Muslim women are among the biggest beauty consumers in the world.
It was recently reported that Saudi Arabian women, in particular, spend more on makeup than food, transport or clothes, and interestingly, Dubai is tipped to overtake Seoul as the beauty capital of the world.
With beauty brands waking up to the potential spending power of the ‘Muslim pound’, cosmetics and fashion campaigns are increasingly catering to this group: the halal beauty market, for one, is estimated to be worth $53 billion by 2023.
Despite the strides made by the global beauty industry, expectations of modesty can present conflicts for Muslim women wearing makeup. The subject has long proved a divisive topic within this faith group; there are countless online forums rife with such notions as the idea that a woman must only wear makeup for her husband.
Thankfully, millennial Muslim women are increasingly redefining and reasserting their relationship with beauty on their own terms, challenging the tired ‘submissive’ and ‘stereotype-breaking’ tropes that we’ve come to associate with this group in recent years.
Ahead, I spoke to five Muslim women and non-binary individuals about their beauty routines, how their identities have become politicized in recent years and whether makeup and expectations of modesty can be a source of conflict.
Farzana, 25, is a freelance graphic designer and the founder of @textbookbeauty on Instagram.
“My relationship between my faith and beauty has been an up and down journey. I’ve found that my love for beauty and religion would conflict with each other quite a lot, particularly when I was younger. As the youngest of four sisters, I’d watch my older sisters getting ready, so I was always surrounded by it. My mum would also have her beloved red lipstick in her bag.
When I took an interest in makeup and discovered eyeliner and mascara in primary school, the reception to it wasn’t great. My dad would constantly remind me that as Muslims, God commanded us to stay true to ourselves and not change our appearances as he created us in his eyes.
I’d also hear remarks from other family members about how it was ‘haram’ [forbidden] to wear makeup to attract the opposite sex. It did affect me a little, particularly as I enjoyed experimenting with makeup for myself, not to impress anyone else.
I find that my beauty routine has provided me with more of a getaway than other creative avenues. Putting an outfit together can sometimes be an issue for me as fast fashion doesn’t always cater to Muslim women. I always like to experiment with makeup to compensate for my lack of interesting clothes. Thankfully, beauty brands are more conscious of this now which is amazing. I started documenting my enthusiasm for all things beauty on my personal Instagram account, where I’d present looks I created: bold winged liner, gems, glitter statement lips – the works! It was only when I noticed that some of my family who followed me online didn’t support how I was representing myself that I created a dedicated account showcasing my love for beauty. I immediately blocked them. Though for the most part, they’ve done nothing wrong, navigating what I choose to share online is a conscious decision to protect the space I created for myself. My Instagram has become my gallery of self-love, selfies, days I feel beautiful and days I feel empowered.”
Abeni, 23, is a neuroscience student and writer based in London.
“I don’t feel that my religion conflicts with my relationship to makeup at all. The only time I consciously think of makeup in relation to my faith is if, for example, wearing makeup impedes my ability to perform my religious duties such as the purifying act of ablution before prayers.
My prayer is the priority so wearing appropriate makeup, e.g. non waterproof makeup, is important. Islam emphasises how the beauty of a person is shown through their character. This is continuously referred to in Islamic text. My faith removes beauty from the superficial context and encourages me to redefine what beauty really means. After all, how I endeavour to behave – kind, gentle, just, patient and intolerant to the oppression of others – is governed by Islam.
There’ve been times when I’ve felt more a pull to be ‘pretty’ than modest. When I started trying to dress more modestly, I had these moments. This isn’t the case anymore. I’ve had to do a lot of unlearning since wearing the hijab. Though in the past I’ve been tempted to show more hair to look ‘prettier’, I had to remember that being pretty in the West can often only equate to uncovered hair, light skin and Eurocentric features.
I do think it’s possible to be both modest and love makeup. In recent years Muslim women have been referred to as ‘oppressed’ and ‘submissive’. Even so, I don’t feel like I owe it to certain people to challenge what they think a Muslim looks or acts like, except when these stereotypes might be negative and Islamophobic.
I’m black, West African and a woman. There are many stereotypes associated with my identity and consequently, my existence is political. Sometimes I get told that I break stereotypes. This can empower me at times but it also really annoys me that these stereotypes exist as they enable others to judge who I am.”
Salwa Rahman, 23, is an east London-based creative dabbling in consultancy, modelling and makeup. She can be found on Instagram here.
