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Cultural Expressions and Criticisms in the US Mipsterz Fashion Video

Kristin M. Peterson
p. 79-97

Résumé

This article discusses the 2013 fashion video, “Somewhere in America #MIPSTERZ,” which featured the “mipsterz” or Muslim hipsters, a community of young Muslims blurring the lines between “traditional” Islamic culture and contemporary Western culture. The women in the video exhibit fashion styles that incorporate Islamic elements of modesty. The ensuing controversy over this video illustrates larger contestations within Islam about fashion. This paper presents a critical discourse analysis of the Mipsterz video in order to explore how the subjectivity of Muslim women is constituted through the visual images in this video, the deployment of the term mipsterz, and the ensuing debates. The analysis focuses on the visual style of the fashion and incorporates Malcolm Barnard’s theories on the connections between fashion and identity. The paper makes the argument that through the use of the term mipsterz and the em­bodiment of this innovative fashion style, the women resist dominant discour­ses about what it means to be a Muslim in the Western context. The women create a hybrid style that blends Islamic modesty and piety, hip and fashionable styles, and the creativity and anti-commercialism of the hipster movement.

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Entrées d’index

Index de mots-clés :

Islam, fashion, hybridity, online videos, style
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Texte intégral

I. Introduction

  • 1 Sheikh & Bake, 2013: https://youtu.be/V-TWw75O1bo. Note that the original video has been pulled bec (...)
  • 2 See, for example, Dr. Suad, 2013.
  • 3 Saeed S., 2013, “Somewhere in America, Muslim Women Are ‘Cool’ ”, The Islamic Monthly, December 2: (...)
  • 4 Chaudry R., 2013.
  • 5 Al-Jazeera, 2013.
  • 6 See Ghani A., 2013 and Hafiz Y., 2013.

1In Somewhere in America #MIPSTERZ, a two and a half minute long video released on YouTube in November 2013, a series of short clips show about 20 young Muslim American women hanging out in various urban landscapes in the US1. The women exhibit their fashionable outfits as they walk down the street, skateboard, dance, run through a park and pose for photographs. The video appears to be a harmless and carefree expression of young women being creative with their fashion styles and having fun with friends. Within days after the video was released, well over 500,000 people had watched the video and it inspired active debates among Muslims on social media2 and within Islamic online media sites, such as Islamic Monthly3, altmuslim4 and Al-Jazeera5. The video also rea­ched outside of Muslim circles, as mainstream blogs and news sites discussed the debates but also praised the video for its creativity6.

  • 7 Note that “mipsterz” is a larger social movement of both men and women who identify as Muslims and (...)
  • 8 See, for instance, Shaikley L., 2014 and Sheikh A., 2013,

2Within Islamic circles, the controversy arose because the Muslim American women in this video exhibited Islamic fashion trends and claimed the tongue-in-cheek identity marker of “mipsterz” or Muslim hipsters7. Criticisms poured in that the video misrepresented Islam, that the women objectified themselves by appearing as fashion models, that the video pro­moted over-consumption and a focus on appearances, and that the women were immodest and over-sexualized. In response to the online critiques, especially the objection to the muteness of the video participants, several of the women in the video clearly articulated their reasons for participating in the video in various written responses8. The participants and video directors defended their rationale for the video and only made one minor change to the video, substituting a “clean” version of the Jay-Z song that did not include profanity, including a few instances of “fuck” and “nigga”.

  • 9 [o.l.] : on line, no pagination.
  • 10 Shaikley L., 2014.

3Perhaps one of the most well-circulated critiques came from Sana Saeed, a writer for The Islamic Monthly, in which she argues that the video attempts to normalize Muslims by fitting them into mainstream cultu­re and presents a shallow visual portrayal of the women. Saeed concedes that the video is aesthetically attractive, but she finds little substance in these images. She writes, « The video doesn’t really seem to have any purpose aside from showing well-dressed, put together Muslim women in po­ses perfect for a magazine spread » (Saeed, 2013:[ol]9). Saeed seems doubtful that visual portrayals can ever provide a deep and unproblematic representation of Muslims. In response to these criticisms, Layla Shaikley, a participant and the fashion director for the video, explains that she was tired of always having to tell her story about her faith using words, so instead she wanted to participate in what she calls a “creative action”. She views the mipsterz video as a self-portrait of her identity and an expression of the larger mipsterz identity10.

4The release of the mipsterz video raised contentious debates within American Islamic communities over how women should dress, the public representation of Islam, and the role of consumption and fashion within religion. Ultimately, these debates illustrated the pressures that Muslim women face to always be positive and perfect visual representatives of Islam, especially in light of overwhelmingly negative stereotypes in mainstream American media. While the debates over the mipsterz video are fascinating to examine for what they say about the American Islamic community (notably, non-Muslim sources celebrated the originality of this video), many of the vocal critics, such as Sana Saeed, fail to account for the complex ways that visual style and fashion can represent the identities of these women.

