A Thousand Lives
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A Thousand Lives

Yousra’s Catwalk: Global Feminism In Paris

Yasmina Diallo shows us a wonderful intersection where feminism gets messy

Photo by Aziz Acharki Unsplash

Most days, how I dress is definitely more about utility than aesthetics. My style isn’t usually bold, or flashy, or even particularly coordinated. What business do I have, then, to put my two cents in on Yasmina Diallo’s Yousra’s Catwalk, the story of a young Muslim girl getting tangled in the Parisian fashion and journalism industry?

Well, although life on the catwalk is not mine, as a teenage girl, I remember clinging to the words of Cosmopolitan Magazine and J14 and their advice columns. Diallo captures so well the parasitic relationship between dating advice columns and young girls, how they are expected to be in control of their love lives and the behaviour of men is to be tolerated rather than contested. 10 Tips To Make Him Notice You! 5 Ways To Make Him Miss You!

Yasmina Diallo takes us on a journey that reflects her own life experiences as a young Muslim woman who also did modelling in her 20s. In a world where women’s fashionable and religious choices are subject to endless critique combined with industry-wide problems such as workplace harassment, female rivalry, and harmful beauty standard, Yousra’s Catwalk shows us a woman’s struggles in a man’s world.

It was the main character’s (Yousra Jalba) occupational and spiritual journey through these famously cut-throat industries that caught my attention. It is made clear from the start that Yousra is a principled, talented, but an ultimately confused young woman who has been chucked into high spaces before she can decide what she really wants.

*Spoilers* are included in this article. Read at your own risk.

Please note, a copy of this book was kindly gifted to us by the author, in exchange for an honest review.

A Feminism For All

What I respect most about Yousra’s Catwalk is the nuanced approach to feminism and the way that women should expect to be treated. Not all women are the same or want the same things, and Diallo shines a lot on the common failure to understand this in the workplace and among friendships. Yousra’s tight-knitted bond with her cousin, Kena, is put to the test when expensive brands are used as a pressure device on Yousra to titillate an abusive boss.

The natural conclusion of being a pretty woman is not that it is therefore open season for them to be subject to endless sexual harassment, abuse, and critique.

In this train of thought, the autonomy of women is at the forefront, regardless of what they decide their priorities are. Traditional Grandma Aziza’s grounding in religion is just as valid as Yousra’s nebulous grapplings with Islam and a career in fashion. In this book, feminism has room to simultaneously accommodate women who publicly reveal and celebrate their bodies and those who decide to keep their bodies private.

Diallo points out the blatant hypocrisy of what we’ll call ‘girl boss feminism’, which insists that a woman who climbs the ranks in her career while capitulating to the same patriarchal aesthetic ideal in the name of empowerment is more feminist than a woman who wears a hijab and stays out of relationships to focus on herself.

Men And Other Problems

Admittedly, I question the somewhat vague relationship between Yousra and Yvan. I was unsure whether they were best friends or officially in a romantic relationship, which is why the ending threw me off in particular.

After writing a lengthy article about spending your younger years free from the pressures of dating, Yousra is engaged by the next chapter, thus marking the end of the story. While I don’t think it counteracts or undoes the feminist discourses that are present in this book, I’m not sure if Yvan fully fits into this story yet.

Overall, despite the affirmations that young women have more going for them than who they can date and how beautiful they can be to men, everyone does seem to naturally pair off. The conflict surrounding Kena’s wedding is not a surprising one; Priscilla and Yousra are the characters that definitely could have taken a different path when it comes to marriage and children.

As well as this, I fear that too much is being dealt with in such a small novella. In 150 pages, we are encouraged to think about the fashion industry, journalism, racism, misogyny, Islam, and how we conduct our relationships with our friends and family who are different from us.

Many problems are faced without solutions and seem more like isolated events, even though we acknowledge that these are industry-wide problems (inappropriate advances from bosses and teachers). Many conflicts seem to fizzle out without us, like that between Kena and Yousra.

Show, Don’t Tell

Furthermore, the structure of this book is very interesting and left me with mixed feelings. Initially, I loved that this book doesn’t actually include any descriptions.

Yousra’s Catwalk consists of dialogue (in-person and digital), articles, and diary entries, so Yousra’s voice is literally at the centre of the book. Yousra writes about ‘pretty privilege’ but the reader has no clue what she really looks like other than a vague idea about her hair and when she covers it with her hijab. This was a nice touch that didn’t open arbitrary discussions about her appearance.

However, I hoped this collage of different ways to tell the story would provide us with something that conventional prose couldn’t. I imagine that this freeform narration would give us an insight into Yousra’s character and experience that would be much messier, much more conflicted than what we see. I wish that we could have seen that spiritual and religious evolution that she tells us about, or her relationship with Aziza while she is modelling. I think that there is a lot of untapped potential in this already promising novella.

Final Thoughts

The biggest problem with Yousra’s Catwalk is that it simply isn’t long enough to delve into all the problems that it addresses, which I think is a very good position to be in!

However, Yasmina Diallo brings a nuanced story at which feminism and women’s wellbeing is at the forefront. A brilliant layout has been set out, but there is a real potential to build on its foundation that could give us something very impressive indeed.

Yasmina Diallo is a children’s author by day but is currently working on other adult novels that we should definitely look out for. Yousra’s Catwalk can be purchased here.

Do you want to have the opportunity to review books for free? Apply to become a writer today to get started, or alternatively, send an email to: athousandlives20@outlook.com

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Elizabeth Sorrell

Elizabeth Sorrell

South London-based freelance writer, focusing on literature, theatre, and opinion pieces.

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