Fashion in Hargeisa is reliably modest. Lest you conclude, however, that it’s boring, allow a group of young professionals to prove you otherwise. Herewith, images and a few words on beauty, confidence, and modesty, from some intelligent, stylish, and fierce Somali women.
What is your favorite thing about fashion?
Salma: For me, looking good and unique.
Hodan: New fashions, keeping up with trends.
Salwa: You can have different looks, classic, formal, simple, all of it. You can wear any of them and you’re going to look just fabulous.
What’s does beauty mean to you?
Salwa: Confidence. With confidence you can wear whatever you want and you’re going to feel how you want to feel. But without confidence, even if you wear the best and most beautiful brands, you wouldn’t feel comfortable, you would feel that something is missing.
Salma: What’s inside you. The inner beauty, your character. It’s the beauty inside of people that I see.
Hodan: Happiness. Whenever you are happy, you look beautiful.
What are your favorite colors to wear?
Hodan: Black and gold, I feel confident.
Salwa: None, I like to wear all colors, I think they’re all beautiful and I don’t have a favorite. I’ve been asked this before, and I don’t have just one. I wear all the colors I like!
Salma: Bright colors in general. Yellows, greens, turquoise.
From where do you get your confidence?
Hodan: My parents. They tell me I’m beautiful! They tell me “You can do that, you are strong.” They make me feel confident. I have beloved aunts; they love me, and they make me strong.
Salma: Even if I’m wearing something not that nice, I tell myself I look good. If I say it to myself in the mirror, and tell myself “You look nice!” then I’ll feel confident the whole day.
Salwa: I wasn’t born with confidence. I wasn’t confident when I was very young. I think with experience, life makes you more confident. You learn how to deal with different situations, and you gain confidence from each one you’ve been in through your life.
What does modesty mean to you?
Salwa: Islam is peace. It’s beauty. Some people think that if you wear a certain kind of dress or style, you’re [too] Western, or a certain way, but it’s not like that. Everyone has a right to wear what they want, as long as they’re within the framework of Islam. Someone could wear beautiful, bright colors, and wear decent clothes, but when you talk to them you may discover they’re [different from] the way they present themselves. So your clothes don’t say much about who you are inside.
Hodan: I think it’s about inner and outer beauty, showing it confidently.
Salma: Mentally, it’s about respecting people. You need to be classy. Being a Muslim woman, modesty means you can be wearing beautiful things, but wear them modestly. It means treating people in a classy way, in a nice way, representing Islam as good as our Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) taught us. You can cover yourself and still look good.
What makes you feel beautiful?
Salwa: My family and close friends make me feel beautiful because they know me more than anyone and when I’m with them, anywhere, I always feel the love and feel beautiful because I have them with me.
Hodan: Whenever I get some sleep! I feel beautiful no matter what I’m wearing, if I slept.
Salma: Life in general, and love, make me feel beautiful. And fashion!
Who are your female role models?
Salwa: Maya Angelou. I love her. I really like her poems, she inspires me, how strong she is. Phenomenal Woman is the best poem I ever heard. I’ve memorized some of her poetry. I think about how she grew up, not talking a lot, but when she finally did she had a lot to say. I love her.
Salma: My mother is a role model to me. She’s a very strong woman, loving, caring, and she has her own beauty that [eminates from] her. She wears beautiful hijabs that look so great on her. I want to be as strong as her.
Hodan: My Aunt Nimco. She’s so beautiful, so strong, so kind. She helps everyone, she’s so kind.
What does being Somali mean to you?
Salma: Being generous. Somali people are very generous and welcoming. Whoever comes and visits us, comes to our country, the one thing they remember is how welcoming Somali people are.
Salwa: Being Somali means being in a home that’s cozy, where you have strong connections and lots of love, and you have everything that you really need. It means home.
Hodan: The Somali people are always open, funny, and they’re honest!
Salwa: And hard workers.
Salma: And proud!
What is your greatest aspiration?
Salma: To get my country [Somaliland] recognized and known around the world. For Somaliland to have its independence.
Salwa: Number one, I want to make my mom very proud and very happy. Number two, I want to leave a footprint [on the world]. I don’t want to be someone who works and works but doesn’t have much to say [in the end]. I really hope that one day I can inspire other girls in my community to acknowledge that they are beautiful and able to be what they want, if they want to be a doctor or an engineer, whatever they want. I wish that every woman in my country will achieve what they want, within Islam. And, I want to travel a lot! Everywhere in the world!
Hodan: For me, I would like to take my parents to Hajj insha’allah and build them a home, a big home.
What do you want people to know about Somali culture, and about where you come from?
Hodan: Somaliland is a peaceful country, and it’s different from Somalia. We’re from Hargeisa, not Mogadishu.
Salma: Other countries think that we’re savage people and not modern. We are modern, there are nice places to see here in Somaliland. And not all women wear black!
Salwa: Somaliland is a beautiful country with wonderful, amazing people. Mothers, sisters, brothers, you will find good people here and can build a relationship with them. [Visitors] will be welcome. And about pre-judgement… even my cousins who come from the U.K. are like “Oh my God, you have this, you have that!” – we get a lot of stupid questions about what we are “allowed” to do in Somaliland, and what [amenities] we have. So I wish for people to come and see this place, and see what we have to say.
A huge, HUGE thanks to Salma, Salwa, and Hodan for hanging out with me, letting me play photographer, and showing your best selves–both inner and outer beauty, masha’allah. Lots of love!!