Beauty giant L’Oréal recently launched a campaign that revolutionised the hair care industry by being the first beauty brand to show a woman wearing a hijab in a hair care advert. Amena Khan, the popular YouTuber and blogger, aided them in advocating the message that hair care is for everyone, regardless of whether you cover your head or not. As a Muslim woman myself, I was over the moon that there was finally visibility for hijab-wearing Muslim women in the mainstream media. I was excited to see that advertisers were finally tapping into a large market and I wanted to see if other beauty brands would soon follow. However, less than a week since the campaign was launched Amena Khan was forced to withdraw due to the resurfacing of some anti-Israel tweets she posted in 2014.
Amena issued an apology on all her social media accounts, discussing how she never intended to cause harm and deviate from her message of harmony.
In response, British journalist Sunny Hundal tweeted “A British Muslim woman has been hounded out from an ad campaign for being critical of Israel. So criticising countries is racist now”. Many have also said this is an example of it being ok to include women of colour in a campaign … until they have an opinion.
In a world where free-speech is so actively practised, can we really allow people to be marginalised and excluded from things for advocating their opinions? When first coming across this matter, I was reminded of the many bloggers and public figures using their Twitter accounts frivolously, most importantly the ones discussing and stating their opinions on America, Donald Trump and North Korea and controversial topics in general. Yet, they haven’t been critiqued or forced to apologise. So why is a double standard created?
To me Amena’s tweets should not have affected her appearance in the campaign or her relationship with L’Oréal; her tweets have since been removed but it is key to note she was primarily using Twitter in the way we all do, to write about things that annoy us. Secondly, she wrote about her thoughts on the massacre of just under 3,000 Palestinian civilians. In the tweets she was not homophobic, political or inciting hatred. Simply, voicing her opinion on a humanitarian issue. Although Amena opted to step down from her role and hasn’t been officially fired by the beauty giant, L’Oréal have been in a similar situation before when they hired and then fired their first transgender model, Munroe Bergdorf, over social media comments on white complicity in racial violence. L’Oréal appear to want to include marginalised groups in their advertisements to showcase how ‘inclusive’ their products are. However, this modern and diverse image they portray is ultimately a façade as they fail to embrace the opinions and their ambassador’s right to free speech. For me, it is more important for brands to consider the people they elect to represent them based on their ethics and points of view rather than their aesthetic.
(Image courtesy of India TV)