Amani Al-Khatahtbeh often starts her public speaking gigs by asking the audience to whip out their phones, do an image search of “Muslim women” and see what pops up. They usually gasp at the results — pages and pages of one-dimensional stock photos showing women behind black veils, failing to capture the diversity of Muslim experiences.
“It just occurred to me that I shouldn’t have to use that example anymore,” Al-Khatahtbeh said.
It’s a problem that Al-Khatahtbeh is ready to fix. As the founder and editor-in-chief of popular online platform MuslimGirl.com, she’s teamed up with Getty Images to launch a new series of creative images and stock photos showing a range of modern Muslim women being their true, authentic selves.
The partnership, announced Wednesday to coincide with International Women’s Day, is an effort to improve the representation of Muslim women in online media and advertising, while also pushing back against sweeping misconceptions of the Islamic community.
“That’s the power of imagery at this moment for underrepresented communities like ours.”
Whether it’s a woman with a hijab in the workplace or a woman exercising in workout clothes near New York City’s East River, the collection of images shows a diverse array of Muslim women in everyday scenarios. And that, on its own, can be revolutionary.
“When we’re able to represent Muslim women from all these diverse lifestyles, these diverse backgrounds, it really is able to humanize us — as much as I hate to use that language,” Al-Khatahtbeh said.
“But that’s really the level we’re at right now. That’s the power of imagery at this moment for underrepresented communities like ours.”
Through the partnership, MuslimGirl acts as a contributor to Getty Images, and the photos are available for commercial use. Al-Khatahtbeh chose the Muslim models, photographer Jenna Masoud, and the scenes, while Getty provided guidance about what types of images could be most impactful.
“We both agreed on the kinds of images that we wanted to create,” said Claudia Marks, senior art director at Getty Images. “I just showed up as a consultant, as I do with a lot of my contributors, just to kind of help guide the kinds of images that might be saleable, that would work in the collection, and that would also be powerful imagery to change attitudes and change perceptions of Muslim girls and show them in a positive light.”
Marks said that even though it’s creative imagery and not reporting, the authenticity of the collection was important to Getty.
“We believe it wouldn’t make sense any other way, to not have these images created by the people that we’re speaking to, so it becomes a really true representation,” she said.
While new in its approach regarding modern Muslim women specifically, this partnership isn’t necessarily the first of its kind for Getty. In the past, the company has joined forces with LeanIn.org and Refinery29 to change the narrative of women in visual imagery. Marks said they’re constantly monitoring trends in visual communications, and they noticed a growing demand for more genuine representations of women.
“I think that the visual medium is so powerful in being able to bring people together in that way.”
In fact, searches on GettyImages.com for “Muslim woman” have increased 80 percent in the past 12 months, according to Marks. Searches for the terms “community” and “globalization,” meanwhile, are up by 62 percent and 60 percent, respectively.
That isn’t incredibly surprising, given the Islamophobic rhetoric that permeated the 2016 presidential campaign and President Donald Trump’s first weeks in office. In January, Trump signed an executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations and indefinitely barring Syrian refugees from entering the country. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against reinstating the ban, but just this week Trump signed a new executive order, banning immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries (now excluding Iraq) and halting all refugee resettlement.
“Right now, it just seems like we’re in a moment where there’s a lot of fear going on, of people who might not look like us, who might be from different walks of life than us,” Al-Khatahtbeh said. “I think that the visual medium is so powerful in being able to bring people together in that way.”
Al-Khatahtbeh, who grew up through the height of Islamophobia post-9/11, said she always felt she was denied this kind of representation in the media. She never saw positive imagery of women who looked like her.
But she wants today’s Muslim girls to have a different experience, showing the world what Muslim women are actually like — and putting power back into the community’s hands.
“That kind of visibility really does contribute to our feelings of belonging and to our feelings of acceptance,” she said. “And that’s why I think it’s so important that we’re doing this collection, especially in this sociopolitical climate. I think it just calls for us to respond in a very positive way, and that’s what this does.”
The first collection currently has 41 photos, but both Marks and Al-Khatahtbeh hope to provide more in the future. You can check out the current series on Getty Images here.