Media’s positive promotions will increase Hijab integration


Photo Illustration: Boraan Abdulkarim

From left to right, an FBI trainee from the show Quantico, a model for the “Ramsey Recycles” ad campaign, Malaysian musician Yuna, the runner in an Apple music advertisement, and an H&M model sport Hijab as a part of marketing for several influential companies. Their appearance has sparked dialogue and increased familiarity for the traditional headscarf.

Looking down at a crowd, one can see masses of people merge as a conglomerate of moving heads: brown hair, blond hair, black hair, red hair, gray hair, no hair, and… covered hair. Muslim women who decide to wear a headscarf, sometimes known as “Hijabis,” may not visually fall in line with the majority of the American population, but they exist in large numbers nonetheless. They exist on the sidewalk, in chemistry class, in the library, or at the gym. So why is Hijab considered unconventional? There’s no reason that a Hijab should make someone seem like the elephant in the room.

There’s no reason that a Hijab should make someone seem like the elephant in the room.”

Although they stand out in a crowd, women who choose to wear Hijab are immersed in the same society as everyone else. To bring public standards up to speed on reality, what’s needed is a mechanism to normalize Hijab.

Advertisements are constantly criticized for promoting negative body image because of the influence an advertisement can have. In history and the present, one can always look to advertisements for a portrayal of the norm of a society, for what is accepted. And just as advertisements today have been better (albeit only slightly) about including models with different body shapes, skin colors, and ethnicities, advertisers (in addition to the film, music, and TV industries) should also work to include models who cover their hair. After all, they are a part of the societal reality we live in.

The recent and seemingly sudden realization of this by various media outlets has been encouraging. Global retailer H&M included a Hijab-wearing Muslim model in their latest ad campaign. Apple included a frame of a Hijabi athlete running down a street with her earbuds in an advertisement for Apple Music. Even Ramsey County’s “Ramsey Recyles” campaign included a billboard image of a smiling woman wearing a bright purple Hijab.

On the flipside, when Coca Cola aired a Superbowl ad with a Hijabi among other atypical Americans (but Americans nonetheless!), it caused an uproar. The advertisement, unfortunately, became notorious primarily for its controversy.

In the music industry, rising Malaysian vocalist and guitarist Yuna has released multiple self-composed albums, performed at Coachella Live Music Festival, and has collaborated with Usher and Pharrell Williams.

American TV and film has yet to show significant progress in this respect; there is virtually no Hijab-wearing character in a major TV show that isn’t a terrorist or a suspected terrorist.

And if an altruistic motive is insufficient for Hollywood or advertisers, there is a larger monetary incentive— a sizable audience that can be attracted through the incorporation of Muslims in the media in a positive way. 

Spotting a Hijabi in her favorite TV show, on the cover of her favorite magazine, or singing her favorite song can show a Muslim girl the positive potential of her headscarf.”

Spotting a Hijabi in her favorite TV show, on the cover of her favorite magazine, or singing her favorite song can show a Muslim girl the positive potential of her headscarf.

Not only will this girl feel less alienated from everyday life, she won’t feel the pressure of choosing between Hijab and a given career. These constructive images show the choice to become an actress, model, or singer is hers.

Offering choices that might previously have seemed off-limits and lessening the burden of societal judgements is essential to help Muslim women solidify their right of equal opportunity.

It is imperative to include Muslim women who wear Hijab in these forms of media because the headscarf is widely perceived as negative. Sixty percent of the victims of Islamophobic hate crimes are women. The Hijab can distinguish someone as Muslim, making her a target for anti-Muslim sentiment and beyond. Incorporating the Hijab into advertisements and the entertainment industry does not elevate Hijab-wearers above the rest of the population as an ideal, but instead brings them to equal ground. From magazine editors to movie directors, the people behind the media need to be mindful the next time they assemble a cast— both of the harm they may be causing and the potential they have to make a positive difference.