Religious Representation Online

Dear Sherina,

On this blog, you and I have previously discussed Youtubers and their influence. Recently, I’ve discovered a new favourite. A half-English, half-Egyptian fashion designer and blogger by the name of  Dina Torkia. With a sizeable online following which includes 316,000 Youtube subscribers, she has made quite a name for herself in the Muslim fashion and beauty world.  Her channel is filled with videos ranging from hijab/turban tutorials, lookbooks, makeup tutorials to DIY clothing tutorials. As a devout Muslim woman, there are certain guidelines she follows when it comes to dress. She is a ‘hijabi’, which means that she does not show her hair and often wears a headscarf in a traditional or turban style. As she explains it, the concept of ‘hijab’ is not simply putting a scarf on your head. Rather, it guides how interact with others and how you represent yourself to the world.

turban look

Dina is such an upbeat, outspoken and downright hilarious individual that it’s hard to imagine that she would be on the receiving end of negativity. The majority of the comments on her Youtube videos are positive, however it’s hard not to notice the amount of criticism she gets. The criticism doesn’t often come from non-Muslims, but from others within her faith community. They claim that she is  ‘misrepresenting’ Islam and that she ought to be ashamed of herself for wearing makeup – among other things.

full look

I would argue the contrary. As someone who is not well-educated on religion, I admit that before I started watching her I knew very little about Islam. Her channel is not a religious education channel, but because her faith is such a big part of her life you do learn a few things. Since I started following her Youtube and Instagram, I feel as though I’ve learned more about modest clothing guidelines, Muslim holidays, religious practices and everyday Islamic terms. To give you an example, when she’s on her channel discussing a future project, she might say “inshallah it all goes well”. I was curious as to what inshallah meant, so I looked it up and translated roughly it means “if God wills it” or “God willing”.

I feel like with all of the misconceptions that surround Muslim people and the Islamic faith, it’s so important to have people like Dina out there to shatter them. She, in my humble opinion, does a fantastic job of representing the diversity within her religion.

What are your thoughts?

Ceanray

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Dear Ceanray,

After reading your letter I watched some of Dina’s videos, and I completely agree with you; it’s so hard to imagine how she could receive negative comments. I found Dina’s channel incredibly enlightening, as I, like you, knew very little about Islam before watching her videos. Even from watching a Q&A video, I became more educated. I think it’s amazing that we are able to learn more about a religion through YouTube!

I also agree with you that Dina’s channel is all the more important not just because it provides education, but because it shatters some of the negative myths that surround Muslim people. I’m sure you remember the recent controversy in Canada about women wearing the niqab at citizenship ceremonies. The issue blossomed into a debate not just about wearing the niqab when becoming a Canadian citizen, but in general.

Stephen Harper, our then Prime Minister, said with regards to the debate about the niqab that “[the Muslim] culture is anti-women”. Many Canadians protested this statement, because we knew it was a lie which was simply feeding the culture of fear that has been created around people of a certain faith. Some people, however, agreed with Harper’s sediment. Likely, those people didn’t know any Muslim women, or Muslim people, so they accepted his statement at face value.

We shouldn’t need proof that the Muslim culture is not anti-women – we should be able to realize such generalizing statements are ludicrous and inaccurate – but unfortunately we do. Fortunately, we have amazing people like Dina Torkia who help to set the record straight.

Sherina

On the Fashion Industry

Dear Sherina,

The fashion industry has been criticized repeatedly over the years for its use of extremely thin models. In 2007, fashion designer Valentino Garavani said “Designers have to show for the first time on the runway the clothes that they want to be seen, so automatically if the girls are skinny, the dresses are more attractive”. Mr. Garavani’s view seems to be shared by many in the industry, judging by the looks of models on the runway in 2015.

For the record, I don’t have a problem with slender models on the catwalk. There are many different body shapes, and I believe slender women should be represented in fashion. However, ALL body types deserve to be celebrated. Women of all shapes should be able to dress fashionably no matter what their size is.

I recall my shock at seeing an article on the Elle Magazine website about an up-and-coming plus-size model. She was very fit and had noticeable abdominal muscles as well as prominent collarbones and ribs. How could she possibly be considered plus-size?

Articles like that one are what contribute to the body image issues rampant among girls and women. Instead of separating the so-called “regular” models from the plus-size ones, why doesn’t the fashion industry put them all under the same umbrella?

Another source of my frustration is that clothing stores for women who are size 14-24 are separate from the ones which carry smaller sizes. While I am not a size 14-24, I see no reason why those sizes shouldn’t be carried in all stores in order to make a more inclusive shopping experience for everyone. Hopefully the fashion industry will soon start to more widely recognize the error of its ways.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts,

Ceanray

Dear Ceanray,

Ah, the fashion industry. When I was younger, I associated those words with high end brands and catwalks. As I have grown older, I’ve come to realize that the fashion industry is actually all around us. It is the advertisements we see; it is the stores we shop at. It’s hard not to be affected by the fashion industry – or, should I say, it’s hard not to be negatively impacted by it. I share your hopes that the industry will change. In some ways, I would say it has started to.

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself ‘petite’ – my younger sister is at least a head taller than me, but I’m not really that short – but I’m definitely small where clothing is involved. I’ve always had a relatively easy time shopping, because stores often carry my size. This isn’t the norm, though: many girls have trouble finding their sizes in stores. You shouldn’t have to fit a certain mold to be able to shop enjoyable and easily.

In our everyday lives, we see a wide representation of body sizes. It seems that sometimes the fashion industry – meaning the people who design clothes, the people who sell clothes, and the people who promote clothes – only see one size.

As Huffington Post Style reports, there is a new documentary coming out in 2016 called ‘Straight/Curve’ which explores the Plus-Sized fashion industry. I can’t wait to watch it: according to the article, one of the key messages of the documentary is that beauty is not restricted by size, which are words that I wish everyone in the world could hear on a daily basis.

Recently, plus size models have been making the news; many have modelling contracts and are faces of a changing fashion industry. Yet, as you point out, sometimes plus size models aren’t plus size at all – I often see the words ‘plus size’ on Pinterest and online shopping websites, describing very thin models. It’s a big hope, but I hope that one day the fashion industry will have evolved to the point of plus size models being as common as other models; and, as you say, not separating the sizes in stores.

Sherina

Readers: what are you experiences with the fashion industry, and what are your hopes for its future? We’d love to know your thoughts in the comments!