Saudi humorist Amy Roko has carved out a creative space without ever revealing her face. While doing so, she’s managed with ease what others think about the most controversial piece of clothing out there: the niqab.
“My dad isn’t a big fan of my niqab. He always says that modesty isn’t about how you dress – you can dress modestly and still do immodest things. But I always knew that I was going to wear the niqab because that’s what my mom wears. She is the sweetest soul on the planet. She’s a kind and generous person. She has never told me to wear the niqab or the hijab. She just told us – I am the eldest of five brothers and sisters – be good, be nice.
I was born in Jeddah and lived my whole life in Riyadh. When I first went to college, to study pre-med 10 years ago, it was mandatory to cover your face, whether with a veil or a niqab, and many students wore both. When I went home, I could remove my niqab, but I noticed that I still wore it wherever I went. Not everyone had my freedom. In college, students would comment, ‘Oh, my dad’s going to kill me,’ or, ‘My brother’s going to kill me, if I don’t wear it.’ I, on the other hand, was in control. My mother never said anything to this respect; there were no comments or conversations. For us, if you’re wearing a shirt, you’re not going to have a conversation with your mom about wearing a shirt.
As for social media, I honestly don’t know how this following all happened. I was in college and it was boring, my life was boring. I wanted to try something new and so I started having fun on Vine. At the time, I didn’t even know that Vine was public. One day, I went to my page and thought, why do I have 8 000 followers? I had never even bothered to read the comments. I never thought that I needed to be strategic. I just kept posting and then eventually created an account on Instagram. It was an outlet to talk about whatever I wanted and a platform to show people my artistic and musical sides.
Two years ago, I quit my job at a hospital and started doing social media full-time. Quitting was the boldest move I have ever made. The moment I resigned, I started creating more, traveling more – it didn’t feel like a job, it was fun. No one was supportive of my dreams. ‘This is not a steady job. You’re basically a freelancer. What about your degree?’ everyone said. ‘I don’t want it,’ I would respond. My mom offered to send me money even though I had earned my own apartment, my own car, and I was out there – between Dubai and Saudi – living my life every day. Today, I’m a creative director for a record label. I work with some of the biggest ad companies in the world, and I am launching a YouTube career because I genuinely want to share my life with people.
In general, I receive loving messages from men and women, but every now and then I have to remind people that this is how I dress. When I dress, I do it for me. I don’t appreciate it when someone says, ‘You’re wearing too much, or, ‘She’s wearing too little.’ It’s a basic human right to be able to express myself however I please. Generation Z is here. We are strong, confident, and opinionated.
Once, when I traveled to Serbia, I was walking around a mall and I noticed that people stopped and froze when they saw me. When someone would do that I would wave. I think it shattered the idea of how women in a niqab are. As for women who disagree, to them I say, you are a woman like us, why are you standing in our way? Meanwhile, some men choose to be ignorant. What I’ve learned about men, is that it’s difficult for them to put themselves in someone else’s situation. It takes a lot of emotional intelligence for a man to put himself in your position.
I’ve been wearing the niqab for 11 years now. I’m aware of the associated stereotypical image of a woman who covers her face as someone who doesn’t talk, who is timid, submissive, muzzled even… I’m offended. I’m not timid and I’m not quiet. I’m bold. When I wear the niqab, it’s for me. It’s not because I have to be something or someone. Somehow, I feel better and stronger when I wear it and I have decided that in this life, I’m just going to do me.”
As told to Caterina Minthe.
Originally published in the June 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia