I was invited to Columbia University in New York last week by the Muslim Protag Student Organization to speak on a panel about how body-positivity and fashion related to authenticity in today’s times. Although very nervous – as I always get with speaking engagements – I felt right at home as the mainly student filled room interacted positively when I advocated about being an ally for Black Muslims, Muslims who’d been hushed by the media, fat people, disabled people, and dark people.
I told them to feel free to snap their fingers or to whip their turban or hijab back and forth if they heard something that I said which resonated with them. And, girl, there was a lot of whippin’ and snappin’ going on.
Someone asked me about being an openly Muslim blogger, who also happened to be Black and fat, and how I remained authentic in that space. For some reason, all the “perfect hijabi” bloggers popped into my head.
I responded, “Hmm, I’m not sure I want to say this here.”
But the crowd gassed me up. Shouting, “Say it. Say it!”
“You know I’m really tired of the hijabi bloggers being so damn perfect. Like, come on. They are all thin, usually White passing with the perfect wardrobe and the most perfect pastel Instagram aesthetic. They have the most perfect husband with the most luxurious and conditioned Muslim man beard. And they have like a “get into heaven” free card because they are just the most perfect human beings.” I rolled my eyes and laced with sarcasm, I concluded, “I want to be like that one day.”
Eyes widened, jaws dropped, and laughs erupted. I heard claps and snaps. And, some even flew out of their seats.
No one had said it out loud until that moment. Said what we are all thinking in our petty little heads. Why do female Muslim influencers feel the need to push this oh-so-perfect agenda off on others?
And, I get that one could argue that being “too real” can add to Islamophobia, and that the world doesn’t need to see Muslims in a “bad light.” Ever since 9/11 occurred, Muslims have felt the need to put on this perfect persona on so that others can’t stereotype them; mistake them as aggressive or too Muslim or radical or oppressed. One of those Muslims that they saw on TV blowing up things and carrying curved swords and screaming, “Death to all AMERICANS!”
On top of the pressures of remaining perfect in the public eye, we have community-rooted issues of how a Muslim woman should be within her family, as well as the community. And these circumstances vary. Not all situations are like this, but I guarantee that you have either witnessed or been in one or more of these situations.
You do not bring shame to your family under any circumstance. While your brother, Ahmad, is out living his best life, you are held to much higher standards. You look the part. Hijab is crucial. If you don’t wear hijab, life is almost over and you have elders questioning your religion. Skinny jeans or leggings? Oh no. You are clearly on the path to destruction. Dating? Meanwhile, your brother, Muhammad, A.K.A Mo, is bringing White chicks to the family functions. You, on the other hand, will fall straight into the pits of hell if you even ponder a hot guy before marriage.
Got a mental illness? Drop two rakats. You clearly aren’t praying enough. And, no, I’m not saying you shouldn’t pray when a calamity befalls you, but resources for anxiety and depression are available if you need them.
Other cliché topics that a lot of perfect hijabi bloggers don’t touch on are sexual abuse, misogyny, racism and body-shaming. Of course, this is because those kinds of topics don’t fit into their pastel social media aesthetic filled with fancy doughnuts and lavish trips to Dubai. Oh, yeah. I’m calling them out.
There is a reason why the perception of perfect, Instagram Muslimahs are so problematic – and believe me when I tell you there are several reasons. – but let’s focus on this one in particular for now:
Dear Instagram Hijabi, YOU make your followers feel as if they aren’t good enough, that they aren’t Muslim enough. You create this bubble that just isn’t reality. What most influencers fail to understand is that there are other people on the opposite side of that screen. People place influencers on such high pedestals and will try to emulate whatever it is that they do. They don’t necessarily understand that these photos and blogs and projects are only curated snippets of an actual life.
Newsflash: Muslim girls aren’t perfect. And, we don’t need to be. Perfection doesn’t exist. So, why are we punishing ourselves to attain it? Stop allowing your mom, husband, society to dictate how you should or shouldn’t be. Stop wearing masks to make others feel comfortable in your presence.
Life is about making mistakes and learning from them. It’s about exploration and maintaining an identity. It’s about connecting with your creator and striving each day to be better than you were the day before.
Instead of pushing perfection, which is really lowkey fakeness, try promoting individuality. Let your platform know that this is how you present yourself, but that it’s nothing wrong with stepping outside of the box and creating your own unique path.