I always thought I understood what it meant when people said "representation matters," but I really didn't know what I was missing until I challenged myself to put together a list of successful female influencers from the Middle East.
What I found was a group of brilliant young women who work and inspire a whole new world. Having someone who looks like you to look up to (or culling inspiration from someone who looks like you but lives a completely different reality) can be incredibly impactful. This roster of Instagram influencers is like seeing 20 versions of me and realizing what people like me are able to achieve. From the first woman to swim the Thames river to the Arab versions of Kendall and Kylie Jenner, click on to meet our favorite Middle Eastern and North African influencers.
The 25-year-old Dubai native has already been named one of the "
100 Most Powerful Arabs Under 40 " by Arabian Business. She is known for her flawless style – her wardrobe and her brows are major goals – as well as for her openness on how to cope with being a young, ambitious woman in the Middle Eastern media. AlFalasi currently has 2.3 million Instagram followers and almost 500k on Youtube. Oh, and a hit radio show. Photo: Taim AlFalasi. More
Thana & Sakhaa Abdul
Basically the Saudi version of Kendall & Kylie, these two Medina natives moved to London almost 13 years ago, and have been fascinated by fashion ever since. Their Instagram account and their blog,
The Abduls, take you into their closets and around the world on fashion shoots and runways. The two are also the founders of Coded Nation, "a multi-brand e-commerce boutique where the sisters spotlight emerging designers and up-and-coming brands." It's not necessarily an e-tailer with something for everyone, per se, but, as Thana put it in an interview with Vogue Arabia, "it's everything to someone." Poto: The Abduls. More
Lari is the first Saudi figure skater to compete internationally after having won several national championships. She is also part of Nike's Middle East
ad campaign, and the brand's first Pro Hijab campaign that recently sparked controversy. Photo: Zahra Lari. More
Najla Kaddour is one of the most successful makeup artists in the Middle East. While
blogging and sharing makeup tutorials, she has also established herself as the go-to person in the Arab world for stars like, oh, J.Lo. Photo: Najla Kaddour. More
This North Carolina native grew up in Dubai and truly shows what it means to be a citizen of the world. She has co-founded the influential Instagram account
Hijab Fashion that gives inspiration and styling advice for all women following the Hijab. On her personal blog, Feeeya.com, and her Instagram account, you can follow along on whatever adventures she may take you, from her photo shoot for to the Dubai World Cup. Goodson is probably one of the coolest kids on the modest fashion block right now and you should absolutely tag along. Vogue Arabia Photo: Saufeeya Goodson. More
"Clothes are best served with a side of intellect," reads Bashir's blog,
Desert Mannequin. And she actually makes an effort to follow through on that. The Qatari art and fashion consultant has been featured in some of the biggest local fashion magazines, such as , but has even managed to make appearances in the German weekly, Harper's Bazaar Arabia , and American Die Zeit . While she's definitely an expert on Vogue style and design, she makes a point of translating to the Western world that there is not one singular image of "the oppressed Middle Eastern woman" but that they, in fact, are more independent, fearless and fierce than you might think. Photo: Desert Mannequin. More
Born and raised in New York, this half-Palestinian, half-Puerto Rican is goals on so many levels. Whether she's working out or roaming the streets of the NYC, donning everything from ball gown to hoodies and sweatpants, Alia's style is always on point. She is also part of a generation that transcends differences; she makes a point of empowering and supporting other women by bridging gaps so many before her thought impossible to overcome.