5This paper will examine how fashion offers these women a chance to communicate something about their identities and their membership within a cultural group, to critique dominant discourses that Muslim women are oppressed, to push past dominant understandings of modesty and Isla­mic fashion, and finally to work against the pressures of neoliberalism and postfeminism to consume products and display the perfect body. These young women create an innovative, hybrid style that blends Islamic modesty and piety, hip and fashionable styles, and the creativity and anti-commercialism of the hipster movement. Through the visual display of fa­shion, the mipsterz video provides the opportunity for young Muslims to subtly critique other Islamic fashion movements – such as social media fa­shion gurus11 and online Islamic fashion magazines12 that focus mainly on consumption – and to more forcefully overthrow mainstream stereotypes of Muslim women as submissive and oppressed.

II. Critical Discourse Analysis of the Video

6This paper will engage with a critical discourse analysis approach and incorporate different theories on fashion to understand how the fashion styles in this video constitutes the subjectivities of these women and create larger cultural meaning. Gillian Rose defines discourse as a « particular knowledge about the world which shapes how the world is understood and how things are done in it » (Rose, 2012:190). Images as well as written or spoken words are all forms of discourse, in that the presence or absence of certain visual images does the work of supporting a particular knowledge regime. Discourse, as it is distributed through images and language, is productively powerful. Discourse produces claims to truth about what it means to be a Muslim and what it means to be fashionable, and these claims discipline the behavior and thoughts of individuals. Rose explains, « In particular, discourse analysis explores how those specific views or accounts are constructed as real or truthful or natural through particular regimes of truth » (Rose, 2012:196). The analysis of this video examines the power struggles, as the women use visual styles to reinforce certain discourses about Islam and to counter other hegemonic discourses.

7The following analysis of the mipsterz video focuses on how discourses about Islam are presented through the women’s actions in the video, their appearances, and the fashion styles. The women use the visual form of the video to make claims to truth about their identities as Muslim women, but at the same time, the discourses around Islam, both dominant and counterhegemonic discourses, constitute the subjectivities of these women. The analysis will be organized into three sections of the paper that explore three different theoretical approaches to understanding the discourses around fashion, Islam and gender within these videos. First, general fashion theory will be used to explore how fashion can create meaning for individuals and cultural groups and allow these women to subvert dominant discourses. Second, theories on Islamic fashion will be used to look at how Muslim women can use fashion to fight against stereotypes about Islam. Finally, theories of postfeminism and neoliberalism will be incorporated into a discussion of how these women resist the dominant discourses within creative spaces like YouTube, which pressure women to present themselves as perfect objects of sight and successful consumers in the capitalist system.

III. Fashion Communicates Culture and Identity

  • 13 Barnard M, 2002, pp.32-33.

8Fashion is a significant cultural phenomenon that allows these women to communicate their individual identities and their membership within the larger mipsterz group. Fashion theorist Malcolm Barnard uses a semiotic model to explore how fashion is a form of communication. He rejects the idea that certain clothing items have inherent meanings that are transmitted from the wearer to the viewer13. Barnard pays special attention to the role of power in determining what fashion items mean. When discussing the meaning of clothing, he says that it is best « to say that the meanings of a piece of clothing are the result of a constantly shifting negotiation, and that they cannot escape the influence of differing positions of dominance and subservience » (Barnard, 2002:33). For example, the meaning of the headscarf is greatly contested from being a sign of oppression to a sign of political Islam to a sign of liberation to a sign of creativity to a sign of sexual possibility to a sign of modesty. All of those meanings and more are present in a simple piece of fabric.

9Barnard also explains that clothing plays a significant role in forming individual subjects within larger cultural groups. He writes: « It is the social interacting, by means of the clothing, that produces the individual as a member of the group rather than vice-versa, that one is a member of the group and then interacts socially » (Ibid.:32). In other words, it is through wearing the mipsterz style that a woman embodies what it means to be a mipsterz. Furthermore, Barnard discusses how fashion makes meaning within cultural groups. He writes: « Fashion, clothing and dress are signifying practices, they are ways of generating meanings, which produce and reproduce those cultural groups along with their positions of relative power » (Barnard, 2002:38). Besides just constituting individual subjectivities, fashion also works to create meanings and values for the cultural group and then to communicate these meanings and values outside of the group.

Image 1

Image 1

“Chic fashion style”, example 1.

10The main purpose of the mipsterz video is to visually present the fashion styles, but these styles also illustrate the meanings and values of the mipsterz movement. Overall, the fashion in this video indicates that the mipsterz value creativity, hybridity, individuality and diversity. When loo­king at the mipsterz video, the styles of this movement appear to be united by a sense of variety and individual creative expression. In my analysis, I identify three distinct fashion styles in the video. First, there is a chic fashion style that tries to fit into mainstream fashion trends. In one of the opening scenes, starting at 00:09 (image 1), three of the women are walking down an urban sidewalk, and one woman is riding a skateboard along with them. The women are wearing similar things: flat shoes, leggings, long tunics or sweaters and silk scarves on their heads. The woman on the skateboard exhibits the more unique style since she is wearing black stiletto heels, black and white striped leggings and a bright yellow cardigan. Some of the women in this scene clutch designer purses.

