Stereotypes about Arab Muslim women continue to present them as oppressed and incapable of living their lives on their own terms, but one travel vlogger is fighting to dismiss these misconceptions, one YouTube video at a time.
Two years ago, Haifa Beseisso quit her cushy job as a producer in Dubai to follow her passions - travelling the world and connecting with people across cultures.
“It all started with this suffocation feeling that I used to get every single day,” she told Khaleej Times. “Although it was a great company I was working for, it wasn't what I wanted to do. I wasn't saying the things I wanted to say. This suffocation was just there.”
Harnessing the power of social media
A travelling aficionado, the multi-talented 25-year-old decided to take to the skies and document her travels on her YouTube channel, Fly With Haifa.
Like many millennials, Beseisso saw YouTube as a platform to freely express her ideas without having to worry about being censored.
“What was to me a no on TV, was a yes in the Internet world,” she explained. “This shows you the difference of traditional media and new media. How new media actually invites real people and wants you as you are. If you fake it, you're out. I feel like this generation of people are hungry to explore and be themselves, to speak out. That's what's beautiful about the Internet.”
Since starting her adventure, Beseisso has travelled to over 30 countries and done everything from making sushi with a Japanese family to visiting a remote village in Tanzania.
Fighting negative stereotypes with a smile
But her videos are not only about travelling to exotic places around the world, she’s also conscious of people’s perceptions of Muslim women and challenges these stereotypes head on.
“In Italy, I stood with a board and I wrote on it "I'm a Muslim and that makes me..." and I had some pens and people came to complete the sentence,” she said. “Everything was positive, all the people would take the pen from my hand and write some amazing things. I feel like as much as we see there is some craziness happening in the world, there is also some goodness there.”
You guys gave me some crazy creative dares to do in #Japan Do you think I was able to do them? Check out the new episode to find out what happened#DareMe in #Japan حلقة تحديات اليابان صارت جاهزة في القناة! تحديتوني أعمل أشياء مجنونة شوفوا شو صار معي #الرابط_في_البايو I love the Japanese people wallah
Creating bonds across cultures
Beseisso’s emphasis on being a global citizen and connecting with people on a deeper level, is what makes her videos such a success.
Life is so pink With the lovely Lolita influencer and Japanese YouTuber @rinrindoll Stay tuned for our collab That's my trying to be a Lolita مع اليوتيوبر اليابانية رنرن ترقبوا الفيديو الي تعاونّا فيه لرمضان إن شاء الله صحيح شو حابين تشوفوا لرمضان محضرة أشياء جديدة ومجنونة إن شاء الله تعجبكم@tzesikailiovitsphotography
The people she meets during her travels are at the center of the stories she tells and in the current climate of division, her conversations highlight the things that bring people together.
Hello beautiful people Today is the last day to vote for your fav upcoming YouTuber from #ForsatyChallenge 10 beautiful girls submitted their videos Visit the website to make sure to help a girl reach her dream #GirlPower www.forsatychallenge.com حبايبي الجميلين اليوم آخر يوم للتصويت لليوتيوبر المفضلة عندكم من مسابقة فرصتي ما تنسوا تشوفوا الفيديوهات وتصوتوا لأكتر يوتيوبر حبيتوها على الموقع دائما بكون بدّي أعيط وانا بحضرهم Www.forsatychallenge.com
“My message is to say: me, as an Arab, a Muslim girl, I’m a human being,” she told Emirates Woman. “I like jumping from mountains, I like diving, just like you! We can be friends! In my purse I have a lipstick, not a gun. It’s hard – there’s sweat and tears but the views keep you going.”
One thing that I love using during my travels are websites that help me compare prices of different airlines Lately I've been using @tajawal.travel Another feature that I found helpful is that it gives you tips on the best restaurants and destinations to visit! I booked a new ticket today for a destination and something crazy that I'm gonna do I can't wait for you guys to be a part of it I love you #TravelTips #Collab وحدة من الأشياء الي تساعدني وانا بحجز تذاكر للسفر هي المواقع الي تقارن كل أسعار الطيران وتقدر تحجز من خالها تخليك تعرف شو أفضل طيران يناسبك لهذه الرحلة وواحد من هذه الموقع هو @tajawal.travel والحلو كمان انه يعطي معلومات عن أماكن حلوة الواحد يزورها في البلد! #عليهم #نصائح_للسفر
Although Beseisso didn’t set out to be a role-model, she has become an inspiration for other hijabis dreaming of travelling across the world.
“I get emails from other hijabis saying: ‘I wanted to travel the world but I thought it was impossible – I was scared about how others would look at me or treat me,’” she explained. “My message wasn’t to inspire other hijabis to do things but it seems like I’m doing that.”