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."
"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.
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."
Featured image by Instagram/@queenstylista.
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Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Victoria Monét has had an incredible year. Thanks to the success of the widely popular “On My Mama” that went viral, the singer/ songwriter’s Jaguar II album debuted in the top 10 of Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart. She also went on to headline her own sold-out tour. So, when the MTV VMAs happened in September, everyone was surprised to learn that Victoria’s team was told that it was “too early” for the “Smoke” artist to perform at the award show. However, a couple of months later, the mom of one received seven Grammy nominations, including “Best R&B Album” and “Record Of The Year.”
Victoria is currently in London and stopped by The Dotty Show on Apple Music and shared how she feels “validated” after being dismissed by the VMAs.
“It really does feel nice and validating because, in my head, the reason why I wanted to be a performer at the VMAs or award ceremonies like that is because I felt like I am at the place where I should. I would work really hard to put on the best show that I could, and I was excited to do so,” she said.
“And I guess the best way to describe it for me is like when you're like on a sports team, and the coach is like, ‘No, you gotta sit this one out.’ When they finally put you in, and then you score all these points, and it feels like that feeling. You're like, yes, I knew it wasn't tripping, but I knew I worked hard for this, and so it's been super validating to just have these accolades come after a moment like that, and I know the fans feel vindicated for me.
While her fans called the VMAs out on their decision, the “Moment” singer kept it cute and is still open to performing at the iconic award show. “I feel no ill towards them because it's just maybe that's just truly how they felt at the time, but I hope their mind has changed,” she admitted.
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Feature image by Amy Sussman/WireImage for Parkwood