11This style is focused on wearing tighter pants but loose and long tunic shirts to cover one’s backside. This style is accentuated with high heels, silk scarves, designer handbags and “bling”, as is exhibited in three quick shots of the women’s jewelry, starting at 1:15. Around 00:49 (image 2), the video shows a young woman leaning against a wall and talking to someone off camera. She is wearing a retro style scarf on her head that is blue with pink flowers. She is also wearing a black sweater over a crisp white collared shirt. Her appearance reflects a style that could be worn in an office.

Image 2

Image 2

“Chic fashion style”, example 2.

12This chic style emphasizes more current designer-style clothes, and the women aspire to fit into mainstream high fashion trends instead of creating their own styles. Most of these women also wear clothes that would be acceptable in a professional environment because the women would be stylish while still maintaining modesty.

13Another fashion style that is shown throughout the mipsterz video can be loosely defined as a layering style in which the women piece together various elements from current and retro fashion to create a more complex appearance. This style is distinct from the chic style because the women tend to incorporate more flowing and loose fabrics, and they integrate retro styles and ethnic styles. This style is best illustrated by two of the women in what will be called the “container” scene (00:12, image 3). In this scene, three women appear in front of a large, green shipping container that is inexplicably located within a wooded park. The woman on the left is standing on top of two old oil drums ; the woman in the middle stands in front of the oil drums ; and the woman on the right is squatting on top of two oil drums.

Image 3

Image 3

“Layering style”, example 1.

14The women’s fashion styles really stand out in comparison to the old, rusty and industrial drums. In this scene, the two women on the left exhibit this layering style. The woman on the far left is wearing a light purple top that has various layers of fabric that trickle down the shirt. This shirt is topped by a pink cardigan and a teal scarf, wrapped around her neck. She is also wearing tight jeans, grey boots and a blue scarf, tied around her head like a turban with a spiral of fabric on top of her head. The woman in the middle is wearing a long and wide cotton maxi-skirt that is half red and half black. She is also wearing a suede, green blazer with a brown belt. Her headscarf is mauve, yellow and orange and is tied in a unique way, with the fabric tight around her head but then lots of fabric loosely draped over her neck and chest.

15In the next scene (00:15, image 4), the video shows three more women who are wearing this layering style. The woman in the center of this scene is particularly notable. She is wearing a long royal blue maxi-skirt, along with a pink and white-trimmed top that appears to be a retro style. The cut of the top is loose and not form fitting. The top also has a white collar and a white strip of fabric down the front, underneath a series of pink buttons. This woman is wearing a black and white striped headscarf, tied in a knot behind her head.

Image 4

Image 4

“Layering style”, example 2.

16These examples of the layering style illustrate a few elements that also relate to features of the mainstream hipster culture. For example, this style appears to reject the idea that elements of an outfit need to coordinate in terms of color, pattern, fabric or shape. The woman in the container scene is comfortable wearing a cotton, black and red maxi-skirt with a form-fit­ting, dark green, suede blazer and a mauve and yellow headscarf. None of these three items actually go with each other in this ensemble. In addition, an old style of a shirt like the pink shirt at 00:15 or the ugly, grey sweater at 00:51 are seen as stylish, once again, when they are worn in a new ensemble. This layering style is also practically useful for Muslim women because they can wear layers or more flowing outfits, if they are concerned about revealing too much of their body shapes. Finally, this layering style gives young women the chance to be more creative with their fashion. They can go to thrift stores, department stores and their own closets to put together unique outfits.

17The last main fashion style that is present in the mipsterz video is a more urban, street style of fashion that incorporates darker colors and heavier materials. The woman featured at 00:38 (image 5) illustrates this style with her black leggings, black boots, a black and white Marilyn Monroe t-shirt, a black leather jacket, a black and brown scarf around her neck and a black turban-style headscarf. She is also wearing about a dozen black-bea­ded necklaces, several silver, thick chain necklaces, large black stone earrings, and two large silver rings. She has on dark eye makeup and has a silver hoop through the left part of her lower lip.

Image 5

Image 5

“Urban style”.

18Another woman exhibits this street style in a brief scene at 00:18 and as she is walking down a street at night in 2:05. She is wearing an all-black outfit ; her shirt seamlessly moves into her black headscarf that fits tight to her head. In the night scene, she has a large black hood that she wears over the tight headscarf. In both scenes, she is wearing a dark brown, fake fur jacket over her outfit. She is also wearing dark eye makeup, several silver bangle bracelets, a large black stone ring, and a silver necklace with a pendant. This street style presents the women as tough, confident and strong. The women reject the colorful, lightweight and flowing clothing of the other styles and are instead wearing darker colors and heavier materials. They also have sturdier clothing like boots, leather jackets and fur coats that offer more protection.

19By going through some of the fashion styles present in the mipsterz video, it is clear that there is not a single mipsterz fashion style and that what connects these women is an emphasis on eclectic styles and creatively blending various types of fashion. The women mix mainstream fashion trends, retro clothing, urban fashion, ethnic culture and modesty. The diversity in mipsterz fashion is illustrated just in the variety of headscarf colors, patterns and styles within this video. The headscarf has a practical purpose of maintaining modesty and marking the wearer as Muslim, but these women also use the headscarf as a fashion accessory that complements their outfit.

