Bella Hadid’s statements about the hijab come at a pressing time for Muslim women

When I first saw images of Bella Hadid donning a hooded design at Proenza Schouler’s runway show at New York Fashion Week, I couldn’t help but cringe. Yet again, a head covering was being glamorized by the fashion industry while hijabi women in places like France and India were being denied the right to cover their hair.

This month has been an unfortunately eventful one for hijabi women in Europe and South Asia. Just this week, France’s bill that proposes banning the hijab in sports was passed on to the country’s National Assembly, even after provoking widespread dismay from Muslims worldwide. Les Hijabeuses, a collective of French hijabi athletes, planned a protest in the form of a football game outside of the National Assembly earlier this month — but the demonstration ended up being banned by French police.

Halfway across the world in India, images of Muslim students and teachers being forced to remove their headscarves before entering school grounds are going viral on social media, after educational institutes in southern India (a country with over 200 million Muslims) controversially banned the hijab. The humiliating footage has been spread across Instagram and Twitter, where many non-Muslims have also vocalized their disdain for this blatantly Islamophobic injunction.

Meanwhile in New York, when Bella Hadid strutted down the Proenza Schouler runway in a fitted hood, I couldn’t help feel that niggling feeling again — the one that I couldn’t shake when Kanye West wore a full face-covering mask in Paris in violation of the country’s niqab ban, or when Vogue France praised Julia Fox’s headscarf but remained silent when the country’s senate voted to ban hijabs on women under 18, or when Kim Kardashian donned a head-to-toe black get-up at the Met Gala, bearing unsettling similarities to a burqa.

Bella’s hooded New York Fashion Week appearance was by no means the first hijab-like accessory we’ve seen on western runways, but it occurred at a time where sentiments surrounding the hijab are at an all-time high worldwide. Thankfully, last night, the supermodel used her platform to help shed light on the plight of hijabi women who are facing injustices across the globe by posting a series of Instagram images of hijabi women. One caption stated, “It’s not your job to tell women whether or not they can STUDY or PLAY SPORTS, ESPECIALLY when it is pertaining to their faith and safety.”

Another read, “Although fashion is a way to push the boundaries and somehow make things more acceptable, I want us to remember where the Hijab resonated from and why it is so important to Muslim women worldwide…If we are seeing more and more appreciation of hijabs and covers in fashion, we have to also acknowledge the cycle of abuse that Muslim women of all different ethnicities in fashion get met with on a regular basis within fashion houses, especially In Europe & America. Stand up for your Muslim friends. If you see something, say something.”

A third post on her Instagram raised awareness for a hijabi girl named Huda, who was attacked and beaten at her school in New Zealand on February 9. “It makes me angry and sick to my stomach. we need to change this mindset of immediate judgement. teach our friends, children, parents, families that wearing a hijab, being Muslim, or being anything other than white in general, does not equal being a threat or different than anyone else. Teach them to love before hate. To educate before judgement. To protect before bullying,” wrote Bella.

Besides Hadid’s head covering at the Proenza Schouler show, balaclavas and knitted hoods were also spotted all over the street styles of guests attending fashion week. And just this morning, as I browsed the “new-in” offerings on ASOS, I was struck by the appearance of several hood separates — like one dubbed “crochet knit snood” — some of which covered the entire face, save for the wearer’s eyes.

“The very same western countries that ban or hate the veil use it as a symbol to exoticize Star Wars characters and runway models,” writes Sarah Mainuddin in her book, Demystifying the Niqab. Muslim women are being denied their rights to cover up all over the world; meanwhile, hijab-like garments are perpetually flaunted in fashion as “cool” and “trendy”.

But is fashion really to blame for the double standards society places on head coverings? It’s possible, in fact, that the industry has helped Muslim women through its recent celebration of the “modest fashion” movement and inclusion of hijabi models on catwalks and in campaigns. 2018 even saw the initiation of the Contemporary Muslim Fashions exhibit at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, which explored, celebrated, and even validated modest fashion in America.

Now, as Muslim women the world over find themselves at a crossroads when it comes to politics impacting their freedoms to cover their hair, perhaps fashion — an industry that has helped champion other causes like sustainability, queerness and body positivity — can help drive further change, dispelling misconceptions about Muslim women and endorsing their freedoms to dress how they wish to.

We might think the fashion is fickle, merely concerned with aesthetics, and nothing deeper. But Bella’s brave decision to address the travesties hijabi women are currently facing show that she has far greater purpose than that of a voiceless clothes hanger. She is stepping up as an ally for fellow Muslim women who aren’t afforded the same privileges she is, like the freedom to nonchalantly cover her hair without fear of being attacked or fined. She is also proof of the fact that one needn’t be an “orthodox” Muslim, or a “modest” dresser themselves, to empathize with hijabi women — one just needs to be an advocate of women’s choice and agency. In another Instagram caption, she quotes hijabi model Taqwa Bint Ali (who was a muse for Jean Paul Gaultier, and recently collaborated with Adidas): “You know, at the root of it all, all of this is just much deeper than Islamophobia; it’s pure sexism and misogyny. no matter the countries or the time, men always want to control what a woman does and wears.”

From Bella and Taqwa, to Halima Aden and Rawdah Mohamed (who was recently appointed fashion editor of Vogue Scandinavia), Muslim women in fashion are speaking out about hijabs. The question is: can the momentum around this movement spread to the higher echelons of the industry?

Fashion can clearly be political, and the industry often sees activism even within its Fashion Week presentations. Who could ever forget Maria Grazia Chiuri’s iconic “We should all be feminists” t-shirts for Dior (which quoted an essay by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) that stole the show in Paris in 2016?

London Fashion Week kicks off today, at a time in history when hypocrisies surrounding “veiling” are more blatant than ever before. Balaclavas and headscarves are trending, and mask-wearing due to the pandemic has been in effect for almost two years. Yet, due to Islamophobic politics and policies, Muslim women in France, India and elsewhere are being “othered” and forced to de-veil.

When France first introduced its hijab ban on minors last year, Muslim women the world over responded with the #handsoffmyhijab campaign across social media. Would it be too much to ask for London designer to print this statement, which is as equally feminist as the popular Dior slogan, on a t-shirt — or better yet, a hoodie — and recruit hijabi women to model it on the catwalk this week? British brands, after all, jumped on the modesty bandwagon to target Muslim spending power, and have been called out for being tokenistic and financially motivated. If you ask me, this could be a far more meaningful way to support and connect with this demographic, which is currently in dire need of international support and allyship.