A week ago, a picture of Julia Fox in a headscarf was posted on Instagram by Vogue France and captioned “Yes To The Headscarf”. It provoked international uproar. Many took to Instagram to share their frustrations over the publication’s hypocrisy, given the plight of Muslim women in France, a country that is often accused of perpetuating a culture of Islamophobia.

While the image may have fueled the fire, the conversation to be had today isn’t necessarily limited to the post itself, but rather a larger issue, namely, ‘double standards’ in fashion and what is being done to promote the rights of Muslim women around the world. But, this is not everyone’s story to tell, it is the lived experiences of Muslim women and the stories they have to share that matter the most.

“Something more dangerous”
Moroccan-Portuguese fashion content creator, Sara Coelho Ansari, who is based in Paris, explains while the “caption itself is fine, the problem is the context. Many hijabi women in France are discriminated against and are forced to remove their hijab, whether at school or work. I am one of them. When I see “Yes To The Headscarf,” on a white, non-Muslim woman, when I have always been told “no to the headscarf”, I feel, and see, the blatant discrimination.” A Muslim women’s freedom to wear the hijab has been a source of conflict in France for decades. Hundreds of Muslim women have either been suspended or expelled from school or fired from their job since 1989, the year the law came into effect, for choosing to wear a headscarf, according to research published by The Independent.

Somali writer and editor, Najma Sharif, says, ““Yes to the headscarf” was a strange caption from them, considering the lack of attention to all the hijab and niqab bans.” To Sharif’s point, it is important to note that France made face veils, such as the Niqab and Burqa, illegal in 2011 and the French Senate recently prohibited the use of “religious insignia” in sporting tournaments, which included the hijab.

“Considering the controversy surrounding the hijab and the discrimination we’ve been facing since 9/11, everything around being Muslim has shifted to something more ‘dangerous,’” adds French-Moroccan modest fashion content creator, Hanan Houachmi. “Being Muslim has become stigmatized, so carrying a sign of belonging to this community / faith has become more difficult with time.” She goes on to highlight the double standard seen in the West, particularly when it comes to Muslim women, namely how Western communities and official bodies perpetuate the narrative of freedom and liberty for all, but somehow that stops when it comes to a Muslim woman choosing to wear a hijab because of her faith.

While the caption has since been edited to remove “Yes To The Headscarf,” Vogue France did not acknowledge the change, and all four women believe that the amendment alone was not enough. Sharif believes the move was cowardly, as it was an opportunity for the publication to address the concern shown in the comments. Ansari agrees, adding that it was an opportunity to promote the rights of Muslim women by introducing a modest fashion section, and talking to modest fashion creators and experts.

The French Government said that “headscarves undermine French values and jeopardize safety” when referring to what is now being coined as the “Hijab Ban.” But how and where did it start? Houachmi and Sharif point to the post-9/11 era and the vilification of Islam. While this aided in the politicization of the hijab, Yemeni-Lebanese image maker and stylist Mona Haidar says that the issue arises because it is “constantly perpetuated through the Orientalist gaze, where in this case, head coverings as fashion statements are labeled as “true freedom” of expression and the functionally identical hijab is presented as the opponent to French values and defamed as “unsafe”.

Head coverings also become particularly vilified when Muslim women adopt traditional modes of dress, that are less confirmative to the Western “normal” such as the jilbab and niqab. Europe has historically fetishised and objectified our identities, bodies and dress for centuries. The construction and consumption of our image is fabricated through a Western lens and becomes objectified and weaponized to empower and justify the superiority of the West.” She further adds that because of the decentralized production and consumption of media, people are able to reclaim the kaleidoscopic multiplex of their identities. “These bans just feel like another attempt to restrict and restrain that expression in order to maintain their picture of ‘otherness,’” she says.

In recent years, the terms ‘diversity and inclusivity’ are regularly thrown around. However, we often seen minorities used as tokens, only visible on screen, but rarely behind the scenes. Sharif believes this too applies to Muslim women, “I don’t believe that praise or representation helps Muslim women in the industry, so far all it’s gotten us is people using us for tokenism and focusing on the hijab alone, when Muslim fashion is far more expansive than that. Where are the Muslim fashion editors? Writers? Creative directors? Can anyone style a hijab properly?” she asks. Haidar also points out that designers have commoditized the Hijab, while runways remain absent of Muslim women. “We’re seeing clothes that adhere to the requirements of hijab that, ironically, aren’t attached to so many of the clichés we face when things are designed with us in mind,” she explains, further highlighting the strange double standard.

Fashion is, in fact, political, it does not exist in a vacuum, its dialogue with culture runs from the supply chain to the runway. Sharif points to the fact that what we wear tells the world who we are and who we want to be, for it is a marker of gender, sexuality, class, religion and race. While it can also be fun and creative, it is intrinsically political.

If you’re reading this today, I hope you’ll leave with something to think about. What is the conversation that needs to be had here? Here’s one final note from Haidar that I’d like to leave you with: “Islamic practice is rooted in faith and cannot be reduced to the physicality of a head covering. The nuance of this lies in the fundamental point that Islam is expressed through living, and the applications and fluidity of that practice, it becomes so visceral that its expression can exist in anything imaged and materialized though Muslims.”