“Growing up, my Dad always told me that I would be the President of the United States—not that I would ever want to be that. I’m all for women being the breadwinners of the family. There’s so much more to women than what you see on the outside.”
THE HUDA FILES: PART I
Huda Kattan peers out at me from under her long, faux eyelashes. Her naturally chestnut eyes are a soft moss color, and apart from her eyes, her skin is bare of makeup and showcases a slightly uneven skin tone and redness due to some extraction which she admits to having had done earlier. In a matter of minutes she transforms: skin smooth and contoured, eyes wide and captivating, mouth demure, soft, and plump. I’ve just joined the over 780,000 people who have viewed her Cream Contouring Made Easy video blog. I click on another video and this time I turn up the sound. I detect a slight American accent. By 2:35 minutes, I am convinced that Huda and I can be friends—good friends. I glance towards the top right corner of her YouTube page and note that she has over 450,000 subscribers. I guess I’m not the only one.
“I was born in Oklahoma,” Huda states. Naturally, I’m surprised. Sure, country crooner Carrie Underwood and Hollywood hunk Brad Pitt hail from the same state—but the Middle East’s foremost beauty blogger Huda Kattan is…an Oakie? “Yeah,” she smiles. “But when I was two-years-old, my family moved to Cookeville, Tennessee. What can I say? I’m a Southern girl.”
Kattan’s Iraqi parents independently moved to America, where her father, Ibrahim, went to study mechanical engineering and her mother, Susu Al Qazzaz, went to teach biology. Kattan’s mother hails from one of Baghdad’s wealthiest families and its members always intermarry—but her father wasn’t rich and the wedding wasn’t arranged. Ibrahim and Susu met and married for love. Thirty-two years ago, Huda was born, the third child of four siblings (Alya, Mona, and Khalid).
“We actually didn’t grow up very wealthy, and honestly, it was a tough time. We didn’t really have a lot of money. We lived in apartments—I can’t even remember all of them—and then we moved into a house and that was the most exciting thing, ever.”
Growing up in Tennessee, the girl who would go on to garner over 4.3 million Instagram followers wasn’t particularly popular. “I always felt different and it was because I was Middle Eastern. Where most people were very fair, light-skinned, and had blue eyes, I was hairy with dark hair and dark skin,” Kattan explained. Her schoolmates, she came to learn, didn’t even quite understand where she was from. “At the time, there weren’t a lot of nationalities circulating so people would always assume that I was Indian or African-American. People didn’t even really know about the Middle East.”
Never concerned with academia and often house-bound due to a very strict upbringing, Huda turned her interests to her youngest sister, Mona. “She was always in beauty pageants, always on a Corvette somewhere. She was this prized doll, always in the newspaper. She won the Little Miss Tennessee pageant, and I wanted to show her off.”
Mona would become Huda’s muse. “I would try to do her hair, her makeup, and make her look even cuter and more doll-like. That’s when my interest in beauty really took off.”
Huda’s older sister, Alya, who is ten years her senior, introduced her to the world of beauty products. “Alya was always into her appearance; she used to wear really cute cut-off shorts and nice tops, and she would just wear them around the house because my parents were really strict and they wouldn’t let her wear that outside—she even wore heels at home. I saw that and I just loved it.”