20The mipsterz fashion style illustrates some of the values and meanings behind the mipsterz cultural identity. Being a mipsterz is about hybridity, living within multiple social locations as Muslim women, as fashionable and hip American women and often as ethnic minorities within the US. Being a mipsterz is about experimenting with styles and incorporating different aspects of one’s background to create a new blended style. Being a mipsterz is about using colors, patterns and styles to express pride in one’s culture and identity. Being a mipsterz is about wearing flowing clothing that allows one to be active and stylish. Being a mipsterz is about rejecting corporate labels in favor of creating an expression of one’s unique personality.

21Dick Hebdige’s seminal work on subcultures is useful here to understand the ways that the mipsterz movement subverts dominant discourses and hegemonic structures. Hebdige writes, « However, the challenge to hegemony which subcultures represent is not issued directly by them. Rather it is expressed obliquely, in style » (1979:17). He explains that it is through the use of fashion, style, symbols, and objects that subcultural groups are able to contest, resist and struggle over social meaning. Hebdige argues that subcultural groups mark themselves as distinct from the mainstream by their conscious decisions on how they will craft their fashion and display certain codes. While the mainstream style is about blending in and appearing to wear what is natural and normal, the subcultural groups subvert standard codes of beauty and use commodities out of context in an effort to call attention to the unnaturalness of hegemonic structu­res (Hebdige, 1979:101-102).

22Subcultures use techniques like bricolage to appropriate various styles and symbols from the hegemonic systems of representation (Ibid.:103-105). The mipsterz movement engages with certain elements of Western fashion styles but gives these styles new meaning by incorporating the mipsterz values of modesty, creativity and hybridity. The blending of modesty with fashion will be discussed more in the next section, but these women are showing through their fashion that they can be modern and stylish while not exhibiting their bodies. Just like the punk movement pointed out the unnaturalness of beauty in mainstream culture, so these women are also calling into question standards of beauty, such as the assumption that beauty must correspond to wearing revealing and sexy clothing. In addition, the mipsterz borrow symbols from American patriotism to claim their position as American Muslims. Somewhere in America is both the title of this video and the Jay-Z song that plays throughout the vi­deo, pointing to the location of the video and that these women are part of America. The video is filmed in the noticeably American sites of cities and public parks, and an American flag displays behind one woman in a scene at 1:36. Additionally, Ibtihaj Muhammad, a member of the US Olympic fencing team, appears in several scenes wearing a stars and stri­pes headscarf. The various references to US culture in this video highlight how the women employ symbols of America to claim that they are just as American as anyone else and to critique the dominant assumptions of who can be an American.

IV. Islamic Fashion as a Tool for Challenging Stereotypes

23In addition to seeing fashion as a way of communicating values and meanings within a cultural group, fashion can provide an outlet for Muslim women to express themselves against dominant discourses that they are oppressed or lack individuality. Emma Tarlo and Annelies Moors ar­gue that Islamic fashion, which blends modern fashion trends with Islamic rules of modesty, works to give Muslim women a “voice” in public discussions about Islam. They write,

Through their visual material and bodily presence young women who wear Islamic fashion disrupt and challenge public stereotypes about Islam, women, social integration and the veil even if their voi­ces are often drowned out in political and legal debates on these issues (Moors/Tarlo, 2013:3).

24Emma Tarlo also discusses the “representational challenge” that Muslim women face, as they are increasingly visible in public and are forced to represent themselves. Tarlo explains,

One means of dealing with this challenge is to develop an alternative range of images and sartorial possibilities which contradict old stereotypes whilst at the same time conforming to perceived Islamic principles and requirements (Tarlo, 2010:11).

25The mipsterz video illustrates how Muslim women are contradicting stereotypes while still incorporating fashion with their faith. The women engage with fashion to present themselves as complex individuals who are not controlled by Islam, and they fight against dominant discourses and stereotypes through their styles, actions and poses.

26First, the style of the women’s clothing in the mipsterz video highlights the fact that these women are creative individuals, who are far from oppressed. As was already discussed, the video features several distinct fashion styles, illustrating the talent of these women to put together various outfits. In an image like the one of the three women dancing in a park along a river at 00:15, we can see the originality of the mipsterz fashion. All three of the outfits are colorful and exhibit the individual personalities of the women. The women are not wearing the black headscarves, face veils and long black robes that often get associated with Muslim women. Instead, the women wear trendy clothes that fit their bodies in a way that shows some of their body shapes but is still loose and comfortable. Just in the accessories, the women show their different styles from the more sophisticated, retro-inspired look of the woman in the middle to the more ca­sual, natural look of the woman on the right. The presence of at least three distinct fashion styles in the video demonstrate how the mipsterz style allows for individual creativity against the assumption that Muslim women lack individuality.

