#CelebratingArabWomen: Interview with Hala Ajam

Recently, Arab people have gotten a pretty bad rap in the media because of terrorist acts committed by Arab individuals and other conflicts in the Middle East, but news flash, there are millions of Arab people in the world doing amazing and good things. In reality, Arab culture is multifaceted and diverse, and it is simply wrong and frankly dangerous to lump all Arabs together.

Arab women in particular face a multitude of stereotypes everyday, such as being oppressed by their culture and completely domestic. There is no singular form of an Arab woman, and ignoring real people in favor of typecasts determined for us by the media only perpetuates prejudice and breeds hate. Renowned makeup artist Hala Ajam is taking on the stereotypes against Arab women in her new campaign, #CelebratingArabWomen, celebrating the women for exactly who they are rather than who the world says they should be. 

In her #CelebratingArabWomen video, Ajam spotlights Arab women of all different shapes, sizes, and walks of life, highlighting and praising their individual gifts and choices. For Ajam, the campaign is all about empowering Arab women. I got the chance to chat with Ajam about the campaign and her thoughts on Arab women, shedding even more light on why her campaign is important. Here's what Hala had to say about her campaign. 

I’ve known and been around so many different Arab women. I’ve gotten the chance to listen to their stories, and to really understand what empowerment, encouragement, or a confidence boost can do. I’ve always tried to push them to believe in who they are, what they want to be, and where they want to go. That’s what got me to initiate this campaign in the first place, knowing all of these strong Arab women that are such powerful influencers in their entourage, so good at what they do. I felt like I owed it to them and to our society to point these women out, to introduce them to the world.

There are so many NGOs that target women’s empowerment, but there aren’t any campaigns. If there are they’re usually focused on one specific subject like abuse, underage marriage, etc. I wanted this campaign to highlight the individuality of the Arab woman, the freedom she has to choose where she wants to be. I’m hoping this campaign will motivate others to start working on similar concepts.

The main idea is to remind Arabs that we have the power to be whoever we want to be and we are not what the international media pins us to be. There’s so much bad that’s thrown at us Arabs everyday that gets others to think that we do not have the freedom of choice that other countries have, that our women are suppressed, and submissive, which is not true at all. I think it’s all about teaching women, supporting their decisions, reminding them every day that they are so much more than what society tells them to be.

I knew I didn’t want to mix my business with empowering women. I wanted the campaign to be all about them, not about me, and I was so excited to see what people’s reactions would be as soon as it went online. Makeup is art. To be able to give every woman an individual look that satisfies her ego and feeds her confidence is the most empowering message that you can ever give her, to talk about her, her story. It took me a long time to stand my ground and convince my family that I’m going to be whoever I want to be. In my family’s opinion for instance women should not work or stay out late for photo shoots, they need to be curriers in their marriage, be around their husbands and kids. I worked hard to gain my family’s respect. I worked hard to get them to be proud of me for who I really am and my dreams, but I did, and now here we are.

Be personal. Open up. It took me a long time to stand my ground, but I did and eventually gained my family’s respect for what I do. If you don’t stand up for your dreams, if you don’t get emotional, talk about it, or admit it, you will never make an impact on your own terms. You are as special, as beautiful, as alive as you ever wanted to be, and now’s the time for your individuality to burst out of you. Change the way others want to see you. Change the way others want you to see yourself.

I felt truly proud of whom I am. I hope every woman would start embracing herself and appreciate who she is.

Feature photo by Tribes of the World/ VIA Flickr