Monday, 25 September 2017

How Muslim style star Leah Vernon decided 'to be myself, unapologetically'

Leah Vernon is the consummate modern hyphenate. When asked to describe her career, the 30-year- old blogger turned Instagram star turned YouTube star says, “Right now, I’m a body-positive activist, Muslim feminist influencer, and a writer.”

So how did the Detroit-based internet phenomenon hone her multifaceted skills? Through her love of fashion, of course.

“Back in the early 2000s, I was really obsessed with modeling,” Vernon tells Yahoo Lifestyle. But, she clarifies, “I was also a short fat black girl who was really poor. So I didn’t fit any of the molds of what it was to be a model.”

Vernon’s mom and brother were booking modeling jobs, however, and Vernon would accompany them when they would work — an experience she describes as “heartbreaking, because I thought it would be so cool to do this, but then it’s like, ‘No — you don’t look the part.’”

So Vernon decided instead to focus on her writing. She started a blog “that failed miserably” and a YouTube channel that also went nowhere. Then, in 2013, she decided to try again, launching a new blog called Beauty and the Muse, the name for which just popped into her head one morning.

Initially, Beauty and the Muse was strictly devoted to fashion and fashion-show coverage. But the response to Vernon’s take on those topics led to something unexpected.

“I was getting fan messages from around the world, people saying, ‘I’ve never seen a fat black Muslim girl talking about this stuff’ — and I was getting these messages from girls half my size,” Vernon recalls. “So I went from talking about fashion to body-image issues to religion to feminism.”

But also, Vernon says, her focus on fashion also came as a direct result of the ways she struggled as a child and young adult.

“When I was younger, my father wasn’t really there at all, and when he was, he was fat-shaming me,” she says. “He would make fun of how big I was compared to my stepsister and the clothes I would wear. Because I was a big girl, I didn’t have clothes that were fashionable.” That wasn’t all.

As one of the only black children in her neighborhood — and one of the only Muslim children too — she says she would regularly get called “a nun” by teasing boys on her street, who would mock her hijab and the way that she dressed.

“It only got worse when I got older,” Vernon notes. “I was homeschooled my entire life until I was 16, when I went to college. And then I went to college and I didn’t know where I fit in.”

Vernon says that when she went to college, she struggled with the decision of whether to wear her hijab, or, as she puts, it, “To stand out or not, to feel normal or not.”

Furthermore, she says, “My weight was up and down, and I had an eating disorder — I felt like if I was thinner, I would get the boy, get the job, get the attention.”

After marrying early, Vernon reckoned with even more identity issues resulting from what it means to be “married to a Muslim man … and how a Muslim woman should act, how she should be seen relative to her husband in society.”

“I was getting really tired of having to fit into all of these molds of what Muslim people wanted from me, of what black people wanted from me, of what thin people wanted from me. The turning point for me was that I was very angry and I didn’t know who I was. And then I realized you can be fat and educated, you can be fat and fierce as fuck, you can be fat and Muslim,” Vernon says. “You can choose to be miserable and angry and allow other people to dictate your happiness and your self-image or you can say, ‘No — I am a strong, independent woman who is all of these things and more.’ And I decided I was going to be myself, unapologetically.”

Which is why Vernon wishes she could tell her younger self “to stop taking validation from outside sources — that will never fill you. That’s what I found out as I got older and I started to look within. I realized I was the only one who could change my own mindset.”

Full story at Yahoo News.

By Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy.

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