A new YouTube series of 20-minute episodes focused on fashion, beauty, self-improvement, entrepreneurship and more hosted by four young Arab women of varied backgrounds launched at the end of January.
The presenters of “AYA” (which stands for “As You Are”) — Yara Algain from Saudi Arabia, Reem Al-Hammadi from the UAE, Haya Al-Yassin from Syria, and Assia Mezyaine from Morocco — are all learning on the job, which is part of the show’s appeal.
Algain said that she was approached by the producers a few times, and had felt like this opportunity was “too good to be true.”
“I’ve always been into fashion and media, it’s something I’ve always wanted to pursue,” she said.
It was no different for Mezyaine, who was one of the last to audition for the show. “The casting was Friday and Saturday and I came on Saturday at 5 p.m.,” she said .
Al-Hammadi said that the advertising she consistently saw on social media made her feel she was destined to take part in “AYA.” Like most of her colleagues, Al-Hammadi admits she was “terrified” of the experience at first, but now that she has gotten more comfortable in front of the camera and with her teammates, the 23-year-old hopes that her participation in “AYA” might spark an authentic movement amongst Khaleeji women.
Similarly, Algain, a 25-year-old beauty professional with a background in media and advertising, said she hopes “AYA” is her stepping stone to creating waves of cultural change in the Gulf.
“A lot of girls in Saudi Arabia now are showing how creative they are and how they are into art and fashion,” said Algain, who has an edgy personal style herself. “So this is a chance for them to actually portray that.”
For Al-Yassin, 18, this is her first hosting experience, but she explained that because she already had her own YouTube channel, “the camera wasn't that much of an issue for me.” Of course, there were nerves at first, but as the shooting of the series continued, she said, she became more and more confident.
“We are more comfortable with each other. You can see friendship between the four girls,” she said. “It is no longer talking to a camera, it is like we are actually talking to an audience.”
Al-Yassin is currently studying journalism at the American University of Sharjah, and believes she has found the right balance between her passion and her career. “It is not that hard if you really want to manage your time between university and shooting,” she said. “I go to college for five days, but after that I go straight home, I change and go shoot.”
For 25-year old Mezyaine, the show was something of a natural progression. She has always had a passion for fashion, she said, and despite studying information technology and French literature and working in marketing, she has previously participated in the Moroccan show “Sayidat Shopping” and the Dubai TV show “Style Me.”
According to Mezyaine, one obstacle she has had to overcome for the show was her North African accent. “I try to speak in a neutral accent so that everyone can understand me,” she explained.
That decision brings its own pressure for the presenter, however, and she said that she expects to receive comments from Moroccans who may question her dialect. “I am ready for it and I will accept it,” Mezyaine said.
For Al-Hammadi, the casting directors for “AYA” have made smart choices. “My favorite thing about the show is that each one of us has a different character, so girls from the Middle East can relate to any of us,” she said.
“So many people are influenced by social media, they do not know what to wear or how to wear it, and most importantly, they do not know how to convince others around them with their style,” Mezyaine, a keen wearer of modest fashion, said. “So not only are we trying to give those girls more confidence, we are also inspiring them.”
Algain added: “Fashion is a statement of who you are. You can get out of your comfort zone with your sense of style.”
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