By Manna Zel, she/they
Something like Hannah Montana, Montréal-based model Hiba lives a double life. After clocking out of her nine-to-five, she taps into what she’s passionate about: activism and increasing visibility for young kids and women like herself. “My double life consists of modeling to bring more representation to women like me, hosting a podcast to bring visibility to young kids from Montreal-Nord, and I’m a local activist with my crew at the Beliers Solidaires collective,” Hiba says.
And what grounds her? “Me-time,” says Hiba, “to balance all these crazy lifestyles. When I’m not attending BTS concerts, I am collecting their photo cards. I guess you [could] say that pop culture and stan culture help me enjoy the little things in life. It’s the one thing I remain passionate about through the years.”
Tell us about your experience in the modeling industry.
The modeling industry hasn’t always been kind to me. At first, I honestly lost myself and my personality in it. Because this industry wasn’t originally built to be inclusive, I feel like I had to fight to get a place at the table. And once I managed to get a place, I had to fight with myself to not lose sight of my core values.
In the past 6 months though, I was able to find brands, models, and creatives who weren’t afraid to think outside of the box—who weren’t afraid to re-work and re-paint the industry. Thanks to them, I can now say that modeling has not only helped me express myself but it has also helped me cross the bridge between my activism and my professional career. For a very long time, I thought the two could not mix.
Being a woman of color who is also visibly Muslim, I now realize that the modeling industry should fight to have people like me join it and not the other way around. I shouldn’t fight to fit in.
What did it mean to you to see yourself on Youth To The People billboards across the country and in Times Square? How did it feel?
It came to me in waves; I was shocked to see myself on the billboards. I couldn’t believe it. Then, once I started to get tagged by other hijabi women who saw the billboards, a sense of responsibility took over. I felt responsible for their joy and like I had to keep on working hard to help them see themselves through me.
I hopped on a plane recently and decided to go see the billboards for myself. Once I saw it through my own eyes, I felt an immense feeling of pride. In Quebec, it is illegal to wear your hijab and hold a place in public jobs (i.e teacher, police officers, judge). It has always felt like this law was put in place to make me and women like me invisible to the rest of society. Seeing the billboard in person reminded me that, no matter the legislation on my body and my choices, it is impossible to silence me. It is also impossible to make me invisible. I felt seen, proud and visible.
What does it mean to live your truth?
I live my truth every single day by stepping out of the house with my hijab on, knowing the current climate in Canada and especially in Quebec. So, to live your truth is to be you—fully and unapologetically. It can be hard sometimes and it does get overwhelming because it is a solo journey. But nothing feels more fulfilling than to wake up every day and know that you are you—and there is nothing or nobody in this world that can take that away from you.