Malaysian pop star Yuna gets real on fashion's lack of hijabi women
To say the past decade for international Malaysian pop star Yuna has been busy is one of the biggest understatements of, well, the decade. From the beginning of her career to now, Yuna has not only released four hit albums (her most recent being Rouge, released earlier this year) featuring collaborations with industry veterans like Usher and Jhené Aiko, but she has also cemented herself as a prominent face in the fashion and beauty industries. And Yuna is much more than another pretty face: Her message of diversity and representation is the antidote to the entertainment industry’s lack of Muslim women.
“When I came out to the United States, people were kind of surprised,” she told HelloGiggles. “It was just so weird when people were asking, ‘Aren’t you supposed to wear all black?’ People knew very little about Muslim women. We’re modern, we’re confident, and we’re able to do what we want to do.”
Along with her fellow model Halima Aden, Yuna is one of the few hijabi women in mainstream media in the United States. Though Western society still has a long way to go in terms of its stereotypical perspective on the hijab, Yuna has found a way to prove that Muslim women have a place in modern entertainment, fashion, and beauty, without losing her personal ethos in the process. Her status within the fashion world has inarguably reached iconic levels—she recently signed to major modeling agency Wilhelmina and has been a front-row staple at nearly every Fashion Month show you could think of—but, that’s not to say that Yuna’s skyrocket to success hasn’t come with adversity.
Yuna opened up to us about everything from hijabi representation within mainstream media to Malaysia’s controversial skin-lightening practices to her current clean beauty obsession. Read our conversation with her below:
HelloGiggles: How would you define your relationship with beauty?
Yuna: It’s a journey that I’m still on. I’m discovering myself and also appreciating myself and my natural beauty. Growing up, I never thought I was “the beautiful girl” in school. At the same time, even though I was struggling with my self-esteem, I kind of enjoyed just being myself. I’d sometimes look into the mirror and think, “Oh, why isn’t my nose small? Why aren’t my lips perfectly tiny?” But I think that as you grow older you slowly accept your body and features. For me, my relationship with beauty is about learning about myself and then appreciating whatever I have.
HG: What’s your first beauty memory?
Y: My mom never used skincare products on her face and she has the most amazing skin. All she used was baby lotion on her face, and I think that was my first introduction to beauty. But that was really weird because where I come from whitening products were, and unfortunately still are, thriving. A lot of girls where I come from want fair skin. Many of them are so obsessed with trying to be fair, and they haven’t embraced their natural tan skin color, and I guess growing up I also thought, Oh, maybe I want to do this too. And I just remember my mom being so mad at me and saying, “No, you shouldn’t use these products, just eat healthily and moisturize!” Because of my mom, moisturizing has become my number one thing.
HG: Could you talk to us a little more about skin whitening? How do you feel about it?
Y: There are beauty trends everywhere in the world, right? So, I guess in South Asia and Southeast Asia that’s still the big trend. I’m just one person who’s trying to change that because I don’t want girls to feel insecure about having tan or darker skin. I open up questions for fans on social media, and so many girls say, “Yuna, I’m dark-skinned, I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried all of the whitening products,” and it just breaks my heart. So, I think that’s something that I would like to change. The mentality of girls from that part of the world where I come from to really embrace their natural beauty. I think we’re definitely on the right track, but we still have a long way to go.
HG: Everyone has insecurities—how do you handle yours?
Y: To me, it’s best to just not really think about your insecurities. People kind of psych themselves out when they’re thinking about not being the prettiest in the room, and they have a problem with that. For me, growing up I’ve always been okay with not being the most popular or the most beautiful. I don’t really care about it, but I think beauty standards are slowly changing. You see someone like Winnie Harlow who’s really proud, who owns her condition, who’s just out there being herself, and being amazing, and you have someone like Halima who’s all covered up, and is a model. So, I think the beauty standard today is slowly changing and people are appreciating diversity.
