Many researches have considered intersectionality on beauty studies (Elias, 2017). A lot have also put attention to how religious values are appropriated in the industry (Indarti and Peng, 2017; Bucar, 2016). However, little has investigated on how religious values are incorporated and performed within the beauty construction. In Indonesia, Islamic values are commodified into the beauty industry through the quality marker halal and portrayals of modest women, which mainly, although not necessarily, use hijab.
In this article, I focus on modest beauty advertising and celebrity endorsement in Indonesia. I critically analyse the advertising campaign of Wardah, an Indonesian halal beauty brand, in how it incorporates Islamic values into the neoliberal femininity to attract middle-class Muslims. I argue that this new form of femininity have a disciplinary power, recognised and reinforced by Wardah and its social media followers. However, the femininity also serves as a cultural capital that has exchangeable value with their fame and endorsement. These relations between Islamic norms and beauty construction suggest that hijab and piety have a more nuanced meaning for women in Indonesia than simply a symbol of oppression.
The research will be a case study of several textual analyses: Wardah television commercials and Instagram posts, comments on “inappropriate” ads, website content on Wardah celebrity ambassadors, and the Instagram page of Wardah ambassadors.
Firstly, I will define the values of Islam and neoliberal femininity which are promoted by analysing Wardah commercials. Secondly, I will analyse people’s comments on Wardah social media page in policing which looks and gestures of its celebrities in its ads are thought as appropriate or not. Thirdly, I will analyse two primary Wardah celebrity ambassadors as the embodiment of pious-femininity, the form of cultural capital, to investigate how their journey to piety has exchangeable value with their career.
Islam and neoliberalism
Islamic identity, in particular hijab, has different meanings in every cultural context (Abu Lughod, 2002; Arimbi, 2009; Mohanty, 2003). In Indonesia, wearing hijab was a struggle for women’s emancipation and anti-colonialism when the use was banned by the New Order era in the eighties (Arimbi, 2009, p. 37). However, after the authoritarian New Order period ended on 1998, Islamic identities took various form, from the political to the apolitical neoliberal Islam.
Islamic identities are more visible in Indonesia after 1998. The open market policy during the New Order allowed the upward mobility of the middle-class which Muslims are the 88.2 per cent of the population (Pew Research Centre, 2009, as cited in Rakhmani, 2016, p. 6). Rakhmani (2016) states that the growing Muslim middle-class connects Islamic values with consumption habits as a consequence of ‘neoliberal economic restructuring programs’, opening up Muslim markets by building a halal shopping experience. For a country with Muslim as a majority, the market potential for Islamic brands is enormous.
Wardah began to advertise in 2012 and utilises halal as a quality marker. The word halal means “permitted by the Islamic law” (Wilson, 2014, as cited in Ali, Ali, and Sherwani, 2017). However, halal is transcending as a global symbol synonymous with quality, safety, cleanliness, nutritious (Ali, Ali, and Sherwani, 2017; Anabi and Ibidapo-Obe, 2016). For skin care, halal is translated as alcohol-free, cruelty-free, and gentle on skin. Alcohol is an element that is not permissible in Islam. Animal slaughter is also heavily regulated in the halal industry, specifying the way of butchering the animal, cleaning it, and minimalise pain. Gentle is the more pragmatic takeout of being alcohol-free which Wardah always inserts in its ads along with its halal claim.
Wardah extends this modality by establishing a brand value related to Islamic norms and synthesises it to ‘modern’ femininity characterised by neoliberalism through the portrayal of women in its advertisements. The Islamic teaching emphasises a balance between the relationship to god and others. Human beings are khalifah, entrusted with the responsibility of looking after the Earth. It stresses the importance of almsgiving (Oxford Islamic Studies, 2018; Hassan, 2014). It also teaches to pursue knowledge beyond the Quran (ijtihad) and to fulfil the daily needs (ikhtiar).
The neoliberal aspect of femininity is characterised by active, entrepreneurial, self-optimising subjects (Elias, 2017). It carries what Gill (2007) defines as postfeminist sensibility. It emphasises individualism, empowerment, and femininity as a bodily property, self-discipline, and surveillance.
