These Muslimah Beauticians Unveil The Truth About Discrimination In The Beauty Industry

Human Interest

It may be unfortunate, but in 2019, discrimination is still a trending conversation in the fashion and beauty industry. Besides a clear lack of representation of Black and Brown women, there's an ugly truth waiting to be unveiled.

For some time now, Black women have not only been facing discrimination because of the color of their skin, but also because of their Muslim faith and religious attire like burkas and hijabs.

Muslim women have become a prime target of discrimination because of their traditional dressing, especially after the events of September 11th. They have been harassed on the streets and in the workplace, and in many cases, women have been fired from their jobs and denied access to opportunities.


No one knows this better than Muslimah hair stylists Hullema and Sheena who have both experienced loss of career opportunities, cyberbullying, and overall lack of support from their community due to their choice of career.

We caught up with Hullema, 41, who has been in the beauty business for more than 25 years and Sheena, 31, who has been a stylist for 10 years, and learned quickly that the beauty business hasn't always been pretty for either ladies. Born and raised in Philadelphia, PA, both Hullema and Sheena have been through life experiences that could have easily changed their lives for the worst, but instead, used their disappointments as motivation to make their dreams a reality.

As a teen, they both experienced hardships, but when they were introduced to Islam, they both discovered a new way of life that led them in a positive and enlightening direction. "The challenges that I experienced helped mold me into the woman I am today," Hullema shares. "I was intrigued by the discipline and the structure of the religion and I knew that this was what I wanted and needed in my life."

Margo Reed/Philly.com

"My lifestyle as a teen was reckless," Sheena remembers. "I was drinking and smoking every day. I ran away from home and lived on the streets. I needed structure while carrying my child and living in a women's shelter. I began to read more about Islam, and I talked to a few other Muslim women that lived in the shelter with me and ultimately chose this way of life at 18."

Looking for a better way of life for their families, Hullema and Sheena enrolled in beauty school to become professional stylists. "I realized that I had the ability to transform someone's entire look," says Hullema.

"I knew that I needed school for a cosmetology license but I was a high school dropout," Sheena recalls. "While I was pregnant, I headed to night school [and] received my diploma. I then went straight to cosmetology school because I was determined to make something of my life."


According to Grand View Research, many women who wear the hijab are serious beauty enthusiasts and artists who favor dramatic looks that consist of full make-up and creating uniques hairstyles under their garb. The global halal beauty market is rapidly growing and is expected to be worth $52.02 billion by 2025.

To Hullema's advantage, even while wearing a hijab, she was given an opportunity to do what she had a passion for. "I became a shampoo girl at Platinum Shears, which was one of the most sought after salons in Philadelphia," she beamed with pride. "Working for that salon kept money in my pocket and me off the streets. It was a blessing."

Hullema flexed her amazing skills as a stylist and later learned that her expertise was coloring hair. "I was highly sought after for my ability to create colors that people could only imagine, and that is when I became the 'Covered Colorist.'"


On the other side of town, Sheena is known as the "Muslimah Stylist" making a mark in the beauty industry while grossing over $100,000 in sales and continuing to champion for Muslim women in the beauty industry.

Although these women have proven that they are amazing stylists, Hullema remembers being hurt when she was told by her mentor that she wouldn't make it in the industry. "She said that living a modest life would be difficult because people would not recognize me since they couldn't see my face." Her mentor's words stung like a bee, but she knew that she couldn't give up. "My appearance should never play a part in my success as a hair stylist but it does. I just make it a point to make [sure] my work should speak for itself."

Sheena shared a similar experience when she was told that she would not make it in the industry:

"I was told that I would never be successful because of my modest clothing and I won't be able to grow a clientele due to my hair being covered. Her words made me feel like crap. I was discouraged and confused and I believed it. I was young and instead of being encouraged to be better, I was left with a fuse I had to light myself and I had to be okay with that."


Despite minor setbacks, things were going very well for Hullema in the beauty profession, but there was a time where some people were not happy with her occupation. "In the Islamic community, it is frowned upon for women to be in the beauty industry because it is considered vanity, but it is also looked down on because men are the ones that work and women are supposed to raise their children, period."

She would receive negative comments on her Instagram about her choice to be involved with a "vain" business. Some comments weren't very nice and Hullema felt like she was being cyberbullied and even threatened for something that she loved to do. "I was really scared and I turned to Allah, my husband and family for support because they understand my purpose and heart," Hullema says.

Margo Reed/Philly.com

So, what is it that people fear about women who cover their faces and hair in the beauty industry?

She explained, "My appearance to some is symbolic of threat," Hullema says. "It has to do with 9/11 and other terrorist attacks but that is not me. That is not every Muslimah."

For Hullema, the discrimination only got worse when she went from wearing a hijab to a niqab, which is worn to cover most of the face except the eyes. She immediately began to notice that she was treated differently in the beauty industry.

She would submit her portfolio to different fashion shows and events, but was met with rejection even though there were other Muslims who participated but their faces weren't covered. "I was very hurt," she shares of her rejection. "It made me stay away from platforms because I didn't want to be ridiculed. For a long time, I walked around with my head down, feeling inadequate."


So how are these ladies combating the unfair treatment that they have encountered? For Hullema, she is no longer looking for a seat at the table. She has created her own opportunities with her beauty salon, Hstylze Hair Studio, in which she opens to all women of different races and religious beliefs.

"I'm driven to show everyone I can be a fully covered Muslim woman and be successful in the hair business. I realized I had to turn that hurt and anger into strength and positivity," Hullema states. "Ignorance can only be combated with knowledge."

Sheena also created her own platform, Queenstylista's Mane Artistry, which is catered to women only and allows them to let their hair down, literally.


"I realized that I cannot let them define who I am. When they thought that I wouldn't succeed, I made six figures in my first year."

Sheena is no longer a negative statistic. She is an educator who helps others and she loves her staff. "With Allah's permission, I will keep going and growing," she affirms.

"It is up to me to lead by example," Hullema expresses. "I want to spread more awareness to people on a national level that they can chase their dreams without fear. You don't have to compromise who you are, your religion, or whatever. Just be strong, be firm in what you believe with unwavering sincerity."

To learn more about Hullema, visit @hstyzle and follow Sheena @queenstylista!

Featured image by Instagram/@queenstylista.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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