When Dina Torkia realized she didn’t see any representations of Muslim women in media, fashion, and beauty (“other than really negative ones”), she did what came naturally at age 21: She got on YouTube. That was six years ago. Today, Torkia (who goes by Dina Tokio) has a combined social following of 2.1 million people who turn to her for humorous, relatable reviews of beauty trends and buzzy products. (A single video of her trying a color-changing lipstick brought in 4.7 million views alone.)
The choices women make to present themselves to the world are more than just aesthetic–they’re political, too. No one knows this more deeply than the four Muslim vloggers we’re featuring here: Dina Tokio, Zukreat Nazar, Amena Khan, and Manal Chinutay. Through beauty and style tutorials on YouTube and candid posts on Instagram, they show their millions of Muslim and non-Muslim followers that they are just like them. It’s a powerful move to reclaim the narrative of Muslim women—one that, in pop culture, too often paints them with broad, reductive brushstrokes: either as oppressed or dangerous. Whether these women mean for it to be or not, their visibility–and massive influence–is a political statement.
The millions-strong communities they’ve built are safe spaces amidst the alarming rise of Islamophobia globally: 47 percent of the UK, where one in 20 people is Muslim, agrees further migration from mainly Muslim countries should stop, according to the newly released 2016 European Islamophobia Report; the EU’s Court of Justice recently ruled employers could ban the hijab; an incarnation of the “Muslim Ban” in the United States persists. For Muslim women in particular the effects are stark: 69 percent of hijab-wearers have reported at least one incident of discrimination in the U.S., while 50 percent of Muslim women in the UK say religious discrimination has caused them to miss out on career opportunities.
An eyeliner tutorial alone is not going to strike down a hijab ban; foundation tips are not going to obscure the Islamophobia and racism that continues to grip so much of the world. But with their prominence, their eloquence, and elegance, these four women are undoubtedly shifting the world’s impression of what it means to be not just a Muslim woman, but a woman, period.
Dina Torkia, 27, is one of–if not the–most recognizable, and most followed faces of the growing modest fashion movement. From fashion she soon expanded into beauty vlogging, in which her unabashedly candid and open-book persona (along with typical beauty tutorials, she’s vlogged about her pregnancy and overcoming bulimia), has won over millions.
When I was around 17, I started to become interested in makeup and fashion, and it annoyed me a bit that [growing up], I didn’t see any representation of Muslim women, other than really negative ones–oppressed, boring, doesn’t do anything, controlled–ones that just weren’t like me and my friends. That’s what basically made me decide to go online.
I just thought, you know what? The only way to talk to people or show people what we’re like, is to just get on YouTube, get on social media itself and just do it yourself. You really can’t rely on anyone else to represent you if you want to do it right. Just by going online and doing the simplest of things–talking about makeup–isn’t what is showcased in the media. You don’t need to think about it too much–”I’m going to go out there and break stereotypes!”–you just go out there and be yourself.
I used to wear a lot of makeup–I couldn’t go out of the house without a full face, even if it was just to the post office. I’ve been wearing the hijab since I was about twelve years old. So, I think it was because I felt like I needed to make up for not having my hair out. It was kind of like it wasn’t a choice. Then, I gradually matured and learned about products and makeup and learned how to apply them onto my face to actually accentuate what’s already there. When I’m done with a full face of makeup, I have an alter ego. I feel amazing, I feel confident, and I feel like ain’t nobody gonna mess with me.
Amena Khan, 33, first started her YouTube in 2009 with a hijab tutorial video she intended just for friends. That eventually led to starting a fashion brand, Pearl Daisy, beauty vlogging, and, eventually, co-founding Ardere Cosmetics. Graceful, authoritative, and endearing–her persona has earned her so much of a following that last summer L’Oreal Paris UK approached her to be a face of their campaigns.
I feel that sometimes people, particularly men, will feel the need to step in and try and save us–save this “poor oppressed Muslim woman.” I started wearing a hijab in my twenties. People normally think that my husband forced me to wear it. My husband wasn’t even with me when I decided to wear the headscarf–I came home with it on. He gave me a double look, asked me what I was doing. I said, “I’m keeping it on.” He was like, “Cool.” That’s it, but that’s not normally the story that the media puts under the microscope and feeds to everybody. That’s a shame, but I think that’s why, one of the reasons what I do can be so powerful.
Just one look into who [we] are, just talking to [us] and finding out who [we] are, will tell you that we’re more than capable [of] making our own decisions about ourselves, our bodies. We don’t need heroes, ladies. We can be our own….It may seem like a small thing to do, perhaps, even a bit silly to have the notion that beauty can make a difference, but just having the platform and being able to engage with people as humans has the potential to broaden people’s minds and understanding about Muslim women–and women in general! There really isn’t very much separating me from you, no matter who you are.
Manal Chinutay, 24, found her calling in high school, when she got so good at doing her own makeup that others started asking her to do theirs too. In 2013, she launched a YouTube page. Despite being the relative newbie among these women, she’s grown an impressive following–and even started a hijab company, Chinutay & Co. Along with flawless final looks, she posts funny photos of herself, gets awkward, makes mistakes on camera. She feels like your best friend.
I wear makeup because I feel like it is empowering. I get to be bold. I get to express my quirky personality, and whether it’s funky hijab styles or whether it’s a really dark lip, I feel like it is a perfect tool to practice what [faith] you want while still expressing who you are. I feel like my hijab inspires me, and it empowers me. I wear a symbol on my head [that says] I am a representation of a Muslim woman and see what I can do? Look how hard I’m working. I started my own business. I created a YouTube channel. Nothing about me wearing a hijab is oppressive in any way, shape, or form.
My hijab actually gives me confidence and creates a way of life for me. I do represent modesty. I do pray five times a day. I do follow the things that I believe are important in Islam, but I also have my passions towards [beauty]. I feel like what I do builds confidence in women and builds a community with Muslims and non-Muslims, which is such an important part of me and what I do and drives me to make these videos.
Zukreat Nazar, 36, started as a makeup artist in department stores at 16. After starting her YouTube page in 2010 to show off work on her clients (including Khloe Kardashian), she has gone on to teach makeup master classes throughout the UK and start her own brand, Artist of Makeup cosmetics. Beyond smoky eyes and brow tutorials, Zukreat has now branded herself into a trusted “mumpreneur,” offering business and life advice about balancing motherhood (she has two kids) and running a business for hundreds of thousands of followers.
I find that [makeup] just allows me to not to only feel that I can dress modestly, but also [add] a sense of style [to show] my character and my personality. It’s just a form of expression, really. It can play such an important role making you look and feel more confident. [Makeup] gives me the ability to make other women feel more positive, more radiant, more confident in themselves as well.
I think it’s a beautiful thing that, finally, Muslim women are being represented in big ad campaigns because we are human beings like everyone else, and we have a voice. I feel that makeup helps defy the stereotypes that are put on Muslim women to showcase that actually that we do wear makeup, we do like to look beautiful, we dolike to bring out the beautiful side in our faces and our features, and that we’re just like every other woman that wants to do that. There’s a massive market out there that hasn’t really been tapped into, so I think it just shows there is so much more yet to come.