Commercial analysis: identifying the Islamic-neoliberal femininity
For the purpose of identifying the Islamic-neoliberal femininity in Wardah, I analyse three commercials: Ramadhan TVC (wardahbeauty, 2018, April 30), the day & night cream TVC (wardahbeauty, 2016, October 18), independence day TVC (wardahbeauty, 2017, August 22). I also look at fashion events Wardah posted on their YouTube account (wardahbeauty, 2017, October 18).
In all TVCs, the Islamic values appear in their use of hijab. In the independence day and Ramadhan TVC, Islamic values are shown in their care of the others (the children and the needy). The day & night cream TVC shows the woman passionately does her daily activities from day to night, which is inline with the ikhtiar. In the Ramadhan TVC, the VO says “smile wholeheartedly, from the heart, the smile that shows patient, forgiving, and the smile that brings happiness.” The whole message translates to the value of sincerity and specifically Ramadhan’s value of forgiveness. Furthermore, the Ramadhan TVC shows the women’s involvement with the mosque. The independence day TVC VO stresses the capability of women to inspire. It is in line with the wisdom of khalifah who looks after and take care of the earth, in this context, the nation.
Although the individualism was a bit downplayed with the philanthropist values, the neoliberal characteristics are nonetheless apparent. All TVCs show empowerment as an individual choice and femininity as bodily property. All individuals are shown as active with the capacity to provide to their own needs. In the day & night cream TVC, the woman chooses to have her ‘stable job’ as a boutique manager during the day and continue her ‘hobby’ as a graffiti artist during the night. She is seen as empowered to maintain both her job and her hobby. She is responsible for maintaining her beautiful face and smiling even though in reality having activity all day and night is surely exhausting. In the independence day TVC, the end VO says, “we believe everyone can give, respect, care, and give inspirations to the nation.” The idea of giving the responsibility of closing the structural inequality gap to the individuals indicates one of the postfeminist sensibilities. Moreover, all the women have relatively fair skin, are affluent middle-class, and able-bodied.
In their fashion event, Islamic values are shown through the modest clothing and the portrayals of local young women designers doing ikhtiar and ijtihad. The modernity is shown as glamour and prestige, promoting individual capacity to provide for her ambition through Wardah Fashion Award, a competition for emerging designers.
The Islamic values and neoliberal femininity are indeed not mutually exclusive but neatly combined through the portrayals of women and their activities all throughout the TVC. Wardah wraps all her campaign with its tagline, translates as “beauty from the heart”. It suggests that beauty is not only skin deep but also radiates from a person through her kind heart. The tagline encapsulates both Islamic values and the neoliberal femininity.
Through the combination of neoliberalism and modesty, a new kind of femininity emerges: the active & career-oriented women who are pious (doing ikhtiar, ijtihad, and care for others). For the purpose of this paper, I will use the term pious-femininity.
The synopticon-panopticon dyad
The pious-femininity Wardah is promoting creates a disciplinary power through the use of social media. As Foucault explains, power is exercised by taking hold of the body (Foucault, 1977). For Foucault, the body is docile, subject to be measured, evaluated, and judged. The women’s bodies portrayed through Wardah’s posts are evaluated and policed based on the values of femininity Wardah is promoting.
The disciplining goes both ways, from Wardah to the followers and vice versa. This power is recognised and consistently reinforced through a “synopticon” model (Skeggs, 2009). The “synopticon” was coined by Thomas Mathiesen (1997), drawing from Foucault’s idea of the panopticon. Mathiesen (1997) argues that the mass media disciplines the body by having a large number of audience evaluating the many people portrayed in the media. The synopticon and panopticon work together and “reciprocally feed on each other” (p. 231). Through Wardah’s Instagram account, the values of femininity are recognised by its followers, taken as the norms. The followers police and evaluate the women in Wardah ads based on those norms. The followers’ comments are acknowledged by Wardah, by taking care not to feature any women outside of those accepted norms.
There is only a particular way of wearing hijab and specific kind of face that is acceptable. On wearing hijab, the acceptable way is to have the neck covered completely (wardahbeauty, 2016, December 4):
ccokta: Yuna is pretty but her neck is uncovered, I suppose it is not allowed to wear hijab and leave the neck exposed @yunamusic
Wardah has never posted any hijab woman with the neck uncovered ever since.
