welcome to On beauty, a series where we take an in-depth look at a person’s relationship to beauty, how that relationship has transformed over the years, and how they experience being seen. This week, we chat with Jenan Matari, founder of Zaytoun advertisement, a public relations agency specializing in brands and founders of indigenous and minority origins.
Below, Jenan discusses navigating her identity and how she now uses beauty as a tool to share stories about her Palestinian heritage.
âI grew up in Montville, New Jersey, a very white suburb. We were one of the only Muslim families in town, so once a year my parents would come to my school and educate people about Islam. Especially after 9/11, they got involved to make sure people understood our family and our traditions. I was totally embarrassed, but I think it was my insecurities that perpetuated this feeling. stand out – I was already so different from other girls. I wasn’t allowed to wear those chain mini skirts that were all the rage at the time. I was like, ‘No, that’s it . I’m finished.’ A lot of beliefs in Islam are passed on by word of mouth; very few people research the religion on their own and learn what is really in the Quran. So we have these restrictions that are mostly imposed on women and I decided I wasn’t going to do that. I give my parents a lot of credit because they weren’t as conservative as other American Muslim households; it was more of what ‘I was taught in Islamic school and being humiliated by the leaders of the community who really rejected me. They preached that God is merciful and forgiving, but at the same time they were saying:’ If you don’t do that, there’s no turning back. ‘ So I just took a break.
âAfter my grandfather passed away, I took a trip to Australia where I met a boy and we started dating. His family basically said that I was not ‘Muslim enough’ and that that wasn’t gonna work. that moment I was like, ‘Who are you to tell me I’ve had enough?’ So that’s really what started this deep dive into learning about Islam from a historical perspective and not just taking what someone’s uncle’s father told me as a made.”
Jenan visits his family in Jordan.
Jenan and her family in New Jersey.
âI felt powerful; whenever someone told me that I couldn’t do something or that it was inappropriate for me to do something and blame our faith, I finally had the tools to say it wasn’t true. And so it kind of makes people stop and think a minute before they go say something to the next woman.
âIt’s funny because when my parents threw me a Sweet 16, my mom suggested we put on some Arabic music for our family and I was like, ‘Absolutely not.’ All these years later I’m home planning my wedding and writing the songlist for the DJ and my mom says, “Maybe you should tone down the Arabic music. My wedding was such a moment. for me to really share my culture with my friends and stop hiding. “
âI was trying to tell a story via Instagram and when I searched forâ photos of Palestine âorâ Palestinian photos âon Google, the only things that came out were photos of bombings and tragedies. Palestine’s existence online looks like a tragedy. And while that is certainly a reality, it is not at all what our people have been for thousands of years. There is no normalcy involved. when it comes to portraying Palestinian life and there is so much more to our history and I see fashion and beauty as a way of portraying that.
âI’m wearing more traditional Palestinian clothes now. I’m more invested in our beauty rituals now, especially using Nabulsi soap in my skin care routine. It’s basically olive oil and water, so I found it really soothing to my skin. The kohl eyeliner and my Palestinian clothes are conversation pieces – someone can compliment my makeup or my outfit and this is an opportunity for me to share stories about my culture and religion. I’ve learned to be much more intentional and aware of the things I wear because I understand how powerful a t-shirt can be. “