As Australia’s first veiled reporter on national television, I recognise the significance of fashion icon H&M hiring its first hijabi model. But we’ve still got a long way to go when it comes to accepting visibly Muslim women, writes Tahmina Ansari.
“Wow, that’s incredible, I can’t believe it.”
That was my reaction to the news article on the first hijabi model for H&M, Mariah Idrissi, “going viral”.
H&M is a retail clothing giant that not only has a great range for those who are fashion forward, but is now apparently setting a different kind of trend by using a Muslim model for its latest campaign.
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Ordinarily, this would barely be newsworthy. It would be just another model, just another campaign. What makes this sensational is that this model comes adorned with the Islamic headdress, the hijab. She is now the first visibly Muslim woman to appear in mainstream fashion in such a capacity for such a globally acclaimed fashion label.
The news circulated throughout the usual channels and social media is abuzz in the wake of this bold move by H&M.
My initial reaction, however, soon melted away and the reality of my own experiences as an Australian Muslim woman, who also happens to wear the hijab, set in.
I remember when I first set my eyes on journalism and the doe-eyed naivety with which I saw the industry. I was the first Australian Muslim woman journalist wearing the hijab. I made history in 2013 by being the first veiled reporter on national television. I, a once refugee from Afghanistan whose family came to Australia to escape invasion, war and suffering, was just like any other candidate trying to break into a competitive and demanding industry. Only difference was, I did it all wearing hijab.
So of course this is a huge deal for me and I would say for any other Muslim woman who identifies as such, or a person from a minority with visibly identifiable cultural or religious attire.
This is a rarity and something that is remarkable.
But it is also a recent trend across different industries where women who just happen to be visibly Muslim are highlighted for their contributions — be they social commentators such as Mariam Veiszadeh or media personalities like Susan Carland.
Yet, Australia has some catching up to do.
In 2012, Samoan Australian actor Jay Laga’aia, most known for his role on the ABC’s Playschool, criticised Australian TV for racism and not casting multicultural actors after he was dropped from Channel Seven’s long-running soap Home and Away. Current House Husbands actor Firass Dirani said at the time that major networks weren’t proactive in assisting people from diverse cultural backgrounds to break into lead roles.