What would it look like for a young, black Muslim woman to occupy space in the world ― fiercely, freely and without wasting time caring about what others think?
Our guess is that it may look something like Leah Vernon dancing with abandon through the streets of her hometown.
Vernon is a 30-year-old fashion blogger and stylist from Detroit, Michigan. This spring, she had the idea to create a video of herself dancing in her city, incorporating elements of spoken word poetry.
With the help of a few friends, that video became a reality. On Friday, Vernon uploaded it to her YouTube channel, hoping to start a conversation about what it looks like for Muslim women to claim space.
“Muslim girls and women are not oppressed. As soon as someone sees me, my Muslim-ness, they automatically assume that,” Vernon told HuffPost. “Also, I’m fat. People see me and assume that I have low-self-esteem or that I’m lazy. People see my Blackness and assume that I don’t hold a double masters. With this project, I want to show the world that people like me, who don’t fit into society’s ‘norm’ of beauty do exist and deserve to take up space.”
With this project, I want to show the world that people like me, who don’t fit into society’s ‘norm’ of beauty do exist and deserve to take up space.
Vernon said that she got self-conscious at times while shooting the video. But her best friend, who was on set as her make-up artist, gave her the encouragement she needed.
“Then, the Beyoncé came out. I felt fierce and confident and amazing. People who passed by on the street started dancing with me. Shouted how fierce I was from their cars. And, a few asked if I was a celebrity. ”
She hopes that this simple but radical act of exhibiting joy in a public place will encourage other women to express themselves.
“I hope that the audience take the fierceness and positive energy from this video and harness it. Make it their own. Become a powerful voice in this world. Be a rebel and do what feels right instead of allowing naysayers and trolls to dictate how we use and view our bodies.”
Watch Leah Vernon’s video above.