With 55 million Instagram followers and a willingness to speak her mind, Bella Hadid is more than just a model or celebrity. In the same way that the boxing legend Mohammed Ali was more than just a sporting hero, instead becoming the voice to a generation of African Americans sidelined during civil rights movement-era America. Bella Hadid is more and more being recognized as an important cultural figure asking important questions about Palestine and changing the narrative on Arab Americans, a group who for so long have been grossly misrepresented on screen, script, and in the news. For Bella Hadid’s birthday, we thought we’d have a look at this important, but often unmentioned part of her presence in contemporary culture.
The model, who has been featured in a record 27 issues of Vogue and is often listed in the world’s top-ten models, needs little introduction, but her increasing importance in wider contemporary culture is often not given the attention it deserves. Bella Hadid is the antithesis of a celebrity culture that prioritises the trivial and distracts us from the trials and tribulations of the wider world, but this wasn’t always the case. Bella Hadid’s increasing presence as a cultural icon of what it means to be an Arab American has developed over time as she herself has come to grips with and unravelled her own complicated identity.
With a Palestinian father, Dutch mother, and childhood home in California, Bella Hadid is a product, through and through, of the cultural melting pot that is modern-day America. However, while cultural interaction has given birth to exciting new identities and possibilities that also enrich traditions and makes America the exciting place it is today, within multicultural societies, there also lurks a pressure to assimilate that can often erase one’s identity.
Following her parents divorce in 2000, Bella Hadid’s mother, Yolanda Hadid, has been reported to have increasingly put pressure on her two daughters as she sought to mould them into the supermodels they are today. Yolanda Hadid is said to have referred encouragingly to how Bella’s sister Gigi had mostly inherited her Dutch genes as opposed to from her father, Mohamed Hadid. Reportedly referring to Gigi as her ‘perfect Ralph Lauren all-American girl’, Bella has in several interviews reflected on how she felt like the uglier of the two sisters and was taught to detest the Palestinian side of her identity and visual appearance.
In an interview with Vogue US, Bella Hadid also opened up about her regret about getting a nose job at the early age of 14, undoubtedly pressured by Europeanised beauty standards and the continual presence of her mother. “I wish I had kept the nose of my ancestors,” Bella told the interviewer, referring to her Palestinian lineage that she only later learnt to fully embrace and be proud of.
However, the Bella Hadid we know today is not someone who hides her Palestinian and Arab identity, but instead someone who proudly embraces it. As a proud and courageous voice in support of Palestine, Bella has described how she has lost several modelling agreements and sponsors. She told the Rep podcast that “I had so many companies that stopped working with me”, and even described how it feels to be targeted on mass by social media for your advocacy for Palestine. Similarly, instead of hiding from misrepresentations of what it means to be Arab American, Bella is proudly rewriting the narrative after decades of damaging stereotypes.
In a post on Instagram showing her attending a protest in support of Palestine in London, Bella Hadid wrote how, “I stand with my Palestinian brothers and sisters , I will protect and support you as best as I can. I LOVE YOU. I feel for you. And I cry for you. I wish I could take away your pain.” However, this is far from an isolated post, as Bella has consistently throughout the years been pushing issue of Palestine with heartfelt and thoughtful messages to her followers. On one post showing a placard at a rally in support of Palestinian rights, Bella Hadid commented on her own position in the representation of Palestinians, by commenting that, “A Palestinian girl on the cover of Vogue. The joy it brings me to say that….I won’t stop talking about the systematic oppression, pain and humility that Palestinians face on a regular basis. With only love in my heart and an open mind to educate myself and learn more every day…. No matter what . I Love You❤️🇵🇸🙏🏽”.
In addition to some of her social media posts, many of her headline-grabbing modelling appearances have also challenged stereotypes about Arab women. Her recent appearance at Paris Fashion Week in which a latex dress was sprayed on her live in front of the audience was the week’s main headline event, with images of the appearance spreading through social media like wildfire. Far from being shy or constrained by societal pressures, Bella’s memorable performance actively rewrote many perceptions people have about Arab women. Some of her less extravagant appearances, however, are no less important, as Bella Hadid has consistently turned heads with her bold and striking outfits. As Bella continues to make headlines and the keen attention of fashion bloggers worldwide, she is rewriting what we think of when you hear the term Arab women.
Bella Hadid has only turned 26 today, but she has already taken the world of modelling by storm and is now making us think twice about who Arab Americans really are. In a world of celebrity and social media, surface appearances and meaningless gossip are often the only things that matter; however, Bella Hadid is more than just a celebrity and is steadily becoming a cultural icon as Arab Americans begin to write their own narratives and proudly reassert their identities.
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