Transparent fabric is also unacceptable (wardahbeauty, 2018, April 22):
_kindaaa: why people like to wear transparent hijab, is it just me who thinks it is strange [flatface emoticon]
premiermuguet: I think it’s not a hijab
Regarding the face, there are preferences on a more natural, fresh, and ‘youthful’ look (wardahbeauty, 2018, April 22; April 2):
hannagumelar: need more glow on Dewi’s face
rorohanaliesia: The makeup makes her look old, sorry [sad emoticon]
miyomijc: the make up is off. I do not know why (sorry) it looks old… especially on the eyes
However, a comment points out how Wardah only features fair-skinned models (wardahbeauty, 2017, December 15; wardahbeauty, 2018, May 20). The below comments show some agency capacity and the possibility of resistance against the conception that beauty has to be fair-skinned.
pinkwine99: I wish Wardah would feature models with darker skin tone. Just a request [love emoticon]
nataliamanurung95: I wish wardah would make more logical ads.. this is Indonesia.. the skin has darker tones from birth, there are lot of skin tones.. korean girls have fair skin from birth.. hahaha… she is pretty… but she’s the wrong model…
The followers praise the celebrity as beautiful and mention how hijab adds quality to that beauty (wardahbeauty, 2018, April 2):
bcrjunop: wearing hijab does not make her less pretty.. may allah give her guidance aamiin.
haniafifah21: praise allah raline you are so beautiful wearing hijab [multiple love and kiss emoticons]
Other comments express how beauty should not only be skin deep (wardahbeauty, 2018, May 20):
najwarsd: ayana [love emoticons] has a beautiful face and heart, if Allah wills it @xoloveayana
sloukhunu_: beauty is not only by the face but by the heart
From the comments, we see that the conception of beauty conflates with the Islamic values Wardah promotes. This constant synopticon-panopticon dyad reciprocally feeds each other, creating a very particular category of beauty where the woman’s body and self-performance are always the subject of scrutiny.
Pious-femininity as cultural capital
As the conception of beauty conflates with Islamic values, the celebrities do aesthetic labour as part of their journey to piety, which is both framed by Wardah and performed ‘voluntarily’ as part of their identity. As Elias (2017) argues, looking good also require the psychic life makeover to embrace confidence, happiness, and authenticity. The turn to Islam and piety feed to this psychic dimension of looking good. Thus, the performance of pious-femininity is itself a cultural capital that has an exchangeable value with their endorsement in Wardah. It also serves as a status marker of well-respected celebrities.
Wardah invested a lot in celebrity endorsement. Wardah organises Islamic-related events and sponsored Indonesian designers team for the New York Fashion Week where its ambassadors participate (wardahbeauty, 2017, June 19; wardahbeauty, 2015). Wardah made digital videos of mother’s day and celebrity birthdays (wardahbeauty, 2018, April 3). These evidences show how pivotal the celebrity endorsers are for Wardah and how Wardah is also important for the celebrity’s visibility in those prestigious events. Thus maintaining their image to be consistent to Wardah’s value is also crucial.
Celebrities have the power to influence the masses (Marshall, 2014). The social media and its promise of authenticity allow fans to engage directly and have a peek at the celebrity’s personal life. The personal and the public life of a celebrity are enmeshed together in the presence of the social media. The increasing importance of social media makes everyone, in particular, the celebrities, do aesthetic labour in performing their selves.
Driessens (2013) states that celebrity is a form of capital. Celebrity possesses social status that can be exchanged with many different capital (Gunter, 2014, as cited in Rübsamen, 2015, p. 131). Female celebrities, in particular, embody other forms of capital related to their gender. Drawing from Pierre Bourdieu’s cultural capital, Skeggs (1997) states that femininity is a form of cultural capital. She explains, “it is the discursive position available through gender relations that women are encouraged to inhabit and use. Its use will be informed by the network of social positions of class, gender, sexuality, region, age and race” (Skeggs, 1997, p. 9). Thus certain aspects of femininity are ascribed to a woman to signify modality such as respectable/not. Femininity for Skeggs (1997) is the process of gendering women to become specific kind of women. Becoming respectable proceeds through the experience of textually mediated femininity, in this case, the pious-femininity promoted by Wardah through the celebrity endorsement.
