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Donna BahdonModel

New York, US. December 17th, 2020

Interviewed by Alexei Key

The Muslim-Canadian model and Instagram star Donna Bahdon is changing attitudes about how fashion and religion can co-exist in today’s world.


 

When I was younger, my family home was where the women in my family would come and get ready for any big day: a wedding, a bridal shower or any cultural festivity. I loved watching the process of them getting ready. The ambiance, the conversation, the laughter, the jewelry, hair and makeup—all of it was so beautiful, and it’s definitely something I want to carry on as well.

I was born and raised in Canada as a Muslim-Canadian, and I grew up in predominantly French-Canadian communities. My parents emigrated to Canada from Djibouti in the late ’80s/early ’90s, and they settled in Montreal before moving to Ottawa. Growing up, I was always surrounded by my family and all my relatives and there was always a sense of belonging. As Muslims, from an early age, my parents taught my siblings and I to respect and understand the importance of virtue, and to carry that with us wherever we go and onto whatever we decide to tackle.

There isn’t one single moment that solely shaped me to be who I am, but 2010 was a pivotal year for me. When I was 15 years old, my father, brother and I travelled to the Emirates for the first time. During the year we spent there, I embarked on a journey I didn’t know would change my life so much. It was definitely a huge shift in perspective and culture clash. Though the country is a Muslim country, the people hold a different culture, and navigating that as a young Black Djiboutian-Canadian was at times challenging. It felt like a whole new world, none of which I was prepared for at 15.

I was first introduced to the concept of Hijab in my mid-teens, but I only understood its meaning and virtue in my 20s. I wear the Hijab because it completes me, and it is an everyday reminder that I choose to represent my faith, my strength and, most importantly, myself. That’s not to say that it is not challenging, indeed it is, but when I choose to wear it every day, I also choose my strength.

The Hijab is not new to fashion. There are a multitude of ways women wear the Hijab around the globe and express themselves in it. It’s the concept of the Hijab that is new to mainstream fashion, and the best way to approach it is to truly understand it for what it is. Stylists, creative designers and the industry at large must first understand that the Hijab is not a mere accessory; in styling, it comes first. This way, when creating with Hijab-wearing models, their modesty, their Hijab, their humanness precedes any “trend.” I think that’s what sets apart models being used as a token to real inclusive work.

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As far as patterns and fabrics, there are diverse prints and colors that women wear all over the world, and all are beautiful. The Hijab is most definitely a journey, and it’s one that shapes the individual to their core.

Religion and fashion can co-exist within mutual respectful grounds. Fashion is an extension of human creativity and expression, and religion can influence this for the better. Having set values shouldn’t be an inconvenience to those who love fashion. As a Muslim, I speak for those who love to see a beautiful harmony between the two worlds.

I feel most authentic and myself when I’m doing something I love, and I’m surrounded by those I love. It could be when I’m listening to Somali songs with my mom or when I’m in a coffee shop with my friends, or when I’m styling and talking about fashion.

When I’m learning, listening or engaging with other women, especially my mother, that’s when I feel most creative. She is someone who constantly inspires me, and the many conversations I have with her have truly shaped my creativity.

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What inspires me right now is how much the world has shown resilience, and the constant fight to carry on regardless of the outcome. This is an unprecedented year in every sense of the word, and it has taught us all so much about ourselves, whether or not we were affected by COVID-19 directly or indirectly. I am aware, more than ever, of the role I want to play in society and the kind of world I want to see moving forward.

I don’t see myself as a role model, but when it comes to inspiring young women who look like me—black women, Muslim women, people of color—I’m empowered by the thought of inspiring them to be their true self.

Everyone sees beauty differently. For me, beauty isn’t only based on the outer but also the inner self. When looking into some of the different cultures we have in the world, beauty is finding the uniqueness and distinctiveness in each of them and understanding that people aren’t meant to be like one another.

And as humans, what we all long for is to feel seen. It doesn’t have to be a grandiose gesture, but just a simple act of kindness. For myself, I feel most seen when someone is thoughtful of me, and when I am most respected and heard.

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DONNA BAHDON



Produced by Fashionography Creative