“Too often, modesty comes down to aesthetics – it’s a judgement call others can make on the basis of what they see but it goes way further than this. So to see a veiled Muslim woman walking on the street with neon green eyeliner, one might make the (very lazy) assumption that she’s being ‘immodest’. But in Islam, the attitude to modesty goes far deeper than what’s on the surface – it considers a Muslim’s speech, dress and conduct in terms of other people and speaking to God. I don’t believe that wearing some blusher negates that.
I cover my hair as I want a certain aspect of my beauty to be under wraps. I also wear baggy clothes to hide the shape of my body. But when I post photos of myself on Instagram, at times, I have asked myself whether I’m not modest, not because of the makeup I’m wearing but because I’m actively contributing to an exhibitionist platform where I know I’ll get some form of attention. I’ve been wearing the hijab since I was 11, which is more than half of my life. Growing up, I’m sure lots of hijabi girls found themselves comparing their looks to those who had their hair out. I still find myself thinking about how differently and how much more beautiful I would be perceived if I let people have a glimpse of my hair.
When I got older, there were times when I used makeup to compensate – You can’t look at my hair, so look at my face and how nice it is, I thought. But I began to realise that being beautiful is more than what you apply to your face. It’s how you act, what you stand for, your principles and consistency in faith. Makeup is now a distant second. Even so, we as Muslim women should continue to use makeup the way we see fit and as an extension of our already vibrant and existing personality.”
Areena, 20, is a writer, activist and multidisciplinary artist. Born and raised in Malaysia and based in London, they identify as gender-fluid.
“Coming from Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, womxn there usually dress very simply without makeup as there’s no pressure to ‘do the most’ like there is in Western cities. In Kuala Lumpur, Muslim womxn are usually modest and don’t try too much. When I came to England for the first time for school, I was insecure, as back home there wasn’t a huge pressure to wear makeup every day. Girls here start wearing makeup from a young age and they become hyperaware of their beauty and how they can become more ‘beautiful’ in a cis-normative, Eurocentric format.
Back then, I did feel more of a pull to be ‘pretty’ rather than modest. I learned how to do makeup when I was 15. Though this was rooted in something oppressive, it’s slowly turned into an empowering tool for myself. I do think makeup provides a huge opportunity for Muslim womxn to challenge stereotypes of being ‘oppressed’ by the burqa or hijab. It lets us have a sense of agency with how we want to look and most importantly, feel.
Feeling beautiful, glamorous and luxurious is important. I love doing simple makeup because I’m really into the ‘natural’ look and how it’s easy for me to take off if I ever feel uncomfortable. As I’m gender-fluid, it’s really vital to me that I can ‘switch’ into being more masculine if I’m feeling dysphoric. Maybe my faith and expectations of modesty have influenced how I present mostly ‘natural’ but I don’t think they’ve had a huge influence on me other than trying to maintain a sense of reality when I’m presenting as feminine.
Because I often struggle between masculine and feminine presentation, I can come out some days wearing no makeup with my chest bound or come out another day wearing an extravagant wig, a full face and a pretty dress. Gender for me is something to play with and doesn’t affect my faith. Modesty can work in the modern age. The way modern Muslim womxn such as Huda Beauty’s Huda Kattan are not only experimenting with the relationship between modesty and makeup but pioneering it is exciting. I love how it enables us to feel glamorous and in control of our bodies and beauty.”
Aba, 21, is a London-based creative, photographer and student.
“I’m aware that in Islam, it’s advised to be careful with your beauty and preserve it for your future husband. For me, I think it all comes down to the intention. Are you using makeup for yourself or are you using it to impress other people? I use makeup as a way of enhancing my features. I have very dark brows which I tend to fluff out with gel to achieve a feathery look.
My everyday makeup routine when I’m going to work or uni consists of concealer and mascara. But If I’m going out with friends, I’d probably apply false lashes and blush. I love false lashes – they can really take a look from a 5 to a 10. I also use makeup as a form of creative expression. It’s an activity that I find great joy in. If I want to draw lines across my face, I’m going to do so.
I think in Islam, it’s not that you’re required to give up beautification altogether but rather exercise discipline when, where and to whom it’s displayed. I’ve been blessed with amazing opportunities when it comes to makeup, regardless of my hijab. Earlier this year, I was featured on a global makeup brand’s campaign. I was given the opportunity to express myself and use my platform to interact with people who don’t share the same faith as me. I don’t think we should separate modesty and makeup. A woman can be – and enjoy – both. Period. I’m doing it right now. To anyone who thinks makeup, modesty and wearing a hijab are at odds, we can’t be friends.”
Originally published on www.refinery29.net