Noor Tagouri likes to break barriers. She’s been featured as one of the Renegades in Playboy magazine. She collaborates with Lisn Up Clothing—a line of streetwear combatting sex trafficking. She’s a first-generation Libyan-American. She’s a reporter, an activist, and a motivational speaker. And she wears hijab.
When Noor Tagouri speaks, she captivates her audience with verve and certainty. After listening to Tagouri, you know you have the power to impact the world. You want to change the world.
The hijab stays
Noor Tagouri’s name is fitting; Noor means the “light” in Arabic, and at a young age she’s already found what sparks her—exposing cultural injustices and combating the challenges facing women around the world. And the hijab? She refuses to take it off.
Noor means the “light” in Arabic, and at a young age she’s already found what sparks her—exposing cultural injustices and combating the challenges facing women around the world.
As an enterprising Muslim woman, Tagouri was often told that if she wanted to be a journalist she would have to ditch her hijab. Instead, Tagouri refused to set aside her identity for her career, and bravely questioned why she couldn’t have both.
Given the adversity she faces as a Muslim woman—the adversity she overcame and continues to overcome—it’s no surprise that Tagouri is a force encouraging others to realize their own potential and embrace individuality in our multicultural society.
Playboy magazine agrees. “As a badass activist with a passion for demanding change and asking the right questions, accompanied by beauty-ad-campaign looks, Tagouri forces us to ask ourselves why we have such a hard time wrapping our minds around a young woman who consciously covers her head and won’t take no for an answer,” says Senior Associate Editor Anna del Gaizo.
How the light found her light
Tagouri wasn’t always so certain about her identity, values, and passions. As a Libyan-American woman, she grew up in a small, mainly caucasian neighborhood in West Virginia.
In a moment of recollection at this year’s SXSW, Tagouri raised a hand to the mahogany hair peeking out of her hijab and said, “When I was younger, I tried to fit in with blonde streaks and colored contacts. I won’t show you a photo because it’s not cute.” With an amused look in her sharp, honey-brown eyes, Tagouri left the audience to imagine the juxtaposition.
Tagouri felt immense tension between her desire to assimilate and still be honest with who she is—she didn’t want to keep pretending she celebrated Christmas like her classmates. She was constantly and painfully aware of her identity in relation to her peers, and as a result, she was forced to question who she was, what she cared about, and why at a young age. Today, Tagouri knows exactly who she is and what motivates her—but it came at the cost of a childhood riddled with uncertainty and the feeling of being a misfit. High school is hard enough without a hijab.
Tagouri knows exactly who she is and what motivates her—but it came at the cost of a childhood riddled with uncertainty and the feeling of being a misfit.
Lessons from the light
Tagouri stresses that we all have the ability to impact and change the world, but only if we have a strong sense of self and what we care about.
Here are Tagouri’s guidelines for influencing impact:
Put on for yourself. Tagouri, with her ever colloquial way of speaking, advises others to “put on” for only yourself, meaning only act and operate for your own passions and interests and not for the sake of pleasing others. She advises against putting on a persona just because others approve—don’t be afraid to go against the norm. More importantly, the point is to reflect and recognize if you’re putting on for others. If something feels off-kilter with your own values or goals, stop doing it.
Become who you are. Once you bring awareness into your everyday actions, it’s easier to identify what genuinely ignites a fire or passion in you. Tagouri encourages her audience to follow that intuition and embrace it unapologetically. What do you care about? What sparks joy or even fire in you? When Tagouri refused to take off her hijab for the sake of others to feel more comfortable, she took a risk and truly put on for herself.
Find your tribe and your medium. If you’ve uncovered your inner light, it’s time to let it shine—and to help others do the same. For Tagouri, it’s marginalized groups like women and underrepresented individuals. Once you find your tribe, the next step is finding a way to get your message out. Ask yourself what the best medium is based on your narrative, message, and objective.
Control your narrative and play on. Tagouri reminds us that only we control our narrative. Tagouri well understands that others will constantly tell you who to be in order to fit in with the social norm. But keeping values and passions top of mind diminishes your chance of losing sight of your individuality and drive. When you’re certain of your identity, it’s easier to stay aligned with your goals and guide your narrative to one that is purposeful and honest. Tagouri also advises her audience to play on and enter spaces that don’t want you—to get uncomfortable and push boundaries. How can we expect to create change if we’re just echoing in the same small chamber with the same people who are already comfortable with the ideas we’re voicing?
Race, ethnicity, and religion aside, Tagouri puts on for herself and no one else. Now, the hijab is an integral part of Tagouri’s identity. “Live for causes that pain you,” Tagouri says—her voice reverberating with the emotion of someone who knows the pain she lives for, and the causes she cares deeply about. If something lights a fire in you, recognize that and chase it. Let your own light shine.
Amanda Roosa is a content marketer for Zendesk and a frequent contributor to Relate. When she's not petting other people's dogs, she's exploring where technology and humanity converge. Find her on Twitter: @mandyroosa.