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16/09/2015 07:01 BST | Updated 16/09/2015 07:59 BST

Meet Sara Mahmoud, The Teen Who Begun The Viral #TheHabibatiTag To Promote Middle Eastern Beauty

A teenager who started a hashtag on Twitter to challenge notions of traditional, western ideals of beauty and promote Middle Eastern pride has said she has been blown away by the number of people who supported her movement.

#TheHabibatiTag was first tweeted by Sara Mahmoud a 17-year-old from Jacksonville, Florida, on DAY and has since been used more than 20,000 times already.

Hordes of women (and some men) from countries including Iraq, Morocco and Afghanistan have uploaded their glamorous selfies, some with and some without head scarfs showing just how ethnically and culturally diverse the Arab world is.

Habibati is an Arabic word used to describe groups of women. But it can be used by men, women, or anyone else.

sarah mahmoud

Sara Mahmoud started #TheHabibatiTag to prove women from all cultures are beautiful

Mahmoud, who describes herself as a feminist, spoke to HuffPost UK about her movement.

What originally led you to creating this hashtag?

I wanted to start this has talk to encourage pride and positivity amongst people from the Middle East and from North Africa.

What stereotypes do you think exist towards the Arab community?

The stereotypes first and foremost that our world is conservative or we are all Muslim and all look the same with brown hair and brown eyes but there's a whole range of beauty that comes in our community. There's Afro-Arabs and then there's Arabs with porcelain skin and glacier eyes. It's amazing.

Did you think that the hashtag would become as successful as it has?

I did have high hopes for the hashtag but I would be lying if I said I expected this.

Critics claim that this is merely an opportunity for women to post selfies and judged by their looks. What are your thoughts on this?

I think the people that say this are just missing the point. A person doesn't have to post a photo because they want attention, they can post a photo because they are beautiful inside and out and they are prideful in showing that beauty.

How has this hashtag has made a difference in how Arab women view themselves?

I think it gave us all as Middle Easterners, North Africans and Arabs an outlet to view and appreciate each other's beauty well as our own.

You have also managed to engage the queer Arab community, do you think that they also have to deal with a lot of prejudice?

Of course, in the Arab community they aren't typically too welcoming to members of LGBTQ+.

What would you say to young Arab women who feel discontented by the way that they look?

I would say that regardless of what the media says, you define your beauty. There's a whole community out here on social media ready to help you embrace said beauty.