She’s just “a broke college student who happened to get blessed this opportunity,” according to her. Ainee Fatima, 22, is a nationally recognized poet, writer, columnist and now a social activist for Seventeen magazine’s Chime for Change. You might have seen her pictures circulating the Internet as the first hijabi to grace the pages of Seventeen! I got the chance to speak to Ainee about her experience at Seventeen’s New York office, haters, Chime for Change, her poetry, makeup and her plans for the future all over the phone while she was all the way in Chicago…on a train.
L: You’ve gotten a pretty big response to your feature in Seventeen. What do you think about all of your supporters and their comments and messages?
AF: A lot of people are like ‘Oh my god it’s like you’re our friend!’ It’s weird that like a lot of people I don’t even know considered me like a friend. I was so happy that I got this kind of response. Even a lot of older Muslim women they’re like ‘I never ever had the guts to do what you did at your age especially here in America…like even trying to be Indian was hard forget being Muslim!’ I never thought about it like that.
L: How did it all begin with the Seventeen feature? Who reached out to who? What was the process like?
AF: They just emailed me and I don’t know where they got my email, I don’t know who told them about me. I was going through like a really really really really bad time like two months ago so I was like losing hope in like everything and they reached out to me and I was like wow this is so not what I expected to get, you know? So I emailed them back and I was scared that it wasn’t real. I went to New York for two days and it was the last day of my finals. So, I had to finish all my finals and I had two days to decide if I wanted to go or not. They emailed me on Saturday and I left on Monday. And my parents didn’t have time to think about sending me because it was so quick and I didn’t have time to think about it either so I was just like alright I’ll come. I didn’t know what it was going to be about and I was scared that if I had gone all the way over there like what if they twisted my words about Islam or something you know I’ve seen magazines do that. I was scared it was going to be a small picture in the magazine and a small feature so I had to make sure with the Seventeen staff like what was going on and they were really really nice. So I got there and we went to the photo shoot and they interviewed me and they’re like ‘You’re the first hijabi in Seventeen’ and I was like ‘You’re kidding right?’ She’s like ‘No, you’re the first one’ and I was like wow that’s something really big.
L: Do you get haters and what do you say to them?
AF: I responded to one person who said that because I feel like they don’t understand what’s happening here; the fact that we can’t support one another. I try not to respond to it. I try not to give them the satisfaction of me responding.”
L: What would you say to those who have a dream to go out and make a difference but feel like there obstacles get in their way (fear, money, family, etc.)?
AF: I have anxiety too I still have anxiety about all this. Make sure you have a really good support system because I really wouldn’t be here without people who have been supporting me. Having that support system really gives you that drive to accomplish what they want to. And be passionate about what you want to do, don’t be scared because if you’re scared then you’re not passionate enough. You’re being scared for other reasons.”
L: How do you plan on continuing your journey for social justice?
AF: That’s what Chime for Change is, the campaign I’m working on with Seventeen and what they do is they invest in young girls and young women because I think it’s important to invest in women and statistics have shown that organizations that invest more in the lives of the women do more change than any other organization when you compare it to investing in men. So there’s justice, so social justice comes in with that combating that through education and they’ve opened up all these health clinics and schools in places like Pakistan and that’s where I’m trying to go. The message goes out but if you’re just online and not doing anything in real life then that’s not really productive. Anyone can get involved all you have to do is look for a project that you are passionate about and you start off a fund that goes to them and get the word out on campus. What they want to do is perfectly in line with what Islam is about, especially for women. So this is perfect for me to get involved with.
L: I know you’re a nationally recognized poet and you were even recognized by Sec. of State Hilary Clinton. When did you start writing and performing poetry? When did you realize it was a passion of yours?
AF: It started in high school. I wrote before that, but I started competing in high school. After we finished competing the first year, I became a hijabi and I was really self-conscious about what to write about. Then, I realized it gave me that voice that I needed. After the first year, I started hijab and that really gave me that confidence boost and it kind of had an edge over the other poets because they’ve never seen a Muslim girl talk about religion the way I did. That did help me in the competition and it helped get my voice out. It started hitting me that this is something different.
L: Fun question: what got you into doing movie and book character inspired makeup?
AF: I was an art student in high school and my parents wouldn’t let me pursue it [later.] So I took it out through makeup after I graduated and it was like the only way I could do it. They would rather buy makeup for me rather than painting supplies and stuff. So I kind of just took it out through that. I try to get really creative and do different stuff.
L: What are your plans for the future? Where do you want to see yourself in 5 years?
AF: I’m pursuing a degree in Islamic studies right now and International Relations so I’m hoping to go work with the State Department and get involved. I’m hoping to head out to DC. And hopefully pursue my Masters in Islamic Studies at Georgetown [University] because they have a really good program. And I’m going to start writing more I guess. I want to publish a book of poetry soon or even just write. Hopefully, I’m going to compete in college slams next year too because I haven’t done that since high school and work with Chime for Change and get the word out about the campaign.
To watch a behind the scenes looks at Ainee’s trip to New York, watch the video below!