By Zaina Arafat
“Salam Alaikum, everyone!” Yasemin Kanar, known to her fans as YazTheSpaz, uses the traditional Muslim welcome to greet her 68,000 subscribers at the start of almost every video on her YouTube channel. I’m watching as she films a tutorial on how to achieve a simple, stylish look with a navy-blue hijab — the headscarf worn by some Muslim women, and the Arabic word for “cover.” We’re in the guest bedroom of the condo that she shares with her husband, Zeyad, in Jupiter, Florida, 30 minutes outside West Palm Beach. She and Zeyad have lived here since they married in 2013. (Their wedding video is among the most popular on her channel.)
Their guest room has a dimmer switch that’s been set to low, and a floodlight in front of the stool where she sits is shining bright. Her backdrop consists of a leopard-print sheet that Zeyad recently hung, “to make the set more studio-like,” she tells me. I’m sitting on the edge of the double bed, watching as he films.
Yaz has shoulder-length brown hair that until this weekend I’ve never seen, as it’s usually tucked underneath one of the many varied headscarves that have brought her recognition within a subset of Muslims in the US. Her thin, slightly pinched nose has been powdered, as have her cheeks and forehead, and her lips are coated in a pink gloss. Her tutorials, which are step-by-step guides to different ways of wrapping a hijab, require a good deal of planning, primping, and choosing — outfits, makeup, and of course, the hijab itself. “This one is Rabia Z brand,” she says to the camera. “I just love the way they drape.”
Yaz films without a script; she knows the material well. Zeyad puts down the camera as she removes the hijab and places it on a small table beside her. She still isn’t showing any hair; it’s tucked beneath a bonnet (pronounced “bon-nay”), which is a cap worn under her hijab to keep it in place and to prevent any stray hairs from getting loose. She wears it to further protect modesty, a central value of Islam that’s deeply important to her. It’s also a value that seems especially difficult to maintain when you’re a YouTube personality, and when you’re broadcasting hundreds of fashion tutorials to tens of thousands of viewers.
Yaz has her own product line and is working to grow her online store. “I have on a YazTheSpaz turtleneck, a YazTheSpaz bonnet, and a YazTheSpaz scrunchie,” she informs her audience once Zeyad resumes filming, “but the scrunchies and bonnets are sold out right now.” She first started the store because viewers asked where they could buy what they saw in her videos; the profits now support her production and clothing costs. On camera, she pins the turtleneck the bonnet, “so I don’t have to worry about any neck showing,” she explains.
In 2010, then-21-year-old Yaz became one of the first of what’s now become known as “hijabistas” — Muslim girls or women who incorporate their headscarves into their fashion repertoires, and who provide tutorials and images via social media, usually YouTube and Instagram — for other Muslims who want to achieve similar looks. The trend began in predominantly Muslim countries and the UK, and it spread as young Muslim women asserted that it was possible to dress both stylishly and modestly, and that they had options when it came to doing so.
Prominent hijabistas include Kuwait-based Ascia Al Faraj, or Ascia AKF, who blogs with her husband, and has over 1.8 million Instagram followers. In the UK, English-Egyptian blogger and designer Dina Torkia — or Dina Tokio, as her fans know her — has more than 1 million Instagram followers and 500,000 YouTube subscribers. She began blogging in 2011 as well, and her channel is one of Yaz’s favorites, as is Ascia AKF’s. Among hijabistas in the US, where Muslims make up 1% of the total population (versus 5% in the UK), Yaz is one of the most popular, with 211,000 Instagram followers.
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