The modesty maze

Some of the best beauty blogs are by Muslim women. We ask how they reconcile make-up and the hijab.

Muslim beauty blogs are on the rise, their posts tackling, among other things, how young British Muslim women reconcile wearing the hijab, or headscarf, with beauty and cosmetics. “I find it confusing,” says the Muslim comedian Shazia Mirza, who doesn’t wear a hijab. “How can women cover their hair as a sign of modesty and then plaster their face in make-up? You’re either modest or you’re Rihanna. You can’t have it both ways.”

Whatever their conviction, these bloggers are increasing in number, and their relationship with beauty products is now a very public thing. The author and politician Rabina Khan says it’s been  very encouraging to see young women growing increasingly confident in their identity over the past two decades. “These women want to be recognised by society for what they do as individuals.” How does she view the apparent paradox of the Muslim beauty blogger? “Islam tells her to look after herself and be healthy. If she wants to care for her hair and body, she’s doing it for herself, not anyone else. That’s an empowering sentiment to share with the world.”

Mirza believes Muslim women often use make-up to distract from the hijab. “They have to cover their hair, which is so extreme,” she says, “and there must be a part of them that feels unattractive because of it, so they put on an excess of make-up.” Khan, on the other hand, stresses that it’s not all about make-up and putting yourself on show. She points out that many of these bloggers obsess over natural ingredients and semi-invisible skin finishing, which is relevant to all young women. “A lot of them are fascinated by traditional natural medicine, such as using turmeric to brighten their skin,” she says. “My young daughter likes to follow them and I’m happy with that.”

Here are four bloggers who are well worth following, whatever your religious views (or ethnicity).

Striking eye make-up by Sanna (@lookamillion)
Who is that blogger? Hafsa blogs alongside volunteering for a Somali female-support charity in Camden, north London, and cooks up natural cosmetics in her kitchen. She wears a hijab over her hair, neck and shoulders.
Why follow her? For her personal approach. Hafsa only reviews products she has tried and tested, and the blog reveals her personal experiences with skincare and make-up. She started out thinking her USP would be her Asian ethnicity. “When I was building my identity online, I wanted to cater specifically for Muslim women, but I have learnt over time that it was boxing me in. Beauty isn’t like that, and I can’t dictate my readership.”

She believes all women have a personal connection with beauty products that goes beyond ethnicity. Despite the fact that she never shows her hair in public, she spends each Sunday at home obsessing over hair masks and treatments; she also writes salon reviews, providing they have a room away from the salon floor where she can have her hair washed in private, by a woman. She also shares her awesome natural cosmetic recipes.

Who is that blogger? Sanna, a make-up artist, started her beauty blog several years ago, but has since shifted her entire content onto Instagram, using her feed as a blog in itself. She has an Instagram following of almost 150,000 and is also a successful YouTuber.
Why follow her? She may be only 19, but Sanna is incredibly skilled as both an artist and a social-media navigator. Expect to read plenty about expressive and empowering make-up brands such as Sugarpill and Illamasqua. She keeps her hair covered, even though, underneath her hijab, it reaches her waist. How does she reconcile the seeming contradiction between blogging about beauty and her religion? “It’s about a balance of modesty,” she says. “Islam is different for everyone. My personal belief is to be a good person. Make-up gives women confidence, and through my blog and my art, I can really touch my readers.” For her, being a Muslim beauty blogger is a serious responsibility. “What I don’t want to do is set a young girl on the wrong path, so I wear a scarf or a turban.”
Who is that blogger? As the popularity of “modesty” blogging has grown, so too has the interest in matching your make-up to your headscarf. Zinah, who uses her fashion blog to model her own headscarf designs, started posting about beauty because of the connection between the two.
Why follow her? The make-up/scarf combinations are endless, and she has a penchant for bold lipsticks. “I wear my own hijab loosely and rely on the colour and texture of the fabric to dictate my make-up for the day.” She has more than 20 headscarves on the go at any one time, so that’s a lot of make-up variations. She is inundated with requests for “how to hijab” blog posts. “Modesty is a growing industry in the UK, and I’m filling a gap with my blog and designs,” she says. Her initial online musings were inspired by a broad mix from the Parisian fashion blogger the Cherry Blossom Girl to Raf Simons and the how-to videos of the make-up artist Lisa Eldrige. Other than the colour schemes, she points out another beauty advantage of wearing the hijab: minimal UV and pollution damage to her hair.
Who is that blogger? Computer scientist Sarirah works on the  buying and merchandising team for BeautyMart by day, but by night she pens reviews of natural beauty products.
Why follow her? You can learn a lot from her obsession with skincare — she really knows her stuff. “I had bad skin when I was younger, and during an A-level chemistry class, I discovered I was allergic to salicylic acid, an ingredient in most over-the-counter acne products.” Her natural-only mantra means you’ll discover lesser-known beauty gems such as RMS Beauty and Nourish. She doesn’t touch on haircare, other than a couple of shampoo mentions, but speaks about her hijab with enthusiasm. “It frames your face just like a fringe. I think everyone finds their own way to arrange it. You don’t want it to sit too flat or it looks painted on.

“If I didn’t wear the scarf, I would probably straighten my wavy hair — and that would take the same amount of time as pinning my headscarf in the morning.”

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