Afzaa Motiwala is a psychology student and beauty junkie living in Long Island, New York. She has amazing style and a love of brightly colored hijabs (she confesses to owning around 200 scarves!). Ahead, she talks about wearing eyeliner in elementary school, her grandmother’s hair secret and the body “flaw” she now embraces…
Your makeup is beautiful! How did you learn to do it so well?
I’ve learned almost everything I know by watching Youtube videos and Instagram tutorials. Usually, I come across one random video, then it will lead me to another, and another. I’m always mesmerized. I love Kaushal Beauty, Kathleen Lights and Sabina Hannan. I also get fashion tips from Dina Tokio and Saimastyleslike. Their style is modest yet trendy, they have great hijab tutorials and they’re hilarious. I’ve also gotten life advice from beauty bloggers, too. I was going through a hard time recently and I came across a video from one of the first beauty YouTubers I followed, JLovesMac1, called “Advice: Be Your Own Best Friend.” Her words have really stuck with me.
Do you wear makeup every day?
Yes. If I don’t, I feel weird, like something is missing. I think it would be fine not to, but I really love the ritual. I start with Smashbox Photo Finish Primer, then I apply Maybelline Fit Me foundation all over my face and concealer where I need it with a damp beauty blender, which makes it go on smoothly and evenly. To avoid under eye creases, I pull my skin down under my eye and blend before I set everything with NYX HD Finishing powder. Next, I use Smashbox Photo Op Eyeshadow Trio in Filter for my eyebrows and my eyeshadow — it works perfectly for both areas. I actually use two mascaras every day — the Too Faced Better Than Sex to add length, and L’Oreal Waterproof Voluminous to make them dark and full. I’ll curl my lashes before and after applying mascara. I know this is a lot for most people, but I swear it makes my lashes 10 times longer!
How do you change it up for special occasions?
I have a newfound obsession with adding glitter to my eyelids. I get it from Bulk Glitter, which sells cosmetic grade metallic glitter that’s approved for the skin. There are so many different colors, and one bitty jar is only a dollar.
Do you have a signature scent?
Beautiful Love by Estée Lauder. I’m a sucker for a rich jasmine scent. Burning incense in my home is also a big deal — not only does the air get more pleasant, it also relaxes the mind and body. My mom brings back rose incense every time she visits India.
What is the purpose behind the hijab?
Muslim women may choose to wear a headscarf for many reasons — for example, some believe that it’s required by God; others view it as a symbol of modesty. For me, wearing a hijab has given me an identity as a Muslim American. My hijab speaks for me before I do; it tells people about my morals, beliefs and values. It gives me a sense of self-confidence and strength. My mother and younger sister also wear the hijab, except when we’re at home or with all women or male family members.
How does wearing one affect your beauty routine?
Some people, who follow the religion very strictly, believe that wearing makeup while wearing the hijab contradicts the purpose behind it. I wear makeup because I love the way it looks and the artistic process. I believe I can still observe my faith without something as simple as makeup affecting my beliefs.
When did you start wearing a hijab?
I decided to start wearing one for myself when I was 17, but I’ve worn one in school since seventh grade. I went to an Islamic school where we had to wear a hijab and an abaya. It was the same long navy blue dress for a strict six years. My dad ran an Indian dress shop in Queens, New York, and I grew up loving bright and colorful things — so wearing the same solid color was terrible for me. We were supposed to wear blue sweatpants underneath, too, but my friends and I would rebel and dress in our own outfits and quickly show each other when the teachers weren’t looking. I remember my first day of college: I wore a bright mustard-colored shirt with a floral hijab — I was ecstatic!
What do you love about your religion?
Islam spreads compassion. For example, the Prophet Muhammad said, “He is not a true believer who eats his fill while his neighbor is hungry.” It teaches me that the color of my skin or status does not make me better than anyone else; everyone is equal in Islam. Islam keeps my life balanced, and teaches me to carry myself with respect. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it.