27The women also incorporate elements from popular culture to show that they are not backwards but are aware of contemporary trends. For example, a woman in a scene at 00:40 is wearing a Marilyn Monroe t-shirt, around 00:46 a woman is holding a mustache-shaped medal up to her lips, and later an another woman is seen wearing a shirt with the phrase “You’re killin’ me smalls !”, which is from a popular U.S. children’s film in the 1990s, The Sandlot. The video also shows the women using smart phones to take selfies or to video record each other, as well as one scene at 1:31 in which a woman uses an old Polaroid camera to take a photo of her friends. All of these instances illustrate that the women are just normal young people who are interested in pop culture trends and want to express these interests through their appearances.

28The women in the mipsterz video also work against dominant discour­ses about the oppression of Islam through their actions. For Muslim women who are frequently portrayed as unable to have any fun – picture the frumpy, veiled Muslim woman who is forced to obey her husband and/or father – this video is an excellent opportunity to buck these stereotypes not by lecturing on why Islam is not oppressive towards women but by showing these women as carefree and happy. Throughout the video, the women do fun things that exhibit their personalities and their positivity. They dance, do cartwheels, run through the park, skateboard in a parking lot, do handstands, twirl a stick, jump up and click their heels, run up and down a skateboard ramp, climb on things, laugh with each other, and eat ice cream. Granted, these actions seem rather empty or silly, but when, if ever, are Muslim women represented in mainstream media as normal young women who are having fun ? The women use their bodies and actions to contradict dominant discourses about Islam.

29Finally, the women’s poses in this video also work against stereotypes of Islam because the women present themselves as proud, strong and in control. For example, the women in the shipping container scene at 00:12 are shown in several locations throughout the video, but in most of these scenes the women are standing on top of things and the camera films them from below. The women exhibit their fashion styles in stances of pride, as they are standing straight and tall on top of various platforms. In the container scene at 00:12, the women are holding onto large sticks in a pose that grounds them and shows their strength. Mainstream fashion photogra­phy frequently shows women as weak and unstable, but these women appear as strong in images like the one at 00:35 (image 6) in which the women are standing on the fire escape of an urban apartment building. The women clasp the metal railings of the escape exit, illustrating their strength.

30In another image at 2:03, the video shows a woman walking down an urban street at night. The woman walks with confidence and not a hint of fear about walking by herself at nighttime. Her face is serious and focu­sed, as she looks off camera and walks quickly. While most of the video highlights that these young women are positive and have fun, these exam­ples of strong poses present the women as in control of how their images are presented. The women are not just carefree and only focused on fashion ; they are also talented and confident.

Image 6

Image 6

Women standing on the fire escape of an urban apartment building.

31While the women in the mipsterz video do use Islamic fashion as a tool for challenging stereotypes about Islam, the mipsterz women also push against the boundaries of what some Muslims would define as modesty. For example, the women use a variety of headscarf styles but some of the­se styles show the women’s hair or neck, which some Muslims would see as improper. Some of the women wear tighter clothing, like leggings, that might be interpreted as immodest. Some conservative Muslims might object to the colorful clothing in this video because it might attract too much attention to the women’s bodies. Finally, some viewers criticized this video because they thought that the video was all about looking at the women’s bodies. This video clearly uses the markers of Islamic identity through the fashion, but also puts pressure on some of the limits of modesty. This expands what Islamic fashion is and how it can be used as a marker of identity. Ultimately, this video is a way for the mipsterz women to enlarge what it means to be a Muslim woman in the contemporary context.

V. Resisting Pressures of Neoliberalism and Postfeminism

32Since the mipsterz video was posted and circulated within social media, it is important to explore more about the forces that shape these online spaces. The women in the mipsterz video face competing and overlapping pressures from neoliberalism, such as the pressure to self-brand, to consu­me and to become an entrepreneur, and pressures from postfeminism to present oneself as the perfect embodiment of femininity. The mipsterz video appears to be a subtle critique of some of the more popular YouTube videos created by Muslim women like Amenakin and Dina Tokio, who fo­cus on lifestyle topics like fashion, makeup, beauty and relationships. While the lifestyle videos tend to be focused on consumption of the latest products in order to perfect one’s exterior image, the mipsterz video exhibits an awareness of these pressures to consume. Sarah Banet-Weiser describes these tensions as the “ambivalences” of the contemporary brand culture, in which individuals struggle to live in this culture where brands and authenticity cannot be separated. People are seeking out authentic spa­ces that are not branded, but at the same time they know that it is only through consumption and branding that one can be successful (Banet-Wei­ser, 2013:5). Banet-Weiser explains that the neoliberal focus on entrepreneurship is tied to the ideal postfeminist subject, who improves herself through consumption, self-branding and entrepreneurship (Ibid.: 61).

33Young women also face pressures from postfeminism to present their bodies as perfect objects to be seen by others. Postfeminism, as defined by Angela McRobbie, is not a backlash against feminism, but instead,

post-feminism positively draws on and invokes feminism as that which can be taken into account, to suggest that equality is achieved, in order to install a whole repertoire of new meanings which emphasize that it is no longer needed, it is a spent force (McRobbie, 2009:12).

