By Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy. Photos: Courtesy of Courtesy of Ginella Massa, Twitter.
Showing that Muslim beauty is about a whole lot more than just looks, Toronto’s Ginella Massa made headlines this weekend after becoming the first hijab-wearing Muslim to anchor a major television newscast in Canada.
Massa, who has been an on-air reporter for Toronto’s CityNews since last year and has worked as a journalist since 2010, had her first spin in the anchor chair on Friday evening.
And she’s well-versed in being the first—before becoming the first hijab-wearing woman to anchor the news in Canada, she was the country’s first hijab-wearing television journalist.
“It’s pretty amazing to be able to fully be myself without compromise, and present myself in a way that I feel most comfortable—and that’s in a hijab. In an industry that is so focused on appearance, it’s refreshing to be told that what I look like doesn’t matter—that my work ethic and journalistic skills are most important,” Massa tells Allure. “It’s so important for our newsrooms to reflect the communities we are reporting in, and it’s also important for our younger generation see to people who look like them in the media. In a country as diverse as Canada, it’s a shame it’s taken this long to get here.”
In a post on her personal blog from October of last year, Massa wrote, “From a very young age I had dreamt about becoming the first hijabi reporter in Canadian broadcast media, but for a long time it was just that: a dream. I wasn’t sure it could ever be realized—not because of my own abilities, but because I wasn’t sure someone who looked like me would be accepted on Canadian TV...When I was in the third grade, I won a speech competition at school. It was the first time I realized that I had something interesting to say, and that people were listening. I loved the feeling of standing on a stage behind a microphone and having the entire auditorium captivated by my words. I felt right at home. I thought I might be interested in pursuing something in the entertainment business, but I’d never seen anyone who looked like me on TV. It was a pre-9/11 world. Muslims weren’t really feared in the media; they just didn’t exist.”
She continued, “I remember telling my mother that I should consider going into radio, 'because what you look like doesn’t matter. It’s just about your voice.' But she encouraged me to dream bigger, and that just because no one else had done it, didn’t mean it couldn’t be done.” Massa also recalled a conversation with a colleague who once told her, “I doubt a woman in hijab would ever be hired TV. It’s just too distracting.” But when the journalist was hired as an on-air reporter last year, she proved that this narrow-minded perspective was incredibly wrong. Months after first appearing before the camera, she asked her boss, the station’s news director, if he had realized how significant it was for him to have put a hijabi on air for the first time in Canadian history. And he told her that he hadn’t been out to make history, but that he “just thought I would make a great reporter.”
Massa's position as the anchor chair for CityNews is the latest in a series of big wins for the elevation and inclusion of Muslim women and hijabi in mainstream media. Earlier this month, CoverGirl named Muslim beauty blogger—and hijabi woman—Nura Afia as its latest ambassador. And in September, journalist Noor Tagouri became the first woman to appear in Playboy, fully-dressed, while wearing a hijab as part of the magazine’s Renegades of 2016 feature.
In October, blogger Habiba Da Silva launched a line of unisex hijabs featuring a range of hues for diverse skin tones. Meanwhile, the launch of the Miss Muslim website earlier this year shattered common stereotypes for Muslim women, serving as a safe place for its female audience to read about stories on "taboo" subjects, from health to sex and beauty.
“Hijab-wearing women are doing amazing things,” says Massa. “Just look at Ibtihaj Muhammad, who won bronze for USA in the last Olympics, or Ilhan Omar who was just elected as a state representative in Minnesota. Here in Canada, we have TV series creator Zarqa Nawaz, elected official Ausma Malik, Canadian Armed forces member Wafa Dabbagh—there is no shortage of Muslim women who are proving that being covered doesn’t make you any less capable. You can still be modest and be successful in the professional world, as long as we are given a chance to excel.”
This story originally appeared on Allure.
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