Amongst the blonde hair, elongated limbs and pale skin that fill our magazines and TV screens, Iman Eldeeb’s curly hair, brown skin and gorgeous Arab features bring a refreshing new face to the world of fashion. With only a handful of successful Egyptian models on either the national and international stage, Iman has found that she is smashing stereotypes and pushing boundaries at home and abroad by traveling the world showcasing her edgy style and even being featured in Vogue Italia. To find out what life is like behind the camera for an Egyptian model, we had a sit down with this charasmatic beauty.
Modeling is a career choice that is not traditionally accepted in Egypt, and as such, Iman’s path has not been an easy stride down the catwalk. Even moving to Italy, the heart of fashion to study fashion design was something that Iman faced opposition from her parents for, “My father was completely against it. Egyptian parents are usually very conservative so traveling abroad alone was a big issue”. After trying out modeling whilst studying in Italy, Iman abandoned the world of traditional jobs for a life in front of the camera, something that her parents were not initially happy with, “When parents feel like they have spent a lot of money on education and then you do something that’s not really in the plan for you, they feel like it was a waste. I remember the first time my dad saw one of my pictures online, he kind of disowned me”, Iman reveals.
Although things have improved with her parents, the stigma towards modeling in Egypt runs deep, she explains, “Mostly the negativity towards models here isn’t about the outfits, it is just perceived as a dirty industry”. The rapid development of the local fashion scene is starting to disrobe this negativity, however there are still significant issues, “Up-and-coming designers are just targeting the A-Class, but it has to go from bottom to top to educate people”, Iman tells us. She also frequently sees a misunderstanding of how to use models in Egypt, according to her, “Designers here often want to make a statement just to show that they are outside of the box, so their models wear very little. The result can often come out as vulgar as opposed to art”.
On the international stage, Iman has faced multiple challenges due to not fitting the conventional cardboard cutout mould, “People will tell you things like, ‘we’d take you if you were blonde’ or ‘you’re too black for us'”. But Iman has learnt to take these difficulties and turn them into her strengths, “You have to have thick skin, embrace your own style and character and know how to represent yourself. If someone tells you no 50 times, it doesn’t mean no, it means you have to find the 51st time to go around it”, she explains.
The fashion industry in recent years has taken a lot of heat for its lack of diversity, and Iman confirms that this is still a big issue, according to her, “Fashion shows often include a dark-skinned model as a token to say they aren’t racist. People are still trying to fight for diversity, for example pages on Instagram that only feature girls from different ethnicities to show that these girls do exist and they are not just token models”. Even in Egypt, much of the advertising that surrounds us contains Western models, and Iman tells us about the negative impact this can have, “If young girls see these Western models in advertising, they will compare themselves to these girls. But there is no comparison, each one is different in their own way”.
Iman has taken this battle to change stereotypes and perceptions of Egyptian models as her own personal responsibility, “At some point I felt like when I was working abroad I wasn’t just representing myself, I was also representing my country. I want to continue doing this, not just for myself but to encourage young girls that they have so much potential. It is about changing their perspectives of fears, because here in Egypt fear is all illusions, you are scared of things that don’t exist, of ‘what-ifs?'”.
These restrictions aren’t just a problem in the fashion industry, Iman sees them throughout Egyptian society, “A lot people aren’t happy because they are studying and working in things because their parents told them to. There is a desire to stand on your own two feet first. But if you are doing something you hate and then change to go into something you love, you’ll still have to start from the bottom. So it is better to start with something that will make you stronger in the long run, rather than doing something that will make you mentally exhausted”, she advises. With a determination to push boundaries and put Egypt on the fashion map, we are excited for what the future has in store for Iman Eldeeb!
Check out Iman Eldeeb’s website and find her on Instagram at @camelicked