the girl beneath the headscarf
Fashion blogger Wiwid Howat is breaking down stereotypes about Muslim women.
Foto: Samuel Howat
As I write this, I'm aware that Wiwid Howat sounds like any other successful fashion blogger: She posts outfit photos on her self titled blog, has almost 20,000 Instagram followers, collaborates with brands, and has been featured in a Powerhouse Museum exhibition. What sets her apart is her faith. Born in Indonesia and raised as a Muslim, 26-year-old Wiwid has built the site to challenge stereotypes of Muslim women.
How did you get into fashion blogging?
I started designing Muslim clothes in Indonesia when I was in the middle of writing my thesis at uni. I was so stressed by it and I found designing was something that could distract me, it was like therapy. At the time I couldn't afford to hire models so I had my friend, who studied photography at the time, take photos of me, which I paid for with lunch or dinner. Then I realised a lot of these photos could actually be posted so I decided to start blogging.
When you started, was it to fulfil a purpose of challenging stereotypes, or was it just for yourself?
There weren't many active young Muslim fashion bloggers when I started doing this. As someone who wears a headscarf, it's really hard to find inspiration. I'm not traditional, I don't like wearing traditional Muslim attire. We could wear almost the same thing - like you wear a mini skirt - I can pull that off if I put leggings underneath. I just want to share my style and hopefully inspire other people. There are so many ways to style your clothes.
I'm sure it hasn't been totally easy, have you had any issues with people online?
I actually get criticised a lot. Most of the criticism is actually from Muslim communities, which is really sad. I like to wear skirts where I can show a little bit of my knees and legs, and people would say you shouldn't show that part of your leg. But we all have different standards on how to cover ourselves. I believe all women have their own right to do whatever they want with their body.
And how do you respond to criticism?
It hurt the first time to be honest, when I got a lot of criticism like that I cried. I talked to my husband about it. He was born and raised in Australia so he gives me another perspective. He's not saying don't worry about them they're idiots, but encouraging me to take the good things and leave the bad things. But now I think criticism is good for your personal development, I just don't want the criticism to destroy or disturb my life and what I love.
What are your tips for engaging with fashion in a way that works with your religion?
Be yourself, make sure you're comfortable and confident with whatever you wear and also make sure it's modest and covered. Don't be scared to mix and match a little bit. I actually really love wearing hats and earrings. You know I'm so jealous of people like you because you don't wear a headscarf, you can wear hats, you can wear earrings. What I need to do, I have to compromise and make sure that it looks good while being modest.
Is there a big Muslim blogger community in Australia?
I don't think we have a massive community like in Indonesia, probably because our population and market are quite small. But it's actually growing. When I open my Instagram, I see people follow me and I see their page and some of them are Muslim and fashion bloggers in Australia.
So do you see it growing?
I think so. I think younger generation Muslims in Australia will see this and appreciate it and see this as an opportunity to express themselves to break the boundaries between communities. It's definitely going to be a big thing in Australia.
So this is something you're committed to long term?
I hope so, I really hope I can make a career out of it. I want people to know me in a different way, especially with all the stereotypes about Muslim women. Blogging is my hobby but at the same time I want to have a message to everybody that Muslim women are not that different, we have a chance to express ourselves, we have a right to wear whatever we want. We live in Australia, it's a free country and I'd like to express myself freely to other people.
Words by Naen Kim
Photography by Samuel Howat