In the world full of the “Trend Hungry” clones that live on the social media, every once in while like a needle in the haystack comes forth a minty fresh take on the societal norms that just grabs you because of its sheer audacity at attempting to break out of the “Status Quo”. Meryem Slimani is one gem of Instagram that is too good and has some serious guts in what it’s trying to achieve.
Dutch-Moroccan Slimani regularly shares photos of her 66-year-old hijabi mother wearing sleek streetwear that looks like nothing out there. Slimani runs @meryemsfirst, where she posts photos of her mum Najate Leklye, 67, a retired elementary school teacher from Schoonhoven.
The basic idea of Slimani behind her Instagram is that she wants to promote values like no matter what age, a woman can and should take charge of her own life whether in style or choices they make on how to live their lives. She said: “I am also showing that women no matter their size, age, mental health, religion, etc can perfectly decide for themselves what they do or don’t [do] with their lives and bodies and can live unapologetically without the approval or judgment of society or their community.”
“It’s okay to be you, it’s okay to be different, it’s okay to choose your own path and I hope people in general but mostly women of color and specifically from the MENA (Middle East/North Africa) diaspora are able to see themselves in us and it will give them assurance that they too can stand tall and be proud of themselves, their roots and the choices they make,” she added.
Meryem Slimani, the fashionista from Rotterdam, Netherlands, battling with her own struggles decided to start this page as a form of therapy during her mother’s breast cancer treatments.
“I was going through a really tough phase when my mother got breast cancer in 2014 and I fell into a very heavy depression after juggling a crazy work schedule and hospital visits for chemotherapy”, says Slimani explaining how she turned to blogging as a way to express her emotions. At that time, it was her mother who would take pictures of her, which she recalls as, “a very fun thing that distracted us from the pain we were both going through”. She admits having always embraced an unapologetic and daring sense of style, which she believes to have inherited from her Moroccan roots. “We have style engrained in our DNA”, she says before adding, “if you look at the colours in the medina, the craftsmanship in leatherwork, ceramics, jewellery, woodwork and tapestry, the extravagant details of caftans, our festive food and so much more; Morocco has great character and layers.”
Slimani could not really run the Instagram page on her own after her own pregnancy and at the same time Susan Bijl, a Rotterdam-based accessories brand, got in touch with her to create content for a bag collection. “I was really into @jaadiee, who takes pictures of his grandfather in full hypebeast looks and so that’s how I thought about using my mother as a model”, says Slimani, discussing how that was particularly meaningful, as she knew it would make her mother feel so happy and far more confident. “I noticed the way her eyes lit up when I told her how beautiful she looked”, she continues.
Slimani soon started playing with different collections to start pumping out looks for her mom and soon enough her page became viral. Though she admits that she turned her mother into the ultimate role model of how modesty in religion and clothes can be uplifting rather than the tired and regressive traditions.
“In the Western world, there are a lot of misconceptions”, admits Slimani. “But there is not one type of Moroccan woman, Muslim woman or Islam just like there is not one type of Dutch woman, Christian woman or Christianity and my pictures show a positive view from our own perspective instead of another negative headline in the news or political debate that mostly have people outside of our community talking about us”.
Slimani successfully is able to convey that tradition or age shouldn’t be a barrier rather women even hijabi’s can and should embrace their beliefs and sense of style. With the gutsy and creatives moves Slimani has taken on her IG, she has turned a therapeutic hobby into her dream job, as she’s often contacted to freelance as a stylist and art director.
“It’s really funny to us and sometimes it almost feels kinda […] overwhelming because we both did not expect all this attention, but I always love to talk to people and would never not take the time to listen to someone’s story.“ Slimani added