As a Muslim woman, how do you feel about the current political climate?
As a Muslim female who wears a hijab, I have to be very careful. I’m always looking over my shoulder when I’m walking, and I listen to my music with just one headphone in. I have experienced people looking at me strangely, flipping me off or saying things under their breath. I try to disregard it, but it still shocks me. Since the election, I know a lot of people have experienced it more, but I’ve also seen people stand up for themselves and the rights of others. Through the protests and rallies, people of different races and religions are coming together. I feel hopeful. Just yesterday in class, a non-Muslim girl took me to one side and said, “I just want to let you know that you’re not alone; we’re here for you, and if you want anyone to talk to one, I’m here.” She was a complete stranger!
When did you first gets interested in beauty?
When I was growing up, every day before elementary school, my mother would apply kajal eyeliner to my eyes. This is a traditional Indian practice to protect from the “evil eye.” I got sent to the principal’s office numerous times because of it, and teachers would send home letters saying that I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup to school, but my mom continued to do it. I think this — along with seeing Indian films with actresses who wore heavy eyeliner and makeup — sparked my interest in beauty.
What else did the women in your family teach you about beauty?
Whenever we visited India, I was always amazed at my Nani’s glowing skin and gorgeous hair. She would sit me down and brush my hair, then rub a few drops of coconut oil through my hair and braid it before I fell asleep. I would rinse it out in the morning. Not only was it a great bonding session, it taught me the importance of taking care of my hair and using natural ingredients. I still do it once every two weeks. It leaves my hair feeling soft and smelling delicious.
What else do you do to style and care for your hair?
Since you can’t see it under the hijab, I’ll tell you that I have long, thick, wavy hair. I use Head & Shoulders 2 in 1 Smooth & Silky every three to four days, then rinse with cold water to keep it shiny. I’ll straighten it if there’s a special occasion where my hair would be seen, like an all-girls party, and I make sure to use Tresemme Thermal Creations Heat Tamer Spray to avoid any damage.
Do you have any beauty guilty pleasures?
I love going to the drugstore for new nail polish. If I come across a color I don’t have, it’s something I must get! Some of my favorite are Demure Vixen by Essie, Vamplified Miracle Gel by Sally Hansen, and Teddy Brown by Milani.
Do you have a “game-changing” beauty product?
Tea tree oil. It was my best friend when I had major breakouts in high school! After many failed attempts with acne-reducing products, my dad ordered me a bottle of tree tea oil from eBay, and it worked miracles. If I ever get a pimple now, I just dab a bit on and it’s gone.
Is there any thing you you were insecure about growing up that you’ve learned to love?
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I had a big forehead, I would be rich. I was always teased about it. I constantly covered it with bangs or pushed down my hijab so that my forehead was hidden. Most of my pictures are angled or cropped in a way that my forehead is almost out of sight. But I have grown to accept it and see it as something that makes me different. If you can’t change it, embrace it, right?
What’s the most drastic thing you’ve ever done with your overall look?
Most of my life, I’ve had very brown hair that goes down below my waist — same with my mom and grandmother. In high school, before I wore my hijab all the time, I wanted to be different, so I chopped it into a bob and dyed it black with box dye from CVS. I loved it; my mom did not! Recently, I also got a nose piercing, which brings out a new type of attitude that I love.
Do you have any rituals that help you feel great?
Whenever I feel down or just need a boost, I love to apply henna. It relaxes my mind. Growing up, before weddings or Eid (the Islamic holiday), the ladies in my family would get together, and I’d apply henna on their hands. It started as a hobby, but my friends and family encouraged me to start my own business. I use henna from India that I mix with lemon juice and a few drops of tree tea oil. I love doing it, but it’s rough work — it can take up to eight hours! My clients are usually brides and their families. There’s a funny saying that the darker the henna comes out on the bride’s hand, the deeper the love her husband will have.
Thank you so much, Afzaa!