In Turkey, A New Muslim Women’s Magazine Comes Covered With A Headscarf

Âlâ is the first Turkish women’s fashion magazine with ‘conservative chic’ sensibility. Founded last year, it’s a hit in a country that is both increasingly Islamic and worldly.

(Âlâ magazine)
(Âlâ magazine)
Delphine Nerbollier

ISTANBUL - How can you be stylish without drawing attention to yourself, while thoroughly respecting the guidelines of Islamic fashion?

Since June 2011, the editors of the fashion magazine "Âlâ" have been doling out just those kinds of tips in their glossy monthly dedicated solely to Muslims in Turkey. "It is possible to be glamorous, wear high heels, and be stylish while respecting the values of Islam," says the editor, Esra Sezis, who was hired through Twitter a year ago.

The 24-year-old, who wears an elegant black scarf and many brown tones, admits the task is not easy, given the number of rules governing what women may wear. They include the limited use of colors, skirts and dresses to the ankles, sleeves to the wrists, no cleavage, clothing loose enough so as not to emphasize the female form, and headscarves.

The cover of the magazine's issue No. 8 sets the tone: a young woman with big blue eyes proudly wears a crimson blazer jacket that contrasts with her canary yellow headscarf.

Faced with competition from other women's magazines that sell at least 20,000 copies, Âlâ got off to a very good start, selling 30,000 units per month in Turkey with an additional 5,000 in Germany. "Elle, Vogue, and Marie Claire do not provide fashion answers to conservative women living in Turkey," says Mehmet Volkan Atay, founder of the magazine.

The magazine's potential is even greater, he explains, as approximately 60% of women in Turkey wear either a traditional scarf worn loosely (başörtüsü), a headscarf which leaves no lock of hair uncovered, or a çarşaf, the black cloth that covers the whole body.

"Our readers are generally urban, educated and come from relatively privileged backgrounds, just like the readers of Elle, except for their interest in Islam," says Atay, who founded the business after being inspired by the British magazine Emel, which is also written for Muslim women.

The success of the magazine has surprised everyone in its small editorial office, which does not have professional journalists or fashion experts. "We meet a huge need," explains Sevda Eskici, a sociologist and member of the editorial team. "Women who wear the headscarf want to know they are not alone. What do they eat? What do they drink? What do they dream of? What are their problems? We are the first ones to be asking them these questions!"

In addition to the fashion pages that feature the works of artists such as Yetim Filiz, Âlâ provides content related to engagements, marriage, education, career, nutrition, psychology and the law, rather than scantily-clad women or gossip pages.

"Being a conservative is much easier today than it was 10 years ago, when we were insulted because we wore the headscarf," says Sevda Eskici.

Since the conservative Muslim party (AKP) came to power in Turkey in 2002, the Islamic headscarf debate has lost much of its force. The wife of the current Turkish president wears a headscarf, a symbol that has been widely decried by advocates of a strict secular state. Since September 2010, veiled female students have also been allowed to attend classes at universities, a practice which had long been prohibited.

"These women have gained confidence," confirms Ayse Gul Berktay, a sociologist at Istanbul University. "They are no longer seen as a problem – they're going to class, venturing out of their social circles. They are embracing their individualism. They are also being empowered through fashion."

More and more, this group is gaining ground against the Kemalist model of a "modern" Turkish woman who does not wear a headscarf. They are also gaining confidence through Turkey's economic boom, even though many still have trouble finding work. As political scientist Dilek Cindoglu notes in a report on "The Scarf and Discrimination," veiled women are still confined to menial jobs despite their qualifications and continue to be treated as a cheap labor source. Within the pages of Âlâ, these issues are widely debated.

"To have both a career and the three children advised by the Prime Minister is difficult – but possible," says Eskici.

"We support the emancipation of Muslim women," adds Atay, whose wife works in a bank. "We want them to lead companies. We should change the men who are far more conservative than the women!"

Read the original article in French

Photo - Âlâ magazine

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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