Photo: Maria Alia. More
Hasan is a UAE-born fashion designer and blogger. On her blog,
, she gives beauty, travel, and just plain awesome lifestyle advice. The Fierce Diaries
In 2015, Hasan launched her first shoe collection. "When I started working on the design of the shoes, I really wanted to bring back the ‘20s. The women from that era were simply fabulous," she explained in an interview with
, citing the era as a main source of inspiration. "Their style was a mix of masculine and feminine and the ‘20s also made a significant mark on the fashion industry; hemlines were cut above the ankle and women paid more attention to wearing shoes that they could show off." Vogue Photo: Nadya Hasan. More
Dina Tokio is basically the poster child of the self-made millennial woman: Born in Cairo to a British mom and an Egyptian dad, she is now U.K.-based and has evolved to become a style icon, a successful YouTuber and instagrammer, a proud representative of modest fashion, a mother and a wife. Scrolling down her Insta feed, you'll probably wish she were your BFF, or that she'd at least give you a much-needed spring makeover. But, alas, Dina has already made plans with gran. (Good for her.) Photo: Dina Tokio. More
Al-Khatahtbeh is a published author, a writer and an editor, she has her own YouTube
channel and she's an outspoken activist. She is the founder and editor of Muslim Girl, a media platform that shows life in the US through the eyes of young Muslim women. Muslim Girl, together with Getty, just launched the first stock photo collection of Muslim girls and women. Representation of Muslim women in the media has mostly been very stereotypical, and doesn't "really capture the spectrum of Muslim women," Al-Khatahtbeh told Refinery29. "There are women of different skin colors and body types, women who choose to veil and women who choose not to." Photo: Amani Al-Khatahtbeh. More
This Kuwaiti-American is a true beauty and fashion pro, collaborating with other influencers, such as British-Egpytian
Dina Tokio, or platforms like Net-a-Porter. Ascia and her husband, Ahmad, also jointly run a blog, The Hybrids. Photo: Ascia Akf. More
Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz
Princess Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz was born in California but now lives in Dubai most of the time. The 42-year old royal (yup, she's a real princess) is the editor-in-chief of newly launched
but has been a familiar face in the fashion scene for quite some time. I personally admire her because she simply does what she does, and in doing so, she tears down prejudices and stereotypes about how Middle Eastern women look or are portrayed. Abdulaziz is a child of the East and the West, two worlds that some people still consider as clashing – until she proves them wrong by making it look effortless and natural. Vogue Arabia, Photo: Dina Litovsky. More
Mariam Saleh Binladen
Mariam Binladen has set a world record: she was the first woman, and third person overall, to swim the entire Thames river. The Saudi dentist did this, as chronicled in the documentary to raise awareness for the medical needs of Syrian refugees. She has been working with other doctors to help those who had to flee their home country – and she wants you to notice. I Am Mariam Binladen, Photo: Mariam Saleh Binladen. More
Halima Aden made history by being the first woman to compete in a beauty pageant sporting a hijab and wearing a burkini. She then went on to become the first hijabi on a major runway during NYFW's fall 2017 shows, walking Kanye West's Yeezy catwalk, and has been slaying ever since – which is also why she is the exception to my rule. Originally hailing from Somalia, Aden spent the first six years of her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to the US. She is a woman who knows what it means to hustle and to prove mainstream expectations wrong – which is something that a lot of women from Northern Africa and the Arabian peninsula can relate to. Photo: Halima Aden. More
Darin Al Bayed
Al Bayed was born in Libanon but is currently based in Saudi Arabia. She is part of a movement of young women who have turned to the
gone online to speak up against oppression of and clichés about Middle Eastern women. In her videos, the 21-year old uses comedy to reflect and shed a light on topics small and big, from relationship advice to critical subjects in Saudi society. With more than 37 million views on YouTube and 3.8 million followers on Instagram, we're guessing she's being heard. Photo: Darin Al Bayed. More
No list of Middle Eastern influencers would be complete without Huda Kattan. This makeup artist and beauty entrepreneur has it all: her own
line of makeup and beauty products, a beauty closet that's to die for, and an easy 18 million followers on Instagram and 1.7 million on Youtube. Photo: Huda Kattan. More
Tara Emad has been acting ever since high school. She actually chose acting over studying biotechnology or psychology at American University of Cairo. However, she is still taking online psychology classes on the side and plans to re-enter university to get a degree. For now, online is serving her just fine because, she
says, "it’s not about school and university, it’s about the entire process that’s called life; you learn every day."
Until her breakthrough in psychology, this 24-year old will have enough to do: She's already founded a
charity that helps people in need in and around Cairo. In her free time, Emad is a passionate painter and produces her own organic lip balm. Photo: Tara Emad. More
Hammam was born in the Netherlands to a Moroccan mother and an Egyptian father. She's modeled for everyone from Oscar de la Renta and Dior to Chanel and Prada, and is one of the most in-demand models these days. Hammam is open about her religion as well as about her body.
Photo: Imaan Hammam. More
This 20-year old is an actress and an activist; in the Egyptian TV show
Taht Al Saytara, Awad plays 16-year old Hania, a rebellious young woman who's falling victim to drug abuse. Awad is proud to be a trailblazer and to raise awareness about longstanding issues that have been taboo for far too long: When teenagers, or people at any age, don’t belong to the family, they’ll belong somewhere else by doing a common activity," she says in an interview with , and sometimes that'll even be narcotics. "I think there should be more awareness about the way parents should deal with their children and the way innocent curiosity should be dealt with." WhatWomenWant Mag Photo: Jamila Awad. More Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here? We Know (& Can Actually Afford) What Ashley Graham Is Wearing To Coachella Andreja Pejić Blazes Another Trail For Trans Models Vanna White Says She's Never Repeated A Dress On Wheel Of Fortune