Don’t touch my hijab: the difference between tokenism and authentic representation

When Butterfly London spoke at in-cosmetics beauty conference in London last year on Halal Beauty, the global Muslim community had many reasons to celebrate. Consumers rejoiced as it seemed that the world of beauty was starting to pay attention to them in a big way with the first London Modest Fashion Week, the rise of hijabi supermodel Halima Aden, Nike’s ProHijab and the first issue of Vogue Arabia.


In 2018, the conversation has evolved to question the authenticity behind the inclusion of women of diverse ethnicities and religions in global campaigns. British beauty blogger Amena Khan was featured in L’Oréal’s hair campaign, before stepping down over controversial tweets, yet Muslim women were questioning whether she truly represented them, with her paler skin and still being depicted in a way that fit Western beauty ideals.

This brings us to the central tension – bloggers are denouncing brands for “fetishising” their ethnicity and religious symbols without doing so in a meaningful and authentic way. Muslims are becoming cynical of the hijab being used as a marketing tool, expecting brands to see beyond outer symbols of faith, and to demonstrate other aspects of modesty and piety.

Lupita Nyong’o and Solange Knowles have held British magazines accountable for altering the appearance of their hair “to fit a more Eurocentric notion of what beautiful hair looks like #dtmh”. There are numerous hashtags trending including #donttouchmyhair and #donttouchmyhijab, calling attention to the superficial use of dark skin and scarves as a tick-boxing exercise in “diversity”.

Many brands are trying to address this by painting minorities as accepted and “cool”, such as River Island’s “Labels Are For Clothes”. The message falls flat when a Muslim woman in  a leopard print hijab and hoodie is shown alongside lesbians and mixed race models – apart from a headscarf, what is it about her that makes her a Muslim? What label or stereotype are they disproving?

These women are growing tired of constantly being told how they are “breaking” or “defying” stereotypes. Hijabi blogging mega star Dina Tokio recently created a YouTube series “Your Average Muslim” to call attention to the fact that all Muslims are cool. A cool Muslim isn’t the exception and it shouldn’t be solely their responsibility to prove to others that stereotypes are just that – stereotypes.

Diversity is still practised in a way that often inadvertently perpetuates stereotypes by painting whole religious or ethnic groups as one homogenous entity without accounting for the vast array of sub-cultures and expressions of faith and heritage.

Muslim and coloured women around the world are slowly but surely asserting their individuality, striving for active recognition of their individuality within a varied physical, social and political context. In short – don’t just make them visible, make them heard and understood beyond the surface (or the hijab).

Butterfly London recently spoke on the topic of Beauty of the Middle East and Africa at in-cosmetics, to hear our thought piece on the emotional resolutions to the tensions discussed here, please get in touch!


Megan Powell