Sharing a photo on Instagram on Friday of actress and model Julia Fox wearing a piece of fabric wrapped around her head, the outlet accompanied it with the caption “yes to the headscarf.”
The caption has since been edited to remove this line, but Vogue France did not acknowledge the change.
The photo was posted as part of a montage featuring Fox and her boyfriend, rapper Kanye West, at Haute Couture Fashion Week in Paris. Two of the photos included West wearing a balaclava through which only his eyes were visible.
“Yes to the headscarf – those few words were so simple,” French-Moroccan model and activist Hanan Houachmi told CNN via video call. “Yet we’ve been begging and waiting and fantasizing about the day we will hear them, for us as hijabi women.”
Houachmi said the hijab had been “reduced to just a simple accessory,” with Fox, who is White and non-Muslim, able to wear a headscarf as part of a “trend,” while the hijab, in Houachmi’s view, is seen by the French government as the “uniform of terrorists.”
In 2011, France became the first country in Europe to ban all face-covering garments in public spaces, including balaclavas, masks, burqas and niqabs. Several other countries, including Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark followed with their own bans, partials bans and local bans of face coverings.
Last week, the French senate also voted to ban hijabs for female athletes, although the measure must now be voted on in France’s lower house. President Emmanuel Macron and his party oppose the ban. And last year, a move to ban anyone under the age of 18 from wearing hijab in public was rejected by members of the national assembly.
Many users have cited Vogue’s choice of words in these circumstances as being particularly insensitive for the French edition, given politicians’ efforts to clamp down on the hijab, niqab and burqa.
CNN has reached out to Vogue France for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
“It’s almost funny, to be honest, because they make fun of us, insult us and reduce us to objects,” 18-year-old Chaïma Benaicha, who lives in the northeast of France, told CNN via Twitter messages. “But when it’s a White woman doing it and not a Muslim it’s trendy and something new in fashion even though wearing the hijab isn’t something we do to please people.”
Benaicha, who started wearing the hijab at the age of 14, said she received racist and Islamophobic comments at the beginning, and told CNN she found it strange that wearing the niqab is “perceived badly” while wearing a balaclava is “stylish” and “aesthetically pleasing to people.”
“People have tried to remove my hijab in the street plenty of times. I find it inhumane,” Sarah, an 18-year-old French Muslim who did not want to give her last name, told CNN via Twitter messages.
Sarah, a convert to Islam who lives in the southeastern French commune of Évian-les-Bains and began wearing the hijab four months ago, said the Vogue France caption was “racist” and “shameful,” adding, “there’s no other word for it.”
The furor that accompanied the proposed hijab ban for minors in France last year – as well as for mothers accompanying children on school trips – has also led to international awareness of anti-Muslim sentiment in France.
“I think it’s very telling of the general kind of thinking in France when it comes to headscarves and Islam,” British writer and journalist Aisha Rimi told CNN on a video call, adding she was irritated by Vogue France’s lack of “acknowledgement of the tone deafness of the post.”
Citing the example of Kim Kardashian’s Met Gala outfit, which obscured her entire face and was black from head to toe, Rimi said the reality star was “praised” for her innovative look while “Muslim women out there that wear burqas are constantly vilified and dehumanized.”
“I can think of other hijab-wearing Muslim women who are models as well that they could have used that same caption for, but it never would have been the case,” Rimi told CNN of Vogue France’s words.
Houachmi – who is among those models, having previously appeared on the cover of Grazia Arabia wearing a hijab – said she found it heartening that many of those speaking out about the caption did not wear the hijab and were often not Muslim, but that Vogue France still had “a long way to go” in terms of representation of hijab-wearing women.
“When you flip the pages of a Vogue France, it doesn’t reflect the France of today,” she said. “That’s my issue with it.”
Top image: A street style photo of Julia Fox wearing a headscarf in Paris during the couture shows.