Smoke & Mirrors
Written by Qaanitah Hunter and edited by Benazir Cassim
Are you even a South African influencer if you don’t have basic photoshoots in Bo Kaap and Camps Bay in Cape Town? Oh, and that famous pose on the top of Lion’s Head at sunrise?
Nabs suggests that I fly down to Cape Town to meet with a few clients she had set up and shoot some content, and I jump at the opportunity. She manages to get us a free stay at The Zaj in Cape Town, which is an incredible five-star hotel, as part of their new partnership with us.
Basically, they gave me a four-night stay, and in turn, I need to promote their off-peak specials. The only thing I have to cover was my own flights, which I didn’t budget for, but who needs food for the rest of the month if I can get Cape Town for four days?
Jokes. It’s a much better month this month. But if I knew I was going to Cape Town I wouldn’t have bought new sunglasses I clearly don’t need.
On second thought, scratch that. It’s great that I bought those sunnies because I can give them the respect they deserve on my Cape Town trip.
I’m going to slay. My A-game will have its own A-game. Cape Town was never ready for me.
Okay, let me stop hyping myself up. I haven’t been so excited for anything blogger-related recently. I’ve mostly been uninspired. I posted better content as a broke girl who worked a 12-hour retail job than I do now.
So Cape Town couldn’t have come at a better time.
Although, when I land I feel like I got the short end of the stick. Nobody told me that Cape Town is actually miserable in Winter. I don’t know what’s worse, the wind or the rain. Add peak-hour traffic and I definitely do not get the welcome to Cape Town that I was hoping for.
Instagram makes us believe that Cape Town is all cute girls running on the promenade and sushi. No one prepared me for this. Nabs said “take a jacket” but I was not prepared for this level of depressing weather.
Still, in this inclement weather, I found runners running along the promenade at sunrise the next morning. All my plans to enjoy what Cape Town has to offer and take enough selfies to last a lifetime have fallen flat on its face.
Nabs has one piece of advice: “Make the cold weather work for you”. Why must she be so sensible?!
Nabs also believes that I must accept that I have feelings for Adil and stop being in denial. She’s probably right but I hate her tone. She gets away with being really insensitive sometimes because being abrasive is who she is. Most times I am forgiving of her demeanour. But now I think I am never going to tell her anything about Adil again.
We were out having lunch and I told her about the night at Adil’s house and how I have this suspicion about Sarah. “But why do you care? You guys are just gym buddies right?" she hit back. My facial expression gave my feelings away at that moment. I don’t even know. “Tell him you like him and get over with it. The worst thing is that he won’t like you back,” Nabs said.
It is not that simple!
Also, I truly don’t know if I like the guy. It just bothered me that his sister’s friend gave off a vibe. I can’t even explain it. But I felt it.
Okay — dissecting feelings is not what this trip is about. I am here for the basic Camps Bay pictures and my culturally insensitive Bo Kaap photoshoot. It’s going to happen. I am here for the overpriced sushi and the matcha lattes.
Nabs was naturally in charge of planning our days and the content we are shooting at different locations. She also sets up one full day of meetings so that I can be exposed to Cape Town PR companies and interesting brands.
This trip shows me how much she is dying to move back home to Cape Town, but she won’t admit it. I think she extended her stay from two weeks to a month to test the waters and see if she can work from Cape Town.
It’s a hard decision to move back home but I think Nabs is at a stage in her life where she needs her family and probably wants to settle down soon. She’s 30 and gearing herself to expand her business and truly make money. I think she’s just trying to figure it all out, just like the rest of us.
While she does that, I plan to shoot content with Firdaus while I am in Cape Town. We’ve been speaking about a collaboration shoot for so long, so now is a great time.She says she would like to do hijab styling on me that will include four different hijab styles — gosh, who knew there were more than two ways to tie a scarf?
Then I have a collab meeting with ShopHarrietFord, they want me to shoot their swimsuits while I am in Cape Town for their upcoming summer campaign. In between the work stuff, I have three restaurant reviews and Nabs hooked up a lovely high tea afternoon on the last day of our stay.
Shooting pictures in beautiful swimwear is hard work — you don’t know what stress is until a Cape Town wind blows your one of your false eyelashes away and puts sand in crevices you didn’t even know you had. Trust me, after all this, I need the pampering of a gourmet high tea.
Talking about body parts, my entire life, I’ve never been conscious about modest dressing. It was never a thing in my house. My mother didn’t wear a scarf and she never expected me to. I always just wore stuff my aunt passed down to me, so I ended up living in her old jeans and t-shirts for most of my life. It was hardly a look. Remember bell-bottom jeans? I wore them for years long after they were considered cool.
