Noor Tagouri is part of Oxygen’s digital series In Progress, in which we feature outstanding women throughout the year. Check out the series here!
Noor Tagouri is no stranger to controversy. Last year, she made international news by being the first woman to wear a hijab for Playboy's "Renegades" issue. Just days before we speak, Noor is in the headlines again—this time mistakenly confused for the wife of the Orlando nightclub shooter.
"Raw Story used the same photo of me and the Orlando shooter's wife because we share the same name. We don't look anything alike. It was obviously really careless. It was really important to make a note and make a lesson out of it because it happens so often with minority groups. I thought it was really important to highlight the misrepresentation of Muslim-American women in the media today."
At 22 years old, Tagouri is used to flipping stereotypes into a teachable moment. The Newsy journalist and speaker is one of the most prominent young Muslim-American women in the media during a time when Muslims are being effectively banned from the country.
Born in West Virginia to parents from Libya, Tagouri says that she always wanted to be a journalist, citing Oprah as a major influence. "I grew up in a very conservative, white town. I thought that if I wanted to be Oprah and be on TV, there's no way I can wear a hijab. That's what I thought I had to do to be on television."
Dealing with a lifelong "identity crisis," in her words, she later moved from southern Maryland to a suburb of D.C. It was here that she went through what she calls "culture shock," seeing young people embracing their uniqueness. Inspired, she impulsively put on the hijab and it felt right. Her career wasn't hindered by the traditional Muslim scarf at all. "I ended up getting my first job at a newspaper when I was 15 years old. I realized that, 'Hey. Maybe I can actually do this.'"
She released a documentary, The Trouble They've Seen: The Forest Haven Story, which is about the institutional abuse at the Forest Haven mental institution in 2015. This opened up a collaboration with streetwear line Lis'n Up Clothing, combating sex trafficking, and led to her current role at Newsy.
Tagouri says that the decision to wear the hijab is wholly personal and not mandated at all by her parents. She says her family is incredibly supportive in her career, including her decision to appear in Playboy in 2016.
"I knew it would be a little more controversial because of the brand, although they have gone through a rebranding. I talked to my family and my mentors and they were all about it. I looked at it like another interview. I've done interviews with The Washington Post, Marie Claire. I decided it was a platform worth sharing my message to. I think my message is about reclaiming your identity as a woman and respect. I thought that many of the readers of Playboy have never seen a woman who looked like me and it was important to reach those people. My message wasn't any different. I was wearing an outfit I would wear anywhere else. It was bringing my message to a new audience."
[Photo: Noor Tagouri]
Tagouri isn't afraid to face her critics. She underscores that perhaps it's those people that need her message of feminism and empowerment even more. "We often preach our messages to people who already agree with us. I wanted to bring it to a place that wasn't familiar with it," she says. "A lot of people had a lot of opinions, but I'm really happy with it. And I stand by that."
[Photo: @gokateshoot, Kate Warren]