You just have to be confident in your own skin and appreciate what you have. I think that’s super important. When you have that, you won’t be in a place where you’re always constantly doubting yourself, because it’s such a waste of time when you should be using that time to change the world or inspire others to be the best version of themselves.
HG: You were recently signed to Wilhelmina. Congratulations! How does it feel to be representing Muslim women in fashion?
Y: Being signed was never in my plans and wasn’t one of my goals, but now, I’m really happy that I have the opportunity to work in the fashion industry. I think that was what I really wanted to do, and also inspire girls who are just like me, who are just not necessarily modelesque or “perfectly beautiful,” because no one is perfect. The most important thing is to me is being an advocate of staying true to yourself. I think that’s all that I’ve been doing that and can continue to do. It always has to come back to yourself, and your self-confidence.
I come from a small country, and when the world was just not really ready for a hijabi musician, I came and just did my thing. The decision to wear the hijab has nothing to do with coercion, we aren’t forced to do it. We love it, we love embracing modesty, and that’s very important to people like me. And I would like to keep on doing that for as long as I can, inshallah. And now, thankfully, people are starting to see that it is important to not be held back by the old school way of thinking that fashion is just to cater to certain types of women. It’s expanding in the best way possible.
But I’ve gone through some moments where I’ve questioned whether this is the right thing for me. I love music, but I don’t know if people are going to like what I’m doing. I’ve gotten a lot of backlash from the Muslim community, but also a lot of support as well. So, it was important for me to keep going. I think the message I would like to share with all the girls out there, regardless if they’re hijabis or not, is to just keep going and never give up. I’m a huge believer in the idea that if you don’t quit, you’ll get somewhere and be successful in whatever that you pursuing.
HG: Who’s your beauty icon?
Y: I got to go with Audrey Hepburn. She’s always been very classy, and also a really good modest role model. You never saw her in an overly sexy outfit, she was always just herself and being her funny, goofy self in public. I’ve always looked up to her, and I would always try to mimic that classiness and elegance that she had, and hopefully, I pull it off.
HG: What do your “self-care” days look like?
Y: I’d definitely get a massage and then get a facial. I’m obsessed with Skin Laundry, I just tried it last month because my friend in New York told me about it. Now I’m obsessed with it. It feels kind of weird, but when you go you see the results. If I’m staying home, I’ll put on a face mask and just hang out. I’m a huge fan of masks, and my favorite go-to masks are from SK-II.
HG: Tell us a bit about your beauty routine.
Y: Usually, I have a lot of makeup on, so I do a deep cleanse to get rid of it all. My favorite thing to use is Rose Micellar Cleansing Water from 100% PURE. I spend about 30 minutes on my cleansing routine, just to make sure all of the makeup is gone. I feel like a lot of people forget the importance of getting rid of all the impurities in the skin, and I have to have a clean face before I go to sleep—no impurities are following me into my bed! I don’t use toners, though, so after I cleanse I just go straight to moisturizing.
HG: You’re a pretty big fan of clean beauty. What pulled you to it?
Everyone has a makeup line now, but is it safe? You don’t know. So, it’s important to do some research and also invest in natural makeup products. I think I spent a lot of money on clean makeup that uses all-natural ingredients, and it’s mind-blowing for me to know that my eyeliner is made from black tea. I’m a huge makeup fan and I wear all kinds of makeup, I wear a lot of makeup on a day-to-day basis. So, for the days that I’m not working, these are the products that I would love to use because they’re kinder to my skin. There’s this one brand that I’m obsessed with it called 100% PURE, and I have the whole line, I love it.
HG: What’s one beauty lesson you always live by?
Y: It sounds very cliché, but beauty starts from within. I work with a lot of people, and I have to say I meet a lot of beautiful people, but sometimes they’re not necessarily beautiful from the inside. You have to really be a solid person on the inside, and then it will just shine through. Stay humble, be kind, take care of your heart, and then moisturize and drink lots of water.