When I married Ozayr, I naturally wore more modest clothing because his mother and the rest of his family did. And by modest I don’t mean hijab. I just wore longer length tops and didn’t wear short skirts. I didn’t think about it. It wasn’t a decision linked to my beliefs. I was just young and naive. (Not like that has changed).
So, when I started blogging, I didn’t have any reservations wearing what was seen as non-modest clothing. My mother always told me that all that matters is what’s in my heart and I believed that my entire life. I think only after I started blogging and started seeing Muslim girls on the internet did I start truly learning about hijab and modest dressing.
I know it should be an obvious thing, but if you grow up in a world where no one wore a scarf modest dressing or hijab was a thing for old or pious people. If you were a ‘normal’ Muslim, it wasn’t for you. When I think about it now, I am inspired by bloggers like Firdaus who wears her hijab so confidently. I also watch other international hijabi bloggers and I think they have it much harder than we do in South Africa.
But the world is changing slowly to a place where women can wear whatever they want to. For a long time, hijab was seen as something enforced by men, and maybe in some instances it was. But if you think about it, so too was skimpy, ‘sexy’ dressing. There’s a bunch of men in fashion who dictate what women should and shouldn’t wear.
When I meet Firdaus for our collab I pick her brain about her decision to wear hijab.
“So, do you read all your prayers?” I ask her, genuinely curious — and maybe a little stupid.
“No. I try to. But gosh it’s so hard”.
“So why do you wear the hijab when you don’t even pray five times a day?”
“Because this is an article of faith that’s easiest for me. We all worship in different ways, friend. For me, hijab becomes a barrier against so much of other wrong... it also is empowering in some way.”
This is the first time hijab was explained to me this way. It makes so much sense. For me, praying early in the morning is so much easier than any other prayer because I wake up early for the gym. For someone else, it’s probably impossible to wake up before sunrise just to pray. Our relationships with God vary and how other people display it is none of our business.
It is inspiring to see someone like Firdaus who is killing the Cape Town influencer scene even though she wears hijab. Brands have realised that they have ostracised a huge community of millions of Muslim women by telling them they are oppressed and reflecting a version of beauty opposite to them.
Now Muslim women are saying; hold up, we are not oppressed. This has nothing to do with a man. So, do you want our money to buy your crap or not? Big brands have now realised that the modest fashion industry is a lucrative multimillion-rand industry so as woke as they try to be, it really is about the money (side-eye Nike).
It has become fashionable to include what was ‘othered’ for so long. Whether it’s women in hijab, curvy women or women of colour, brands are forced to include us in their marketing strategy because the days of using skinny blondes with blue eyes have passed.
Some people criticise international hijabi bloggers for being a ‘paid quota’ but I don’t get it. We have been fighting for representation for such a long time but now when brands are giving us the opportunity we are meant to turn it down?
I’ve also seen a lot of chatter online about how ‘toxic’ the online hijabi community is. The pressure of wearing hijab is a lot more than it is for the rest of us.
The followers literally police every move, call you out when a few strands of hair show and are just generally negative.
I thought I knew a thing or two about this hijabi online community until my collab with Firdaus went live.
I have never had this many negative comments on a post ever.
“What a hypocrite. Bikini one day, hijab the next.”
“You’re just doing it for the money.”
“Haha you suddenly want to wear hijab so you get the Adidas hijab collab deal.”
“Hijab or not. You’re still a s**t”.
I can’t understand it. Why can’t I choose to post a picture with a scarf the day after I pose in a bikini? So hijab is this precious community that ‘sinners’ like me can’t be a part of?
Firdaus calls me as she sees the hate comments. She says that while she knows most people are spewing venom, I must look at things from both sides.
“A lot of it is just hate but I think some people feel like you’re undermining their struggle. For years the media and magazines told them they are ugly or not attractive by wearing hijab and they should be exposing their bodies instead. By wearing the hijab after posting bikini pictures, they feel like you are undermining their struggle and mocking it,” she says.
“But I just feel like a girl can choose whatever she wants to do. It’s up to her whether she wants to wear a bikini or a hijab. Isn’t it?”
“In an ideal world, yes. But not in a world where girls are shamed for going to the beach fully covered and stared at and mocked at.”
“You’re right. Should I just delete the post?”
“Nah, that just empowers trolls. Just do a follow up post with a positive affirming caption. I don’t think what you did was wrong... I just think it’s important to be socially aware of what we post online.”
