this radical fashion blogger won’t be exoticised for wearing a hijab
23-year-old Iranian-American Muslim fashion blogger Hoda Katebi offers her notes on being a woman.
Last month, 23-year-old Iranian-American Muslim fashion blogger Hoda Katebi was criticised on national TV for not sounding like “an American” after she denounced US policy in the Middle East. Why they were discussing things like nuclear weapons (Iran has none), and whether America can really trust Iran, in an interview about modern Iranian fashion, and not, say, Hoda’s book on Tehran Streetstyle that she was there to promote, is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, she handled the interview with dignity, poise and grace.
A self-described abolitionist, Hoda studied international relations and Middle Eastern politics at the University of Chicago, which is when she first became interested in the idea of subversive fashion as a sign of resistance. In 2013 she launched her blog JooJoo Azad, which means “free bird” in Farsi, as a radical online platform dedicated to the integration of ethical fashion and activism through an anti-capitalist, intersectional-feminist lens. Three years later, she published Tehran Streetstyle, the first ever in-print collection of Iranian streetstyle photography, aimed at challenging the status quo of western notions of the exotic, as well as domestic ideas about mandatory dress codes. She’s an absolute tour de force, and here she offers her notes on being a woman.
The best thing about being a woman is knowing how to love, care, fight, resist and appreciate and give life in complex and nuanced ways.
The hardest thing about being a woman, while wearing a hijab, means you’re instantly exocticised, fetishised, labelled “oppressed” and your image is used to justify western militarisation and invasion of Muslim countries.
The best advice I’ve ever received about human bodies is that a healthy body is drinking water, eating fruit and biking, but it’s also about nurturing your mind with books and your soul with prayer and gratitude. Also, Afghan artist Moshtari Hilal’s Embrace the Face series challenging colonial beauty standards has been much-needed aesthetic advice in celebrating my physical body beyond western rubrics of “beauty” .
When I was 16 I had the totally wrong idea about softness and femininity. I thought they were vices. I also thought that boys make better friends than girls, that gender is binary, my nose is too big, and that Israel is a democracy.
The most unexpected thing I discovered about being a woman is my body will be used by a state to measure the progress or morality of its society and that certain types of feminism (i.e. white/imperial feminism) can be weaponised to cause harm to women who do not fit particular socioeconomic, racial, sexual and religious categories.
The film that taught me most about being a woman is The Iranian film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. It taught me to be soft, but also badass.
The women I admire most are the Muslim women and women of colour who unapologetically love, fight, resist, educate and create a better world for all of us. Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, Ahed Tamimi. And of course, my mother.
The best thing about getting older is that I can eat ice cream in bed and no one can tell me not to.
The biggest lie about getting older is that you have to act the part.
I feel like a grown-up when I’m wearing shoes that make loud, commanding sounds as I walk.
Love feels like community care, looks like intersectional resistance and struggle for collective liberation and smells like ash reshte (a thick, warm, traditional Iranian stew that takes several hours to prepare and is made for special guests and occasions).
I’m happiest when standing at the edge of the Caspian Sea, consuming the mountains, water, trees and land of my ancestors.
Polly Stenham asks : If you could be a boy, would you? Absolutely not. I want to be part of the revolution, not the reason it's necessary.
My question for the next woman is: Who does your feminism include?