34Postfeminism operates by appearing to give women the freedom to present their bodies in ways that are not objectifying, but then working in the background to reinforce gender inequalities and capitalist structures (Ibid.:10). Women feel a sense of empowerment through the consumption of fashion and beauty products. Furthermore, the women are expected to consume products that will perfect their flawed appearances. As Rosalind Gill explains,

The body is presented simultaneously as women’s source of power and as always unruly, requiring constant monitoring, surveillance, discipline and remodeling (and consumer spending) in order to conform to ever-narrower judgments of female attractiveness (Gill, 2007:149).

35This is a contemporary revamping of John Berger’s argument that « men act and women appear » in that women are still being judged for how effective they are at appearing as perfect and beautiful (Berger, 1977:47).

36While at first glance the mipsterz video appears to just reinforce these elements of postfeminism and neoliberalism that emphasize consumption and appearances, on closer inspection the women in this video offer a nuanced critique of the ways that some young Muslim women have discussed fashion in other videos. First, the mipsterz video was highly critiqued for over-promoting consumption in the same way as the videos of other online Muslim “fashionistas”. For instance, an Islamic fashion video might feature an “outfit of the day” along with links so viewers can buy the outfit, or the video may be a makeup tutorial in which the video-maker promotes a certain makeup line. There are clear connections between the fashion and makeup in the video and the incentive for the viewer to buy these products. Amena Khan is one of the most popular Muslim fashion celebrities on YouTube, and her videos, regardless of the subject matter, always include hyperlinks to her own online boutique where viewers can purchase the same headscarf or jewelry from the video.

37Contrary to Amena’s videos, the mipsterz video does not include links to online stores where viewers can dress like the mipsterz or even make references to certain labels. The women wear clothing with no labels that appears to be creatively pieced together instead of fitting with a set seasonal line. Granted, this video does show images of “bling” or jewelry, the women have obviously spent time and money on their outfits, and the Jay-Z song in the film emphasizes consumption. Despite these obvious elements of consumerism, the settings of this video are surprisingly the anti­thesis of consumer spaces, such as public parks, wooded areas, alleyways, rooftops, parking lots, and shipping containers. The women are shown as having fun without consuming things. There is one scene of a woman in an ice cream shop, but it is striking that the women are not shown out shopping, trying on clothes or checking out window displays. The women in the video emphasize creativity and innovation in fashion styles, instead of just always buying new things. This is in contrast to the other Muslim fashion videos that always promote the consumption of new products, in part because this promotion provides income to the women who make the videos.

38In addition, the women in the mipsterz video resist the postfeminist pressure to present themselves as the perfect objects of the gaze. While some Muslim women create YouTube videos that focus on daily routines and offer tips for how women can perfect their appearances, the mipsterz women express pride in who they are and are not promoting that other wo­men need to appear like this. Although the video does feature some more stereotypical fashion poses, such as a woman who poses with her hand on her head and her hips off-centered at 1:56, most of the poses and the camera angles emphasize the pride and strength of these women. The women are not objectified but have control over how they are being viewed. For instance, a lot of the camera angles film the women from below, enhancing their power. Also, at 00:23 a woman punches the camera and at 00:56 another woman is being followed by the camera as she turns around and grabs the camera. Both of these gestures indicate that the women are in control of how their images will be seen ; they are aware that they are being watched. The women also exhibit themselves as talented and active: they ride skateboards, they practice fencing, they dance, they drive motorcycles, they do flips and handstands, and they create innovative outfits. Additionally, some of the women stare straight into the camera, such as in the container scene at 00:13, the woman in the fur coat at 00:18 (image 7), and the fencer at 00:20. These women challenge the gaze by returning it with a powerful stare that rejects the possibility of objectification.

Image 7

Image 7

Woman staring straight into the camera.

VI. Conclusion

39Contrary to some evaluations, the mipsterz fashion video is about so much more than a group of young Muslim women showing off their fashion styles on camera. This video and the fashion displayed within the video allow these women the opportunities to express what it means to be members of the mipsterz community, to subvert dominant discourses about the oppression of Islam, to calm anxieties within Islam about fashion and women’s appearances, and to push against pressures of neoliberalism and postfeminism. Although the video is not without some legitimate criticisms, most of the debates ignored what was actually visually presented in the two and a half minute video. These women express the mipsterz identity through a creative, hybrid style that brings together elements of Islam, contemporary fashion styles and the originality and anti-commercialism of the hipster movement. Ultimately, these young American Muslims strive to use fashion and social media to claim a space for mipsterz identity within the larger spaces of Islam and American culture.

