Why Arab media ignores a Syrian ‘Joli’ while she’s making headlines in Finland

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In a purple blouse, boy cut hair, and a voice – so strong it could crush mountains, yet so warm it could mend a broken heart – stood Joli Malki on a stage that would change her life forever.

Singing her heart out, Malki appeared for the first time on television during the first phase auditions of singing competition, The Voice, in its Finnish version. Performing “Million Years Ago,” by English Artist Adele, she had all the judges turn their chairs around for her before completing a minute into her performance. Her secret? A performance so genuine, it reflects all she has been through.

At the end of her performance, and while introducing herself, Malki mentioned she was a Syrian who moved to Sweden 8 years ago, and dedicated the song to her mother, who had recently passed away.

For the judges, Malki proved to be a true artist: a talent, a beautiful voice, and true emotions reflected in her performance. But what about the rest of the world? More precisely, the part of the world which she hails back from?

In a region so consumed by every little Arab making a success in the west, why hasn’t Malki found the attention she deserves, between the conversations of the Arab world and its individuals?

With no doubt, stories like this often make headlines in the Arab world, with videos and posts spreading on all sorts of social media platforms, and users sharing the content to show the world how great and successful Arabs can be in the west. But not this one; not this real, genuine girl, who stands so afar from what the media has brainwashed us into believing artists should look like.

In an opinion piece published by Raseef 22, author Rasha Hilwi believes Malki’s untypical media-fueled appearance of an artist is the main reason behind her not getting that attention on Arab platforms.

One peak into her performance, and one can tell that Malki is not the typical “wannabe” artist or performer: she doesn’t have perfectly styled hair, nor does she wear any make up, and she definitely is not a size zero. She is just a real girl, telling a real story, and she looks exactly like everyone else: Very average. Nothing fancy, nothing made-up.

In her piece Hilwi says: “I have seen many Arab competition programs, and many of the participants, women and men, whose forms did not fit into the media beauty standards, ended up changing their forms at the end… How many people have we heard say: "Her voice is nice, but she’s fat!"

An interesting point indeed, which can be referenced to so many other incidents that the Arab world has tapped on – or even didn’t tap on. Take Ahed Tamimi for example, the blonde Palestinian girl whose face piled up the front pages of all the world’s magazines and on the headlines of every single platform. Why her?

Over the course of 50 years, Palestine has witnessed the torture, imprisonment, and death of so many children and teenagers, yet it was not until Tamimi that this was pointed out. Was it her blonde hair and blue eyes? Perhaps yes. Bluntly, she fit into the beauty standards that the world has set, and for that she “deserved” to have her story spread for the world.

Similarly, the face of Syrian boy Omran Daqneesh, who became the locked image icon of the Syrian war, with his soft blonde hair and white complexion. Although, needless to say, hundreds of thousands of children faced a similar fate as him, if not worse.

But until when will we continue to abide by these aimless beauty standards? Those which lack substance, and promote nothing but shallowness? Hopefully, sooner than we can imagine.

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