be Marlon Brando, sitting and stroking Choji, while hopeful hijabis flock to her, tentatively asking for favors.
This, I’m sure, is as far as the similarities go but still, of the hijabi fashionista world, a Don she is. As a fellow Welshie I may be a tad biased, but her achievements speak for themselves. She was one of the first hijabi fashion bloggers to utilize YouTube, and with her trailblazing hijab tutorials and quirky personality, she has quickly become one of the most recognisable faces in the hijabi fashion world. She now boasts over one million subscribers to her Instagram page alone, and has done several collaborations with well-known companies such as Liberty London as well as been featured on several television programmes.
Across the pond, you have further examples of fashionistas — such as the multi-talented YaztheSpaz, who not only knocks out incredibly popular make up tutorials, but has her own fashion line and networks; she’s also featuring in films, and working as a personal stylist!
The hijabi fashion world is booming and with global brands such as Dolce & Gabbana and Mango taking notice, and releasing their own modest fashion lines. This trend does not seem to be waning any time soon. But there’s one thing I’ve noticed is missing from the plethora of advice on OOTD’s, high street fashion hauls, or looks books – how to style the plus size woman.
A lot of the tips are fairly universal, and you would think that as a lot of modest fashion is over-sized this would not be an issue but, for the curvier lady, this does not always work. I’ve seen fashionistas suggest horizontal stripes as a must-have… to anyone over a size 12 this is the worst, unless beach tent is the look you are going for.
Similarly, there’s a lot of love for hijab tutorials where pieces are thrown over a shoulder or tucked in to reveal cute shirt collars etc. but to anyone with a decent rack who may not want the ta ta’s on show, this is another no go.
So with this clear gap in a booming market I find it hard to understand why the curvy hijabi fashionista has not made her entrance onto the global modest fashion scene.
Doing my own research I managed to track down a few curvy queens making a difference such as my latest girl crush: Leah Vernon. Leah is a 20-something style/fashion blogger,+ model, writer, novelist, and body-positive activist from Detroit.
She was inspired to start blogging in 2013 because there wasn’t enough “diverse” representation of real beauty in the media. Another discovery was ‘Life as Lauren’, a self-proclaimed fat hijabi fashion vlogger. I am in love with her hashtags, which include #unicornblood! Although these ladies are pure fire, the list is woefully short. Please feel free to comment if you are aware of further examples!
This isn’t solely a Muslim problem. Although the plus size fashion world is making great stride,s there is still a lot of body-shaming out there stopping progress.
Tess Holliday is one of the most successful plus size models of the moment. She says: ‘I know that I am fat, but people completely miss the point of me trying to educate women and show them that it’s OK to be who you are and love yourself and still live your life and not be miserable.’
Yet another talent from my hometown is plus size pageant entrant and model, Aisha Namurach, who made it to the top 10 of Miss Plus Size international this year. Aisha says: “My goal is to inspire other young women to be who they are and know their worth – to know that it doesn’t depend on their size or on society’s preconceptions of how they should look.”
Coming back to the Muslim community, one of the reasons as to why we haven’t seen many plus size hijabis in the public eye could be because there is a lot of judgement to contend with. In terms of fat-shaming this takes a myriad of forms. I asked ladies for examples and it’s clear that the issue is not limited to one ethnicity. An Arab lady told one girl at a public gathering, “You are fat. I wish I was fat.” To which the girl replied “InshaAllah you will be!” Asian aunties are terrible culprits for publicly poking at us curvy ladies; particularly aunties of a larger persuasion themselves!
It has become commonplace for assumptions to be made about you as a person for something as petty as how you tie your hijab. Even more troubling is how common it is for other Muslims to rate your level of religious belief — Iman — by your style of hijab.
A niqab gets you a gold star and an automatic spot on the righteous podium, whereas a sister in a turban or no hijab is instantly deemed as not religious at all.
For a community that champions the hijab as a way of freeing women from the shackles of being judged by the way you look, we are incredibly visually judgemental.
Confidence in young Muslim women seems to be at an all-time low, and the focus of discussions as to why tends to encircle outward manifestations of this, i.e. too much make up, tight trousers etc. rather than looking at the core problem, which is a distinct lack of confidence in the way we are perceived as Muslim women in wider society.
There’s been a flurry of “first hijabi to” in the media lately, ranging from Sports icons such as the hijabi ballerina, Stephanie Kurlow, and not forgetting the Muslim world’s current sweetheart, the awesome Ibithaj Muhammad right up to the most recent, most controversial example of Noor Tagori – the first hijabi to feature in Playboy magazine.
There has been a lot of discussion and heated debate on this but, for me, its raised a very concerning question: Why are hijabis so heavily burdened with representing a squeaky clean version of Islam? Hijabis are not angelic, not by a long shot. And yet we all collectively gasp when a hijabi is seen doing something anything less than perfect.
I attended a lecture recently by Yasmin Mogahed where someone asked about the importance of hijabis representing the religion. Sister Yasmin’s answer was so perfect I literally embodied the double clap emoji from the back of the room. She explained that we, as a community, have forgotten that the hijab, although an outward symbol of our obedience to God, is just one of the many ways we, as Muslims, obey God. Just like fasting, praying, going to Hajj, giving charity etc. Nothing more, nothing less. She also reminded us that da’wah (propagating the message of the religion) is fardh kifayah, which roughly translated means a community obligation as opposed to a requirement for every single individual Muslim. This was so refreshing to hear.
The vloggers sharing their latest haul or tutorial with you constantly come under fire for “letting the religion down”or lifting the curtain on what Muslims are actually like. But, really, all they are doing is reminding the rest of the world that Muslims are individuals. This is exactly why we need plus size hijabis representing on the world stage.
I, for one, am tired of carrying around the entire Islam banner. I’ve also come to the conclusion that it’s actually quite dangerous to perpetuate the idea that we, the every day Muslim, are ambassadors for Islam. If you continue to tout this concept, it can feed the next logical conclusion that all actions of Muslims are representative of Islam. The good and the bad. This is fine when talking about the kind neighbour who made you a Ramadan gift bag or the smiling bearded man who paid for your lunch when you forgot your wallet. But what about when Muslims mess up? The hijabi bully? Or wallah bro Mohammed who got your friend’s sister pregnant and has escaped “back home” to get married? Or how about ISIS? If we all represent Islam, how do you extricate the perfect religion from the imperfect actions of Muslims?
The vloggers sharing their latest haul or tutorial with you constantly come under fire for “letting the religion down”or lifting the curtain on what Muslims are actually like. But, really, all they are doing is reminding the rest of the world that Muslims are individuals. And this is exactly why we need plus size hijabis representing on the world stage.
As humans we are constantly evaluating ourselves and, more often than not, we come up short. We tend to be very critical of outward appearance; however, studies show that men and women who accept themselves and their appearance are much happier overall.
If we had more visible, positive, examples of plus-size women and girls this could help encourage greater body positivity and individual confidence.
Whether or not someone is from the same ethnicity, same background, or same body type as you, it is always inspiring to see them chasing their dreams, and opens up the possibility that you could do the same.
I’m not sure why the curvier queens of the Muslim world aren’t stepping up yet but I, for one, cannot wait for when they do.