“I just know that the day I converted, I went to my mom and was like ‘I don’t want to eat pork no more’,”
Intersectionality is not a popular notion amidst the fashion industry. But that’s no secret to anyone.
As much as the modeling industry would love to claim its support of minorities across all ethnic and religious groups, white supremacy continues to dominate the runways, with little to no celebration of the differences that make humans, human.
Maria Reina, although white and having been scouted relative to her appearance at 14, is proving to be one model whose opposing and striking realities are taking the internet by storm. And sparking the question, could 2 things exist at once?
22-year-old Reina, of Swedish-Spanish descent, has been the face of many big names globally, including; H&M, Daniel Wellington, ASOS, Charlotte Tilbury and more. And while some might think of Reina as inherently “just” a model, Reina has many concealed layers that not everyone has had insight to, until now.
So what’s the story behind the up-and-coming model?
RELIGION & UPBRINGING
Growing up, Maria had always strived towards a sense of belonging. Initially, Reina pursued that in the form of Catholicism following her father’s footsteps, upon expressing her desire for affiliation.
But even then, the hole Reina experienced didn’t feel fulfilled, instead Reina would drag her mom to church in the hopes of falling into the right group that would take her in and make her feel like one of her own.
“Modeling isn’t forever,”
While the career within the fashion world is a breadwinner prospect for many and is one that offers a luxurious lifestyle, that trajectory isn’t one Maria is particularly thrilled of undertaking in the long run.
Reina still has many dreams that she’s yet to accomplish including; attending university and, in recognition of her white privilege, become a social worker in Sweden; to help ethnic and religious minorities, as well as migrants.
EVOLVING IN THE MODELING WORLD
The desire to fit in, as in many other areas in life, will come in hot when picking up the craft.
It’s important that you remain true to yourself as you go on this journey, even if sometimes it stands to compromise your social status in the highly competitive field, “it was so hard for me to say that [saying no to certain demands in shoots], just because I really wanted them to love me and rebook me for upcoming shoots”.
Being a practicing, religious Muslim has also placed Reina’s career on the line on several occasions, going on to explain how her religiousness was perceived as a “red flag”, because they believed it to restrict their creative vision; again, reiterating the lack of inclusivity and tolerance within the modelling world.
REINA’S MODELING SECRETS
“Now because of years of experience, I’m able to say ‘stop’ and express my discomfort, but I’ve been in many situations where I cried afterwards due to my lack of comfort”
That being said, modeling is certainly still quite a tricky career to maneuverer, especially if you’re trying to make a name for yourself out there.
Some of the key takeaways from Reina’s advice for young models are for them to have strong moral foundations and compasses, in which they aren’t swayed by the financial gain or benefit, because in the long run, when either are compromised for material gain, they’re very often than not extremely regretted, at least in Reina’s experience.
Placing firm boundaries with your agency and other third parties is therefore of utmost importance, because maintaining your comfort during a shoot should always come in first.
Not falling into the trap of idealised beauty standards is just as important when it comes to pitching your fort in the industry, because there’s no secret that women are forced on the daily to believe that they aren’t beautiful “enough”; it’s hard to imagine the circumstances being any different for an individual who makes a living largely off of their physical appearance.
Being able to recognize when to stop moulding yourself into the picturesque version of perfection is a skill that takes time and effort to cultivate and it’s certainly one Reina has had to develop along the past 9 years.
ISLAM AND MODELING
You can either choose to be a Muslim or a model, but you can’t be both right?
For Reina, figuring out a life in-between, in which she continuously seeks out improvement in both areas of her life are “that’s the only way to go- we all have our own journeys”.
In the 22-year-old’s mind, putting active effort and action into trying is all that really matters in the end.
“It’s not about being a Muslim & a model at the same time, it’s about realizing that we are imperfect humans who will have our own hardships to overcome. I try to show people that you don’t need to pick a side, that you don’t need to be perfect to love God . Don’t be too harsh on yourself, take it step by step,”
Islamophobia and criticism are not feats that Reina has evidently struggled greatly with. Instead, Reina welcomes any criticism of her beliefs with open arms and often times discusses her stances with those who negate her, from photographers to make-up artists.
“You can tell they have a very different view of Islam and you can see it slowly changing- I want to make it easier for the next Muslim woman who sits in a chair, who maybe doesn’t have the same privilege as me [is not Swedish, or white],”.
In the end one has to recognize that you can never satisfy everyone, “I will never be enough to everyone”; in the end love & tolerance are the one true answer.
HERITAGE & CULTURE
“I think I’m connected most to Islamic culture, which of course goes hand-in-hand with Arabic culture,”
For Reina, it’s not a question of whether her heritage impacts her current lifestyle, because to her Islam is the centrepiece to her current cultural makeup; not Swedish, nor Spanish.
That being said, Reina has not and will not completely negate her heritage, “when I’m in Spain visiting my family I [connect with] the Spanish part,” and vice versa.
The question still pegs itself, does converting to Islam strip Reina of her right to a cultural identity, of her western roots?
Social media will, as it often does, exude no less than a multitude of reactions to the matter, weighing in with its unsolicited opinions; the most famous of which being “from the day you converted to Islam, how dare you call yourself Swedish?” One of the many phrases Reina grew accustomed to hearing.
So, in a world where Islamophobia is alive and well, how ought Reina pursue her religious path, without indignation or fear of judgement; she further pursues it.
Instead, Reina believes in staying vocal and true to her beliefs, religious, cultural or otherwise and remains steadfast in the belief that nothing that is ever meant for her, will surpass her.
THE PARADIGM OF SPIRTUALITY & MODELING
Conformation to the industry’s ideologies certainly did not pass Reina by. The fact of the matter is, oppression in the industry is not limited to Muslims, instead Reina also believes that practicing Christians receive quite a similar backlash. Albeit definitely less.
By now, it’s almost certain that the question of whether Reina has considered the hijab or not is the elephant in the room, and as with many things in life, the truth is much more complicated than that, “[The Truth] is that the answer depends on the day; on days where my Iman is strong, I’ll be like ‘I don’t care about modeling I can put it [the hijab] on right now’,”
IF YOU BECAME A HIJABI, WOULD YOU CARRY ON MODELING OR WOULD YOU STEP BACK FROM IT THEN?
To Reina, moderation is of utmost importance. “A part of me would say take it easy, don’t plunge directly into it [modesty],”
But in the face of family, Reina’s career stands no chance “it would be nothing more,”
BITS AND BOBS
Out of all the countries of the world, with all of their amazing selling points, Reina’s heart stays true to Makkah, Saudi Arabia, the holy city of Islam.
And one shoot Reina would dream of having would be to star on the cover of BAZAAR. While Reina’s favourite shoot to date would be any shoot including a clothing apparel company; H&M & ASOS.
Having lived a few months in Egypt, Reina’s favourite things about the historically-rich country include the plethora of activities available to Egyptians at all given times, but also their kind nature & hospitality, “even though I would have things sticking out of the car in an uber, they would be so nice and say ‘let’s go’.”
Being a swede at heart, Reina has grown quite fond of the culture’s individualism, in which she can be free to remain introverted or quiet “not like the parties and loud noise and livelihood, because in Egypt that’s a lot,”
While Reina’s favourite dish is the Spanish Paella.
Interviewer: “What’s Paella?”
Reina: “It’s rice with chicken, you can have a little bit of seafood in there as well if you want to, so if you go to Spain you need to eat that!!”
“Being a Muslim isn’t a one-size fits all, be very open to everyone,”