The Muslim YouTube Star You Need To See

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The following is an interview with Nura Afia, a 22-year-old beauty vlogger, mother, and wife. She has been making beauty videos on YouTube for five years and has over 200K followers. As told to Mi-Anne Chan.

“I started watching YouTube videos when I was at home breast-feeding after I had just had my daughter, Laila, to pass the time. There [weren’t many] Muslim hijabi YouTubers [back then]. I wanted to make videos because I felt like there might be other girls like me out there. I wanted to show people that I can still be married and a mom and do whatever the hell I want — [my scarf] isn’t going to stop me.”[Personally], it’s always been a struggle [wearing my scarf], and I’ve always felt like I had to prove something to the world. Growing up, I [always felt] like everyone would look down on me just because I wear a hijab. They think I’m just going to get married and have kids and that I can’t be good at something.”

Family Support
“My husband was all for [starting my YouTube]. He’s a pretty easy-going person and he didn’t really know what that meant. [But] I hid it from my parents for a while because they are more conservative. I got yelled at for wearing makeup at my wedding by my dad. I eventually told [my parents about the videos] and they were all for it! I mean, it still freaks my mom out. My mom is very private — she goes off and on about it.”My grandparents [however], aren’t Muslim; my grandpa is Christian-Lebanese, and my grandma is Swiss-German, so growing up we always celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving with them. I was born and raised Muslim. Growing up and wearing the scarf was really hard and it still is, [especially] with my grandma.

“She’s always made comments here and there. Once I remember [my younger sister] wore a scarf and we went over to my grandmother’s house, and she said, ‘I’m not going to hug you with that on.’ But [now] she’s impressed at how I’ve been able to make a business [for myself]. Because I think she really felt like I couldn’t do anything because I wear a scarf. She really thinks it holds me back.”

Dealing With The Harsh Criticism
“In the beginning, the community [on YouTube] was very negative. [An agency once told me] that I couldn’t be booked because of my faith and because I wear a scarf. People [also] told me I wasn’t supposed to put myself out there because [of my faith]. Women aren’t supposed to put themselves out there or else you’re labeled as ‘easy’ or kind of slutty. I never get personal attacks from people that aren’t Muslim. I was shocked, then I understood why people within our faith decide to take off their scarves — because women who wear scarves in Muslim communities are always doubly judged.”If you go to a Muslim girl’s channel who isn’t wearing a scarf, people don’t comment on how she dresses as much. [But] they expect us to be perfect. They comment about every little thing. Like if I’m showing a little too much wrist… It’s terrible.

“[I’m not going to take my scarf off because] I started my whole YouTube [career] with it on and I want to be strong for other younger girls. And for my daughter’s sake; I don’t want to be flip-flopping in front of her. Sometimes I’ll wear a beanie out and Laila will [ask], ‘Where’s your scarf, Mama?'”

Clearing Up Misconceptions
“People think that we don’t dye our hair or cut our hair because we wear scarves, but everyone does! Just this year I went to platinum blond and I’m naturally a brunette. The salons I’ve been to have a little room in the back or a border that they put around me. It’s hard to find a salon that can accommodate that, but they are around. I just call [the salons] myself. I’ve never gotten anyone to say that they can’t do it.”People also think I don’t self-tan. I did a video once and [one commenter said], ‘Why are you going to put self-tanner on if people don’t see your body?’ Because, ultimately, a hijab is to hide your beauty for your husband — saving it for one person. [But] I want to look good and curl my hair! I bought a curling iron recently, and the lady [at the register] looked at me weird, and I wonder if it’s because she was wondering what I was going to do with it. The makeup is just a big form of expression on the outside. We do it all and we’re literally the same people!”

Wearing Makeup With A Hijab
“I like to [coordinate my makeup with my hijab]. I love different tones of brown with like a blue scarf and I love burnt reds and oranges with brown scarves and I love the cooler tones with gray [scarves], because they really stand out. And I feel like, depending on how I wear my scarf, I have to bring my blush a little further and make it a little more pronounced than anyone normally would, because my scarf will sometimes cover half [of my blush].”I never want to be seen as intimidating just because I wear a scarf because I know it is [intimidating] to a lot of Americans who maybe haven’t had a Muslim friend before. I try to wear color but [I] love black scarves so much because it goes with everything!”

Creating A Positive Community
“Islam is such beautiful religion. It’s peaceful and everyone else twists it, even within our own faith. Just from looking at social media, [I see] Muslims bash Muslims, so if that’s happening I can’t believe that we expect non-Muslims not to do the same. It’s just how humans are, I guess. It has nothing to do with religion.

“A lot of people say that I shouldn’t wear makeup because beautifying yourself is kind of the opposite of covering yourself [with a hijab]. But that’s what helps me. It has helped me feel confident in wearing a hijab and I feel like if it has helped me it will help other people, [too]. It’s my way of expressing [myself].

“I hope ultimately that younger Muslim girls will see that they can still do what they want no matter what and I hope that people who aren’t Muslim can see that I’m just like them. The only difference is that I wear a scarf.”

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