LANCOME’S MUSLIM FACE: Tunisian model Hanaa Ben Abdesslem (on the left), has become the first-ever Muslim face of Lancôme. The 22-year-old will be featured in a new campaign for Teint Idole Ultra 24h foundation. The move has the young model poised for international stardom after she made her runway debut last year forVivienne Westwood. The young model hopes her success will help galvanize other Arab women to break the stereotype mold and believe in modeling as a career. After coming in second on the Lebanese equivalent of reality show Project Runway, Abdesslem, who shuns drinking and smoking, signed with modeling agency IMG. She told New York Magazine: “(People in Tunisia) have this misconception of what modeling is about. Modeling can be a career choice, too. I plan to change this misconception within my culture,” she added. She continued to say that she hopes to expose “the true challenges of the modeling profession for the Arab world.”
She could come up against some barriers, but for her, Tunisia is one of the more liberal Arab countries, where women are less likely to don the headscarf and where female political participation is higher than their fellow Middle Eastern countries. Still, there remains some antagonism toward modeling in general. “There is a growing tide of sentiments in this part of the world toward women and what they can and can’t do with their bodies,” said university professor Mariam Sabry. She told Bikyamasr.com that “women like Abdesslem can help to change these perceptions, but only if they are willing to constantly maintain open channels back home.” Sabry argued that the rising conservatism in the country and across the region “means we will see a lot of hateful comments directed at models and women in the spotlight, calling them sluts and whores, so we must be prepared for this.” Either way, the young Tunisian is powering on as the international symbol for Lancome and appears to have a career set forth.
Hanna’s new pixie crop has made her even more striking on the runway. The success hasn’t changed the 22-year-old, who studied engineering in Tunisia before moving to modeling, too much though. She remains conscious of her heritage, revealing in an interview, “My country is rich in history and traditions. It’s a culture that’s been influenced and shaped by a succession of civilizations that includes the Berbers, Phoenicians, Romans, Fatimid Arabs and Ottomans. I grew up surrounded by all these influences and I am proud to be a part of that culture.” As to Hanna’s new role, it was an obvious choice for the brand. Youcef Nabi, President of Lancôme International, explains, “It’s incredible how much Hanaa reminds me of Isabella Rossellini. Her universal beauty simply channels the je-ne-sais-quoi that makes the uniqueness, strength and charm of every Lancôme woman.”
My take: this is lovely and all, but why must the media describe Hanaa as “the first-ever Muslim face”? What exactly is a Muslim face, considering that Islam is not a race but an ideology? If she had been Buddhist or Hindu, would the media label her as the “first-ever Buddhist face” or “first-ever Hindu face” of Lancôme? It would have been more appropriate perhaps if she had been labeled as the “first-ever Arab face” or even the “first-ever Tunisian face” – that is, if there has never been a Lancôme face of either Arab or Tunisian origin. What is puzzling is the fact that Hanaa actually signed with Lancôme back in July 2011 (as mentioned on her website) and already appeared in a Lancôme Visionnaire ad campaign that started in September 2011, so why the announcement now? Anyway, her hope to expose “the true challenges of the modeling profession for the Arab world” is not unique, since there have been several Arab top models before Ben Abdesslem who had done it such as Moroccans Amina Al Alam andHind Sahli and Algerians Myriam Benzerga and Riyane Renai.