40When the Somewhere in America #MIPSTERZ video began circulating throughout social media in 2013, it was one of the first visual self-repre­sentations of the lives of Muslim American youth. In the years since, there has been an explosion of creative projects in which Muslim Americans use new media spaces, fashion, music and visual styles to display the com­plexities of their lives. While the women in the mipsterz video had to deal with the burden of representing an entire religious community in North America, now Muslims are producing creative projects that address a variety of issues that they face from the anxiety over women’s dress to racism within Muslim communities to hate crimes against Muslims. The mipsterz video spurred debates about the positive and negative aspects of Islamic fashion. At the same time, the women in the mipsterz video can be seen as predecessors to an artist like Mona Haydar, who creates hip hop videos that directly address issues like racism, sexism and classism. Between the lines of the mipsterz video, the women demonstrate that Muslim identity is not dependent on one’s race, ethnicity or class. Furthermore, the activism of the wider mipsterz movement in North America focuses on how injustices that Muslims face often intersect with issues around gender, race, class, sexuality and ethnicity. The mipsterz video was one of the first creative projects to circulate widely through social media and raise debates about the identity and place of Muslims in North American society.

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Bibliographie

Al-jazeera, 2013“Beyond the #Mipsterz debate”, Al-Jazeera: The Stream, December 10, 2013, http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201312102302-0023240 (accessed March 23, 2017).

Banet-Weiser S., 2013 Authentic TM: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture, New York, New York University Press.

Barnard M., 2002 Fashion as Communication, London, Routledge.

Berger J., 1977 Ways of Seeing, London, Penguin Books.

Chaudry R., 2013“Somewhere on the Internet, Muslim Women are being Shamed”, Altmuslim, December 3, 2013, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/altmuslim/2013/12/somewhere-on-the-internet-muslim-women-are-being-shamed/ (accessed March 23, 2017).

Dr. Suad, 2013“All I know to be is a Soldier for My Culture”, Tumblr, December 1, 2013. http://drsuad.tumblr.com/post/68745089632/somewhere-in-america-somewhere-in-america-there (accessed March 23, 2017).

Ghani A., 2013“Muslim ‘Hipsters’ Turn a Joke Into A Serious Conversation”, NPR, Code Switch, December 28, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/12/28/250786141/muslim-hipsters-turn-a-joke-into-a-serious-conversation (accessed March 23, 2017).

Gill R., 2007“Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility”, European Journal of Cultural Studies, 10, n° 2, pp. 147-166.

Hafiz Y., 2013“ ‘Mipsterz’ ‘Somewhere in America’ Video Showcases Muslim Hipster Swag ; Sparks a Passionate Discussion”, Huffington Post, December 2, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/02/mipsterz-somewhere-in-ameri-ca-video_n_4374182.html (accessed March 23, 2017).

Hebdige D., 1979Subculture: The Meaning of Style, London, Metheun.

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Moors A., Tarlo E. (eds.), 2013 Islamic Fashion and Anti-Fashion: New Perspectives from Europe and North America, London, Bloomsbury.

Rose G., 2012 Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials, London, SAGE.

Saeed S., 2013 “Somewhere in America, Muslim Women Are ‘Cool’ ”, The Islamic Monthly, December 2, http://www.theislamicmonthly.com/somewhere-in-ame-rica-muslim-women-are-cool/, (accessed November 25, 2015).

Shaikley L., 2014“The Surprising Lessons of the ‘Muslim Hipsters’ Backlash”, The Atlantic, March 13, http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/03/the-surprisinglessons-of-the-muslim-hipsters-backlash/284298, (accessed Nov-ember 25, 2015).

Sheikh A., 2013 “Why I Participated in the ‘Somewhere in American #Mipsterz” Video.” Altmuslim. December 4, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/altmuslim/2013/12/why-i-participated-in-the-somewhere-in-america-mipsterz-video, (accessed March 23, 2017).

Sheikh & Bake, 2013 Somewhere In America #MIPSTERZ, Video, 2:29, December 2, 2013. https://youtu.be/V-TWw75O1bo (accessed November 25, 2015).

Tarlo E., 2012 Visibly Muslim: Fashion, Politics, Faith, Oxford, Berg.

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Annexe

Structured Summary:

Presentation: In the fall of 2013, a YouTube video entitled, “Somewhere in America #MIPSTERZ” introduced the world to the “mipsterz,” a blend of the words Muslim and hipster. This community of young Muslims seeks to blur the lines between “traditional” Islamic culture and contemporary Western culture. The video features about a dozen young Muslim women hanging out in various urban settings in the US while a rap song by Jay-Z is played. The women exhibit creative fashion styles that incorpora­te Islamic elements of modesty, as they walk around the city, ride skateboards, dance, laugh, drive a motorcycle, and hang out together. This paper presents a critical discour­se analysis of the mipsterz video in order to explore how the subjectivity of Muslim women is constituted through the visual images in this video, the deployment of the term mipsterz, and the debates about this video. The analysis focuses on the visual sty­le of the fashion in the videos and incorporates Malcolm Barnard’s theories on the connections between fashion and identity. The paper makes the argument that through the use of the term mipsterz and the embodiment of this innovative fashion style, the women resist dominant discourses about what it means to be a Muslim in the Western context. The women create a hybrid style that blends Islamic modesty and piety, hip and fashionable styles, and the creativity and anti-commercialism of the hipster mo­vement.

