As a young, black Muslim woman growing up in Detroit, model and style blogger Leah Vernon rarely saw her own experiences reflected in media. But several years ago, she set out to change that as she built a career as an Instagram influencer and model.
Last year, Vernon published a memoir called Unashamed: Musings of a Fat, Black Muslim. It's the story of how she learned to override peoples' expectations, and found her path to social media stardom.
The 31-year-old fashion blogger now uses her platform to challenge assumptions about what models, influencers, and Muslim women look like. Her Instagram is full of brightly-colored photo shoots paired with honest and open captions. That vulnerability, Vernon explained, helped her connect with other people and build a sizable following on Instagram.
She never expected to be blogging or writing a memoir. Vernon got into writing through fiction, focusing on creating dystopian and science fiction stories for young adults. And while it is not always easy to share her personal life with strangers, Vernon said, it has ultimately been freeing.
“I think it’s important for people to be able to share their truths, and not be ashamed about it, and not hide it because it’s just so much weight to carry when we hide things. And I know a lot of marginalized women and individuals, we hide so much.”
Women who look like Vernon are far more visible than they once were. 2019 was, after all, the year of Lizzo. The singer, who champions body positivity, skyrocketed to the top of the charts with her single “Truth Hurts.” It was also the year the country’s first two Muslim women were sworn into Congress. Still, Vernon said, there is still a long way to go.
“I would love to see more marginalized bodies, whether that means queer, whether that means Muslim, dark-skinned, whether that means you are in a wheelchair or you use assisted devices, I want to see more of that in mainstream commercials, and high fashion, and beauty.”
As for what’s next, Vernon said she wants to continue to build her modeling career in New York and beyond. And she’s planning to publish a second book. This time, Vernon said, she's returning to her writing roots with a science fiction novel.
Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Olive Scott.