The Hair Industry Ignores Muslim Women & It’s Time That Changed

Photographed by Beth Sacca.
"Do you have hair under there?"
As a Muslim woman who has chosen to wear a hijab (or hair covering), it might surprise you to learn how many times I've been asked that question. The answer is yes, I do have hair underneath my hijab. As do many Muslim women who wear the hijab, unless circumstance or choice means otherwise.
You would think that the hairless hijabi narrative is nothing more than a playground jibe but the mainstream hair industry also seems to believe that Muslim women do not have hair. Growing up, it was jarring to be surrounded by hijabi women on the streets of London yet never see a Muslim model with a hijab in any sort of haircare advertisement, whether it was for shampoo, dye or hair treatments.
On a surface level, I recognize that it may seem redundant to employ a model with a hijab for a haircare ad. After all, the goal is to sell "good hair" and surely in order to buy into it, the audience needs to see it first. The principles of advertising are pretty basic: show the customer something they aspire to, present the product as a tool and — boom! — you have a sale.

I'm surrounded by many Muslim women in my life and some wear the hijab while others don't. But one thing is for sure: talk of haircare is not alien.

As a Muslim woman with a hijab, I have never paid much attention to haircare adverts but that's not to say I don't care for my hair. If anything, it is because I am not acknowledged. Like me, Muslim women want to recognize themselves in the worldwide beauty narrative. But it is no secret that we are excluded, specifically when it comes to haircare. Interestingly, Muslim women boast incredible spending power when it comes to beauty. In 2019, it was estimated that Muslim women in the UK would shell out an enormous $73 billion USD (approximately £65 billion) on cosmetics. I'm surrounded by many Muslim women in my life and some wear the hijab while others don't. But one thing is for sure: talk of haircare is not alien.
Discussion ranges from sharing the best conditioner for dry hair to the most effective haircare rituals which prevent hair breakage. And yes, there are conversations on styling and the latest products to use to achieve a certain look. As a writer often covering beauty, I have discovered a wealth of insider tips and tricks: the saviour that is a silk pillowcase, for example. Hair can become extremely sensitive and prone to breakage while wearing a headscarf for a long period of time. Switching to silk means my hair is a lot stronger. For many Muslim women, the conversation around haircare is nuanced. This is why it is so puzzling not to see Muslim women as a true part of it.

The lack of representation means that a lot of younger hijab-wearing Muslim women struggle to maintain their hair or don't know how to.

Nadia Ossoble
Haircare is very much part of our reality; one that is personal to the individual. Hair products and tools are for women with hijabs as much as they are for the next person. Excluding Muslim women from the haircare narrative works to wipe out a whole group and in the UK, the feeling of erasure is widespread. "I just skip haircare ads now," model Khadija Mahamud told me. "What's the point?" she continued. "They are only ever directed at white women."
Omitting Muslim women from the haircare sphere marginalizes us but as my friend Nadia Ossoble explains, it isn't just adverts. It's magazines and most forms of social media, too. "The lack of representation means that a lot of younger hijab-wearing Muslim women struggle to maintain their hair or don't know how to," she told me. "There isn't any advice on the effect [on your hair] of wearing a hijab, for example. I only recently discovered that certain materials can increase the likelihood of breakage from hijabi YouTubers."
It's difficult to pinpoint a brand or hair expert who creates content geared towards women wearing the hijab and this has forced Muslim women to create that content for themselves. Like many Muslim women, I have turned to the internet, where women who wear the hijab across the globe have formed communities, sharing insights on their hair underneath their hijab via blogposts and channels. Vloggers like Salima B, Shahd Batal and Ismahan Co have become popular for filming their hijab-friendly haircare routines on YouTube. They offer women who cover their hair advice, product recommendations and DIY recipes to hydrate and soften lengths and to help prevent damage caused by friction. But while hijab haircare is booming online, it's a different story in regard to mainstream beauty.

When will the industry start to recognise Muslim women as customers and not an inclusivity conundrum?

In 2018, L'Oréal became the first mainstream brand to feature a Muslim model wearing a hijab in a haircare advertisement. While it was a short stint, I definitely took notice, as did many other Muslim women I know. Fatima Mohamed, founder of The Que Scarves, tells me it was a bittersweet moment. "It was great that a hijabi was finally part of the narrative but it also felt very tokenistic," she says. Of course, there is a fine line between genuine diversity and inclusion, and meeting criteria on a checklist. Without authenticity, the inclusion of hijabi models feels pointless. There is a pervasive idea that if you want representation, you must be grateful for every inch of it – the implication being that you're lucky to be seen in this exclusive world. But for many Muslim women, it is not enough. When will the industry start to recognize Muslim women as customers and not an inclusivity conundrum?
The answer is clear: Muslim women must be invited to shape the ongoing beauty narrative, in particular haircare. But if the hair industry were truly to consider Muslim women, it would have to delve into our differences. Not all women who wear the hijab have the same hair type. Muslim women all over the globe have a wide range of hair distinctions, including texture, length, needs and preferences. For the hair industry to cultivate a rich and authentic sense of representation, Muslim women must be given a voice and a space at the table to tell our hair stories.
I am not looking to the haircare industry for validation but I believe it's time we unpicked the dated, white-centric ideals that guide the beauty world pertaining to hair. Perhaps it lies with Muslim women to rise to the occasion to speak louder and to take action, whether on social media or by writing to their favourite haircare brands to challenge them. But the industry plays an important role, too. Editors, hairstylists and product formulators must show the world that they are keen to make a difference, for example by gearing articles, social posts or new launches to Muslim women and calling for consistent inclusion. For many people, leaving Muslim women out of the haircare space may go unnoticed. But we must no longer be invisible.

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