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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.

Instagram/@queenstylista

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."

Instagram/@queenstylista

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.'"

Instagram/@hstylze

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."

Instagram/@queenstylista

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."

Instagram/@hstylze

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.

Instagram/@queenstylista

"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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Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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