Sunday, March 29, 2009

Standing in the Way of My Own Success

Going into this business, or any for that matter, I knew it was not only a distinct possibility but a matter of time before I would seemingly stand in the way of my own success. As long as I'm online behind the safe haven of my flat panel display everything is fine. It's when I appear before the public that I become my own hindrance. I'm speaking about my appearance in public. It's off-putting and quite frankly takes many people off guard. It distracts them from what's on my table, and redirects their attention to me personally. Now, I guess you're saying to yourself that's silly. Why not change your clothing? That's easier said than done. You see I am a Muslim woman. That alone without the accompanying attire is enough to stop some folks in their tracks.

I wear all appropriate attire dictated by my religion. I wear a hijab (head scarf) and a veil (face covering). Yes, I wear both of those, but I'm an honest soap-maker I swear it! I wear pretty much what you see in that photo, although Sadie the bellydancer who is the lady in the photo, is a bit more beautiful about the eyes that I am. My eyes aren't quite so captivating. I assume though that you get the point. I am covered almost completely from head to toe and it is most intriguing to some.

I suppose you may be able to imagine exactly why this may present me with a unique situtation when selling things in person at a show. The big issue is that people see me. I have been wearing this attire, (and yes I wear a myriad of colors so as not to totally scare people with an all black ensamble) for about 11 years now so I am fully accustomed to stares, oohs and ahhhs, the ever-present look of disgust, the looks of pity, and the pseudo-frightful startling that I sometimes induce upon entering a room. All these things don't bother me as much as the prejudice I encounter when selling at a venue. Let me ask you reader, and you may answer this to yourself but I prefer that if you read this you answer the following in the comments section. If you saw a Muslim woman dressed as I have described, would you not buy from her based on her appearance? This is what happens to me. Whenever I go somewhere to sell the first thing I must overcome with the general public is my own attire. I must make extra efforts to strike a conversation with them to appear less intimidating. This is a small issue in itself, given that I am quite introverted and sometimes have a difficult time just striking up conversation with total strangers. However, it's a hit and miss kind of thing. Sometimes when I venture to speak I get a weird "don't-talk-to-me" look and they walk immediately away from the table. Only those people who aren't totally prejudice or thrown off actually ask the question on their mind. Usually they ask where I'm from. Well I'm from Chicago born and raised. I am an African-American and have never been overseas a day in my life. People sometimes are relieved to find that I have no foreign accent, and I can get on with the business of a sales pitch.

All this proves very difficult at times, and depending on where I am it can totally halt all sales. My best selling venture was not surprisingly at an all Muslim function. There, no one cared how I was dressed because we were all Muslim anyway. Many of the ladies knew me and I made a ton of money.

I guess I am writing this to get it off my chest and to write out loud how prejudice people are in reality. I mean your average American walking down the street has such hang ups about those who are or appear different from them, so much so that buying a product from me dressed the way I am is unthinkable. I'll keep plodding along though and never let it be something that prevents me from doing what I like, and offering a product to people that I believe in, and that I'm pretty sure they will enjoy.

Thanks for reading.


Les said...


Reading your post, you asked a question?

"If you saw a Muslim woman dressed as I have described, would you not buy from her based on her appearance?"

No... I wouldn't buy from you simply because from my point of view, it's not about your clothing or your religion/culture but about body language.

Many people would say the same thing I imagine? Body language is important and wearing your full attire is a distraction, even if that isn't your intent.

Other people feel intimidated too, so that's another sale you've lost.

As a non muslim living in Scotland UK I can personally say that many of us non muslims have nothing against your religion or culture and we do welcome you to our respective countries with open arms...

But somethings, we just wish you take some time out and try to make an effort to fit in with our traditions too?

I realise it's difficult as many muslims are firmly traditional in regards to their upbringing but it wouldn't hurt to fit in on the odd occasion, surely?

Good luck :)

earthtonesbath said...

Even though I am late to reply, I appreciate your response. I didn't think anyone was interested enough to actually read the post!

It's interesting that you wouldn't buy from me not specifically because of the clothes but because of body language? I'm not sure I understand that but I can respect it.

As for fitting in with traditions, many Muslims have been born and raised in Islam, and so not only is it an issue of religion, it is an issue of culture. Sometimes, Muslims feel like too much is asked to compromise in the effort to blend in more.

As for myself, being born and raised in America as a non-Muslim, I understand the culture here fully. My Islamic convictions have nothing to do with culture, neither the hatred of nor attachment to one. For me it is exclusively a spiritual thing, and I have come to accept that for the most part my business, and indeed just about any endeavor I embark upon will suffer somewhat.

I'm not totally against mixing and mingling among the general population. I don't believe in separatism, and for the most part I welcome the opportunity to interact. However, I know I will never be fully accepted unless I fully least outwardly if not inwardly as well.

I thank you for your thoughtful comment.