Amidst a music video culture of scantily-clad women, Hajer Naili prefers to cover up and goes for videos that don’t require baring the body.
She models through Underwraps Agency, which says it’s the world’s first Muslim modeling agency. Brooklyn-based fashion designer Nailah Lymus founded the agency in February 2012. It “aims to promote a different image of Muslim women, often portrayed as subservient and hidden,” writes Naili in a piece for Women’s eNews.
Now living in New York, she didn’t start out as a model but supported the philosophy behind the agency and took the opportunity when Lymus asked her to join. As a writer, Naili works to “show the real face of Muslim women.” Underwraps Agency provided her another way to do so.
Naili also looked at how the hijab factored into her life.
I recently stopped wearing the headscarf. When you wear a headscarf, you become the symbol of a community, of an entire religion. All your deeds and actions are supposed to reflect the religion you follow. It is a big responsibility, one I realized I wasn’t ready for at this point in my life. Though the decision to wear it and remove it was a big one.
But for over a year I wore it. And during all that time, every day was a new occasion to show that a Muslim woman can be religious, covered but still confident, secure and fashion forward. I attracted curious and prying looks and sometimes even had strangers approach me on the street to ask questions. I am very open when it comes to discussing my religion as long as individuals question and not assume.
While she has stopped wearing the hijab, dressing modestly remains important to Naili. But modeling hasn’t only intertwined with her religious beliefs, it helped her find solace from a past of body image problems, including anorexia-bulimia, which she faced growing up in France. In the U.S., she writes, there is a growing acceptance for bodies in different sizes.
Today, I never weigh myself and will never again do so after overcoming this devastating disease. I accept and enjoy my body with its shapes; and even more since I moved to the United States.
Here, it seems more possible to be curvy and comfortable with your body, not having your confidence and entire being caught up in conforming to a rigid standard of beauty. All that makes it feel good right now to be a Muslim woman living in the West, free to be in harmony with my religion and to celebrate my feminine identity.