fashion empowerment influencer
Photo: Danon, Adobe Stock

Debate: Empowerment or commercialisation?

For years, the market for so-called Modest Fashion has been flourishing. Does the phenomenon serve the empowerment or marketing of Muslim women?

(Islamic Times) – In the past ten years, even the most disinterested fashion denier has become aware that something is changing on the screens and catwalks. Increasingly, magazines, programmes and campaigns feature models who do not fit into the previous image of the tall, fair-skinned, blond-haired grace.

There is a conscious effort to use overweight, unusually pigmented, physically challenged, black, naturally curly and hijab-wearing models to market fashion and beauty products.

Fashion industry: empowerment or commercialisation?

So far, so good. The point of this article is not to deny that it is nice to see different faces, shapes and colors in the media. After all, it reflects the societies we live in today. One look at the major cities of the world is enough to state the obvious: There is neither a monocultural world, nor is there a standard form of beauty.

Photo: Rawpixel Ltd., Shutterstock

So, one might think that philanthropic, peace-making intentions lie behind these developments in the beauty industries. And so there are more and more voices that speak of “empowerment” of minorities, of the previously disadvantaged. There is talk of participation and of a feeling of finally being represented.

Represented by whom? Do Muslim women who wear a hijab must be represented by Chanel or H&M? Is it the duty of big corporations to stand up for the rights of Muslim, Black, Asian women?

Smart campaigns

Cleverly designed advertising campaigns give us this impression. The models themselves are convinced of this. They speak out for plurality and believe they are helping to adjust people’s eyes to the colourfulness of their own environment.

In a recent interview, an African American model said that in a capitalist society, fears – such as beauty crazes – are induced in order to sell certain products to certain people. She criticises this situation and the accompanying “oppression” of those who are different.

She is aware of the mechanisms. In the next sentence, however, it is not at all difficult for her to simply state: “I am a model. My job is to sell products.” So, is this still about empowerment or after all about the good old bank balance?

The fact is that the models who are finally allowed to “get in on the action” with big names are making a lot of money and the corporations recruiting them are gaining oodles of new customers and making a profit. It is a lucrative business for both sides.

Photo: Lnunes, Shutterstock

Production and working conditions are ignored

Those who have not understood this continue to talk about cultural progress and acceptance for the other. Whether the workers who produce these very products of our “liberation” in slave-like employment conditions are aware of this affirmation of their rights?

Do the proud models realise that it is highly questionable to finally be part of an industry that is responsible for creating eating disorders in entire generations of women and for setting ridiculous fashion standards that are sometimes harmful to health?

I wonder if the supporters can easily accept the fact that this industry relentlessly retouches everything that is considered a flaw and, through targeted poses, gives the impression that women must look “hot” at all times? As soon as we are finally allowed to join the big ones, any justified criticism seems to have disappeared and everyone is happy to finally be noticed and encouraged.

Photo: Alessandro Biascioli, Adobe

Nothing but a goldmine

The business of beauty is nothing but a goldmine, and in a globalised capitalist world it would be nonsensical to refuse the broad masses and consumers and not persuade them to buy through apparent representation.

That is the whole magic of history. It is not about liberation, rights or participation. A gap in the market has been successfully filled and it has worked wonderfully. Everyone is excited and is now shopping for Rihanna’s make-up because now a “hijabi” has also had it plastered on her.

It is undeniable that a narrow and Eurocentric ideal of beauty is not to be condoned and that every girl should be taught to value her natural beauty and later respect her decision to dress as she pleases.

But these things happen in homes, in families, in communities. If it is campaigns that make us feel this way, then something is going wrong. And addressing this issue on the playing field of the fashion industry will only empty the wallet instead of creating actual self-confidence.

There are already voices complaining that all the hijabi bloggers and influencers are already so far removed from modest, natural beauty and dress that one must ask what this still has to do with hijab as described in the Qur’an. And how does one do wudu’ when the disproportionate make-up and false eyelashes get in the way?

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