I read somewhere that a lot of the cultural dissonance that exists online is really just ignorance and the lack of empathy. And if we want to challenge broad racism and patriarchy online, we have to check ourselves first. Ellen Pompeo, the woman that plays Meredith Grey in Grey’s Anatomy always says, “Check yourself before you check others.” And I am a huge Grey’s fan, so I am going to listen to Dr Grey when she talks.
I decide to post a picture of a heart I drew in the sand at Camps Bay with a thoughtful caption: “Sometimes we are insensitive. Sometimes we are ignorant. Sometimes we don’t care enough. But that’s what makes us human. We live and learn every. Single. Day.”
Firdaus’s advice worked. The thing about the internet is you can never make everyone happy. And going on the defensive never ends well. If you truly want to be influential in your space, you can’t respond to fire with fire. You walk away hoping that the fire eventually dies out. Does that make sense?
Although, if I am truly honest, this episode really pushed away any ambition to one day wear the hijab. It’s like opening yourself up to abuse.
Anyway, I would like to resume regular programming — after I binge on all the sushi (and fried fish) that Cape Town has to offer. I, also, shamelessly have not been exercising on this trip, as a matter of principle. Because when I do, I start thinking about Adil. And I don’t want to, as tempted as I am.
On our last day in Cape Town, Nabs invites Firdaus to join us for the freebie Hightea at the Zaj Hotel and she graciously obliges.
I absolutely LOVE high teas. As boujee as they are, there’s something about aromatic tea paired with a delicious pastry that just makes me happy. Obviously, my cheap ass is not going to pay R650 for tea and cake so when it does come complimentary, I really dig in.
I decide to wear a highly pretentious outfit like I am the stepchild of the Duchess of Sussex. If extra was a person it would be me today.
Now can someone please pass me a macaroon so I can be basic in peace.
“I didn’t realise what a sweet tooth you have,” Firdaus tells me as I stuff a whole cupcake in my mouth.
“Give me cake over food any day!”
“Our house has more chocolate than real food,” Nabs says.
“But Adil says you guys are so disciplined with the gyming ... you motivate him,” I say.
“Firdaus, maybe you can tell me what’s the deal between your cousin and Maariah,” Nabs says as she turns to look at me.
NABS! WHERE IS YOUR FILTER?
“There is no deal. We are gym buddies,” I say with all the defensiveness I could find.
Firdaus reads the room and doesn’t respond.
“So, will you join our charity sale?” I change the subject.
“I don’t mind, you guys will have to just pay my rate and expenses,” Firdaus responds.
“Well, this is a mutually beneficial collaboration,” Nabs says.
“Absolutely. But I still have bills to pay,” responds Firdaus.
“But the exposure you will get is immense,” Nabs hits back.
“Exposure doesn’t pay my bills. I won’t charge you an appearance fee. Just my expenses,” Firdaus retorts, firmly but still kind.
I look down, focusing on my quiche and don’t say anything. She is right. There’s been so many things I have participated in without pay because I was promised exposure.
“Nabs... we still have a few weeks... let us plan all the details and once we have everything finalised, we will talk,” I tell them both.
“I know, but we don’t have a budget to pay for anything,” she insists.
“Well, no hard feelings but I only do paid gigs,” Firdaus digs in her heels.
Her demeanour is usually relaxed and kind, so seeing her like this is strange.I wish I was that brave to ask what is due to me.The awkwardness lingers a bit and thankfully, it is time to go. As soon as Firdaus leaves, Nabs starts venting.
“Who does she think she is? We are doing her a favour.”
I want to respond but I just don’t have the energy. I am actually on Firdaus’s side this time. As Nabs vents, Firdaus texts me, apologising if she came across as rude.
“I think Nabs is ripping you off and not paying you your dues. You are one of the hardest working influencers and you don’t get paid for your hard work. There are big agencies that would get you a bigger cut. Also, sorry to pry but I don’t think she is being honest about the income you guys get. You know the Deron Beauty campaign we all got? The PR person said they paid you the most and I got R30 000 from that campaign. I am sure you didn’t get half of that”.
OMG. I got R8 000 from that campaign and we worked SO hard.
“Hey Nabs, how much was the Deron Beauty campaign?” I ask her nonchalantly as we wait at the airport for the flight home.
“Why? I need to check.”
“Off the top of your head?”
“It was like R10 000 or something ..”
“Can I see the emails? I just want to verify something.” I say as calmly as I could possibly be, sipping my drink.
“Why? What did Firdaus tell you now? I know it’s her! Do you think I am stealing your money? You would have not made money if it was not for me!” she yells in true Nabs vibes.
Wow, that escalated really quickly.
This is fiction
No, really. It is fiction. All characters are made up.