Theory: Three different theoretical approaches are used in this paper to analyze the discourses around fashion, Islam and gender that are present within the mipsterz video. First, general fashion theory is used to explore how fashion can create meaning for in­dividuals and cultural groups and allow these women to subvert dominant discourses. Second, theories on Islamic fashion are helpful to look at how Muslim women can use fashion to fight against stereotypes about Islam. Finally, theories of postfeminism and neoliberalism are incorporated into a discussion of how these women resist the dominant discourses within creative spaces like YouTube, which pressure women to present themselves as perfect objects of sight and successful consumers in the capitalist system.

Method: This paper engages with a critical discourse analysis approach and incorporates different theories on fashion to understand how the fashion styles in the mipsterz video constitute the subjectivities of Muslim American women and create larger cultural meaning. The analysis of this video examines the power struggles, as the women use visual styles to reinforce certain discourses about Islam and to counter other hege­monic discourses. The analysis of the mipsterz video focuses on how discourses about Islam are presented through the women’s actions, their appearances, and the fashion styles.

Results: First, this paper finds that fashion is a significant cultural phenomenon, which allows these women to communicate their identities and their membership within the larger mipsterz group. The main purpose of the mipsterz video is to visually present the fashion styles, but these styles also illustrate the meanings and values of the mipsterz movement. Overall, the fashion in this video indicates that the mipsterz value creativity, hybridity, individuality and diversity. In addition to seeing fashion as a way of communicating values and meanings within a cultural group, fashion can provide an outlet for Muslim women to express themselves against dominant discourses that they are oppressed or lack individuality. This paper builds off the work that Emma Tarlo and Annelies Moors have done about how Islamic fashion can give young Muslim wo­men the chance to represent themselves contrary to dominant stereotypes. The mips­terz video illustrates how Muslim women are contradicting stereotypes while still incorporating fashion with their faith. The women engage with fashion to present them­selves as complex individuals who are not controlled by Islam, and they fight against dominant discourses and stereotypes through their styles, actions and poses. In addition, this paper asserts that the mipsterz video is a way to subtly critique other Islamic fashion movements (such as hijabi fashion gurus on YouTube), which are more focu­sed on consumption, and to more forcefully overthrow mainstream stereotypes of Muslim women as submissive and oppressed. The video provides a creative space in which the women can present the complexities of living in this location of constant tension – what Sarah Banet-Weiser calls the “ambivalences” of contemporary brand culture – as the women feel burdened to always represent Islam, desire to portray themselves as authentic and creative, but still want to resist the pressure to make eve­rything about consumption and branding.

Discussion: This video and the fashion displayed within the mipsterz video give these women space to express what it means to be mipsterz, to subvert dominant discourses about the oppression of Islam, to calm anxieties within Islam about fashion and women’s appearances, and to push against pressures of neoliberalism and postfeminism. The mipsterz identity is expressed through a creative, hybrid style that brings together elements of Islam, contemporary fashion styles and the originality and anti-com­mercialism of the hipster movement. Ultimately, these young American Muslims stri­ve to use fashion and social media to claim a space for mipsterz identity within the lar­ger spaces of Islam and American culture.

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Notes

1 Sheikh & Bake, 2013: https://youtu.be/V-TWw75O1bo. Note that the original video has been pulled because of copyright infringement over the use of a Jay-Z song. The original video had been viewed over 600,000 times. The rerelease of the video has been viewed nearly 120,000 times on both YouTube and Vimeo.

2 See, for example, Dr. Suad, 2013.

3 Saeed S., 2013, “Somewhere in America, Muslim Women Are ‘Cool’ ”, The Islamic Monthly, December 2: https://www.theislamicmonthly.com/somewhere-in-america-muslim-women-are-cool/

4 Chaudry R., 2013.

5 Al-Jazeera, 2013.

6 See Ghani A., 2013 and Hafiz Y., 2013.

7 Note that “mipsterz” is a larger social movement of both men and women who identify as Muslims and incorporate similar values of the larger hipster movement. More information can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68sMkDKMias

8 See, for instance, Shaikley L., 2014 and Sheikh A., 2013,

9 [o.l.] : on line, no pagination.

10 Shaikley L., 2014.

11 See the YouTube channels of Amena Khan at https://www.youtube.com/user/Amenakin and Dina Torkia at https://www.youtube.com/user/dinatokio.

12 See Aquila Style, http://www.aquila-style.com/ and Cover Magazine, https://www.ifdcouncil.org

13 Barnard M, 2002, pp.32-33.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Image 1
Légende “Chic fashion style”, example 1.
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Légende “Chic fashion style”, example 2.
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Légende “Layering style”, example 1.
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Légende “Urban style”.
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Légende Women standing on the fire escape of an urban apartment building.
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Légende Woman staring straight into the camera.
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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Kristin M. Peterson, « Cultural Expressions and Criticisms in the US Mipsterz Fashion Video », Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques, 49-1 | 2018, 79-97.

Référence électronique

Kristin M. Peterson, « Cultural Expressions and Criticisms in the US Mipsterz Fashion Video », Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques [En ligne], 49-1 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 février 2019, consulté le 15 octobre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/rsa/2421 ; DOI : 10.4000/rsa.2421

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Auteur

Kristin M. Peterson

Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, Boston College, US

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