I compare the two primary hijab celebrities’ profiles in Wardah website and their social media: Inneke Koesherawati and Dewi Sandra. They embody pious-femininity which is consistently performed in their professional and ‘personal’ life.
Inneke and Dewi are framed by Wardah as “inspiring women” who embraced Islamic identity at the height of their career, and this was the very reason Wardah chose them as ambassadors. At the Wardah website, Inneke is described as a former model and movie star who did a subversive act, “in 2001, she made a bold move to wear hijab even though hijab was not common” (“Inneke Koesherawati”, n.d.). It is generally known by the public that Inneke used to be a sex icon during the nineties through the films she starred such as Naughty Desires and The Stained Bed (van Wichelen, 2009, p. 86). The decision to part with her past life is seen as a resistance to ‘Western’ way of life, which involves the expression of sexuality and eroticism (van Wichelen, 2009, p. 88). Dewi, on the other hand, had switched religion to Christian in her previous marriage and turned back to Islam (Nadhiroh, 2017). On Wardah website, she is a singer and actress “deciding to wear hijab and strengthen her spirituality in 2012” (“Dewi Sandra”, n.d.). Dewi is inspiring because she never stops producing works as she practices piety.
Wardah indicates how wearing veil is the start of their journey to piety and frames Inneke and Dewi as pious women who try to be closer to god every time through their daily ‘modern’ activities. Wardah aligns “inspirational” with hijab, piety, productivity and hard work, or ikhtiar. It indicates embracing Islam as ‘modern’, ‘empowering’, and even subversive.
In their personal Instagram page, the aesthetic labour that the Wardah celebrities do cannot be separated from their Islamic values as every post usually coupled with captions of prayers. Dewi (dewisandra, n.d.) and Inneke (inekekoes, n.d.) post portraits of themselves, family, and friends in various occasions, including Wardah events, their travels or pilgrimage (dewisandra, 2018, May 25), charity events. The captions of prayers vary from acknowledging the imperfect self and mortality (dewisandra, 2018, June 2) to reflections during the month of Ramadhan (inekekoes, 2018, May 13). The vulnerability of ‘imperfect’ self promises authenticity to their followers, with many regards them as wise but not self-righteous.
ichi_f.y2303: the caption warms my heart,, reminding without being self-righteous,, one of my favourite hijab celebrity #Like (dewisandra, 2018, June 2)
Furthermore, they show themselves as loving wives, mothers, and daughters by posting intimate pictures of their family members accompanied with captions of gratefulness and love.
Throughout their personal Instagram account, we see how they perform their femininity and Islamic values to mark their status as well-behaved women and well-respected celebrity, which are recognised by their fans who frequently comment their post as beautiful inside-out and inspiring.
stefytiffany: Praise Allah.. Dewi is so beautiful.. beautiful inside out. (dewisandra, 2018, May 25)
ayudia_ade: praise allah mommy @inekekoes please teach me how to have this inner beauty like you.. Very beautiful… (inekekoes, 2018, May 11)
The pious-feminine beauty becomes a cultural capital as they are embodied by the celebrities, recognised by the fans, and promoted by Wardah as an extension of their brand values. For the celebrities, it allows mobility towards more fame as their value as inspiring role models increase. The ‘modern’ hijab, along with the practices of piety, is a tool to mark their status as respectable within the industry.
This article has shown that the “mainstreaming” of Islam has made the conception of beauty conflates with some Islamic values. Wardah integrates these values as “beauty from the heart” and consistently promotes it in various ways, including celebrity endorsement. There are gestures of women empowerment with neoliberal characteristics. The women’s bodies are subject to discipline through the social media interactions based on the norms of pious-femininity, although some of the beauty norms are also questioned. This identity has become the cultural capital for the celebrities, performed for their personal goals of continued endorsement and a marker for respectability within the industry. It shows some agency capacity in utilising the hijab and piety to negotiate certain position within the society and indicates the complex meaning of wearing hijab and practising piety for women in Indonesia.
*this is originally an assignment paper
**for further details on references ask me