“And my daughter pointed to the image of the woman with blonde straight hair and said
‘Mummy I want hair like her’.
Selina Bakkar from Amaliah.com at Stylist Live: ‘Meet the Muslim Women Empowering Others’ “
The misrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the media is recognised as a widespread issue and different narratives are being published in order to counter it. Despite that narrative, a time old issue still remains; the lack of representation of ethnic minorities in the arts, culture, and fashion. When those from ethnic minorities are included they are usually misrepresented or displayed as ‘exotic,’ which feeds into the harmful trend of fetishization and alienation.
“Society has prescribed one ideal of what it means to be beautiful, and this is something that is in desperate need of change”
During the Stylist Live panel on Muslim Women Influencing Others, Selina Bakkar spoke of when her young daughter pointed out an image of a white, blonde woman and expressed her wistful thoughts on looking like her. This was the moment where she realised there is a desperate need for change.
The effects of under-representation in fashion and film can be devastating on one’s self-esteem and can even lead to severe complexes. When everything you are shown as beautiful (models, actresses etc) are so far from how you appear yourself, you naturally begin to question whether you can ever be worthy of beauty. In secondary school, I absolutely hated my thick, curly hair. A majority of my closest friends were from different ethnic backgrounds too, we made daily habits of attempting to change our appearance to fit in with the societal definition of beauty, we attempted to tame our hair and wild eyebrows, and are naturally different body shapes were subject of ongoing despair.
Advertising plays a huge role in this. For example, the advertising for hair products growing up persistently projected the image that big, frizzy hair was ugly and that it should be tamed in order to be beautiful. I received my first hair straighteners as a gift when I was 13 years old. I was overcome with excitement, thinking I’d finally have something close to beautiful hair. Two hours later, in a room filled with the odour of burnt hair, I turned to look in the mirror. Of course, it was nothing like what I had wished for. I didn’t suddenly have long, smooth, shiny, straight hair.
“our features being surgically placed on others and described as beautiful is hurtful to many”
So after years of being told by society that is natural features were not synonymous with beauty, to see our features being surgically placed on others and described as beautiful is hurtful to many. Of course, people are free to do as they please, the aspect of the trend that is hurtful is that these features were never described as beautiful until they were placed on others. They are now heavily featured in fashion campaigns, and many models and influencers now possess these characteristics. They are on front pages, used in fashion campaigns, however, they are still not represented by those who possess the features naturally through their heritage.
POSITIVE ACTION vs REPRESENTATION
Now we come to considerate and deliberate over what the best way forward is. The term ‘positive discrimination’ is usually met with eye rolls or disgust. ‘If people are truly capable, they will eventually reach that position.’ Some individuals who could benefit from positive action also refuse it, stating they do not want to be a token, they should be recognised for their achievements alone. I believe that these individuals are simply not looking at the bigger picture. The bigger picture is the representation and encouraging participation. I believe they are failing to recognise the drastic impact that inclusion could have on an individual’s self-worth and the impact it would have on the changing of monotonous beauty ideals.
If you want to feature plump lips, frizzy hair, a curvy body, dark skin, thick eyebrows, braids or a hijab in campaigns, advertising or film, then simply hire women who have these traits. Trust me, there are plenty of them who are dying to be recognised for their talent. If you need an actress to play a Muslim, Hindu, Sikh- then employ the actresses who actually belong to and understand these cultures. They are being ignored, they are not tokens and they have talent.
Rihana Osman is a writer with a postgraduate degree in Global Ethics and Human Values and a Bachelors in Law. Rihana is an advocate for gender equality and social justice.